At least 207 people were killed and hundreds more wounded in a series of bomb blasts that hit luxury hotels and churches across Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, leaving the entire country in a state of lock-down, shock and million questions.
The first wave of attacks struck at the heart of the country’s minority Christian community during busy Easter services at churches in the cities of Colombo, Negombo and Batticaloa on Sunday morning.
Additional blasts ripped through three high-end hotels, the Shangri La, Cinnamon Grand and Kingsbury, all in capital city Colombo.
The violence punctures a decade of relative peace in the country following the end of its civil war in 2009 — where attacks were common during the 25-year struggle. Sri Lanka has since turned itself into a popular tourist destination, winning the title of best place in the world to visit in 2019 by travel guide publisher Lonely Planet.
In a statement, the Shangri-La hotel in Colombo said that the hotel’s Table One cafe was hit just after 9 a.m local time. The hotel is popular with foreign tourists and the country’s business community.
A seventh and eighth blast, at a hotel in front of the Dehiwala Zoo in Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia and at a private house in Mahawila Gardens, in Dematagoda, occurred Sunday afternoon.
Here’s the full list of blast sites reported so far:
- St Anthony’s Shrine, Kochchikade
- St Sebastian’s Church, Negombo
- Zion Church, Batticaloa
- Cinnamon Grand, Colombo
- Shangri-La Hotel, Colombo
- The Kingsbury Hotel, Colombo
- Near Dehiwala Zoo in Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia
- A house in Mahawila Gardens, Dematagoda
Sri Lanka’s Minister of Economic Reforms and Public Distribution Harsha de Silva said on Twitterthat “close to 30 foreigners” were killed on Sunday. In the capital, Colombo, at least 20 foreigners are among the dead, according to hospital Director General Anil Jasinghe. Hospitals have opened their doors to scores of victims.
Two Turkish citizens and one Dutch national are among the dead. The British High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, James Dauris, said some British citizens were also “caught in the blast.”
There was however no immediate claim of responsibility. Sri Lankan security officials said police and security services immediately rushed to all affected areas and sealed off the churches and hotels.
Police in Sri Lanka imposed an island-wide curfew starting Sunday at 6 p.m. local (8:30 a.m. ET Sunday) until the morning.
The country’s authorities convened an emergency meeting involving the heads of the army, air force and navy, according to Sri Lanka’s economic reforms minister, Harsha de Silva.
Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe condemned the blasts on Twitter, calling on Sri Lankans to “remain united and strong.”
President Maithripala Sirisena also spoke out following the attacks. “I have given instructions to take very stern action against the persons who are responsible for this conspiracy,” he said.
Leave has been canceled for all police in Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka’s minority Christian community appeared to be the main target of Sunday’s attack. Christianity is a minority religion in Sri Lanka, accounting for less than 10% of the total population of 21.4 million.
According to census data, 70.2% of Sri Lankans identify as Buddhist, 12% Hindu, 9.7% Muslim, and 7.4% Christian. It is estimated that 82% of Sri Lankan Christians are Roman Catholic.
Sunday’s attacks risk upsetting the country’s fragile post-war peace. Tensions between the majority Sinhalese and the Tamil minority led to a 25-year insurgency between theTamil Tigers, classified by the US and others as a terrorist organization, and government forces.
More than 70,000 people died in the fighting, which ended when Sri Lankan forces defeated the Tamil Tigers in 2009.
In recent years, the country has witnessed a surge in ultra-nationalist Buddhism led by the Bodu Bala Sena, the country’s most powerful Buddhist organization, which has pledged to defend the religion.
Sri Lankan prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe condemned the attacks and called on people to “avoid propagating unverified reports and speculation.”
According to the Sri Lankan government news portal, all social media has been blocked in the country to avoid the spread of false news reports in light of the bombings.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks so far.
In a statement, Minister of Finance Mangala Samaraweera said the attacks are “a diabolical attempt to create racial and religious tensions in this country yet again, thereby pulling the country backwards.”
Samaraweera also called on Sri Lankans to “unite now with nerves of steel to defeat this heinous attempt to drag our country back into the dark past.”
Sri Lanka will sleep uneasy yet again tonight, fearing the worst is not over yet as it turned out on Easter Sunday, with so many questions, none answered.