Asia Sri Lanka

Remembering Sri Lanka’s Easter Sunday attacks one year on

Today marks the first Easter Sunday since the suicide bomb attacks last year that killed more than 250 people and injured 500 more, in a series of explosions targeting churches and luxury hotels.

Eight blasts were reported in total, attacking churches in Colombo and Batticaloa. Hotels hit by explosions include the Shangri-La, Kingsbury and Cinnamon Grand hotels and one other, all in Colombo. The three churches struck were the Catholic Shrine of St. Anthony in Kotahena, Colombo, the Catholic Church of St. Sebastian in Negombo and the Zion Church in Batticaloa. At least 45 foreign nationals were amongst the dead.

Though the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks,with extremists from the lesser-known local group National Thowheed Jamaath involved, it soon emerged that Sri Lankan intelligence services were aware that an attack was due to take place on Easter Sunday. Sri Lanka’s own parliamentary select committee report said the security forces may have allowed it to proceed in order to “create chaos and instil fear” ahead of presidential elections that took place last year. Days after the attack incumbent President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said he would run for president in elections later in the year and would stop the spread of Islamist extremism by rebuilding the intelligence service and surveilling citizens.

The United Nations in Sri Lanka remembering the 259 lives lost and those injured in the Easter Sunday attacks a year ago called for solidarity between communities to safeguard the health and rights of every citizen as terrorism has no religion, ethnicity or race. 

Issuing a statement on the first anniversary of the series of suicide bomb attacks on churches and hotels in the country, the terrorism should not be associated with any religion, ethnicity or race and should be fought relentlessly.

Igniting racial tensions

In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, the Sri Lankan armed forces ramped up its security presence across the island as it declared a state of emergency.

Violence against Muslims also began to flare up as Sinhala mobs attacked homes and businesses, forcing many to flee their homes.

Sri Lanks’s Muslim community leaders said that Muslims in Sri Lanka were being targeted and harassed and urged citizens not to target the Muslim community that vehemently condemned the “heinous” act.

In May Sri Lanka authorities said that hardline Buddhist groups were likely to blame for a wave of anti-Muslim riots that swept the island in apparent retaliation for Easter bombings by Islamist militants.

Mobs moved through towns in Sri Lanka’s northwest, ransacking mosques, burning Korans and attacking shops with petrol bombs, residents said.

In a recent news conference, Cardinal Ranjith termed the attacks a “political attempt” to ignite ethnic disharmony.

In Negombo, where many Muslim-owned businesses and homes were destroyed, Muslim community leaders told the media that tensions had begun to subside, with the city’s Muslim and Christian communities beginning to reunite.

Accountability lapse continues

Former Sri Lanka captain Kumar Sangakkara on Sunday said someone must answer to the questions which are still unanswered in regards to the Sri Lanka Easter bombing last year.

“A year on we all share the pain of the families grieving lives lost, we stand with you and for you. We remember. So many questions still unanswered, but answer them someone must,” Sangakkara tweeted as people across the world celebrated Easter on Sunday.

To date, no member of the Sri Lankan government, intelligence or security forces has been held accountable for the lapses that led to the Easter Sunday attacks.

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