Latest Updates: Easter Day Bombings That Killed 321 in Sri Lanka
A series of coordinated explosions killed 321 people and injured 500 individuals in the cities of Colombo (the national capital), Negombo and Batticaloa in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, April 21. The blasts targeted hotels and churches across the country. On Tuesday, The Islamic State (ISIS) claimed responsibility for the attack without citing any evidence of conducting the blasts.
In total, eight blasts convulsed the nation in a span of about five hours. Four simultaneous explosions occurred at St. Sebastian Church in Negombo, St. Anthony’s Shrine, Shangri-la Hotel, and The Kingsbury Hotel at 8:45 am followed by another in The Cinnamon Grand Hotel at 8:50 am in Colombo. At 9:05 am, another bomb detonated in the Zion Church in the Batticaloa.
The carnage in the national capital continued through the day with blasts occurring in Tropical Inn Hotel at 1:45 pm and in a house in the Dematagoda suburb of Colombo at 2:15 pm. The final explosion occurred during a police raid in the house when the crime division officials were questioning potential suspects in connection to the morning blasts. A sub-inspector and two police constables were killed by the last detonation.
On Tuesday, April 23, ISIS claimed responsibility for the deadly attacks. However, there is no evidence that supports this claim as of right now.
Manisha Gunasekera, the High Commissioner of Sri Lanka to the United Kingdom, stated that "There is also information that these have been suicide bombings carried out..."
Echoing the High Commissioner, Sri Lanka’s Defense Minister, Ruwan Wijewardene, said that the attacks are believed to be incidents of suicide bombings. Forty suspects have been arrested by the Police in relation with the blasts since Sunday, April 21.
As the police continue to investigate the attacks, the country’s political arena is questioning the competence of the government and security forces who apparently had prior knowledge about the possibility of the Easter Day attacks.
Reportedly, a Sri Lanka defense source stated that the Sri Lankan intelligence officials received a warning about potential threats, specifically, to the churches in country two hours before the first blast on Easter Sunday. Another defense source claims that the Indian government sent out similar warnings on Saturday night. So far, both the Indian foreign ministry and the Sri Lankan Presidency have provided no comment on the same.
Furthermore, the country’s internal sources also forewarned of potential attacks. A letter dated for April 11, which seemed to be a warning notice about the potential attacks issued by Deputy Inspector General of Police, Priyalal Dissanayake, had been circulating on social media. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe reportedly claimed that some government officials had prior intelligence about the blasts however no action was taken on to address the potential threats.
Sri Lanka’s security apparatus falls under the jurisdiction of President Maithripala Sirisena. The relations between Sirisena and Wickremesinghe have been tense ever since 2018 when he tried to oust the Prime Minister triggering a constitutional crisis in the country.
Following the Easter morning blasts, the government declared a nationwide curfew from 6 pm on Sunday, April 21 to 6 am on Monday, April 22. Furthermore, the government’s official news portal, News.lk, announced a temporary shutdown of numerous social media websites such as Facebook and Instagram. The action was taken in order to avoid the circulation of misinformation about the attacks. Reportedly, users were unable to access the instant messaging platforms, namely, Whatsapp and Viber.
Although no connection of the Easter day attacks has been traced to social media, the Sri Lankan officials remained cautious owing to the recent incidents of violence that were incited by the spread of fake news on social media.
The 2018 anti-muslim violence in Sri Lanka, which attacked Muslim households, businesses, and mosques in the city of Kandy, was fueled and amplified by the spread of false stories on social media. In an effort to curb the violence, the government was therefore compelled to block several social networking platforms.
The Easter Day blasts were termed to be the “largest attack on South Asian Christians in the recent memory.” Some experts also claim that the attacks are a painful reminder of the persistence of inter-communal tensions in the country. Ten years after the end of Sri Lanka’s three-decade-long civil war (July 1983-May 2009), sparked by laws that favored the Sinhalese majority and discriminated against the Tamil minority, communal friction seems to linger on.
The international community responded by condemning the April 21 attacks and offering Sri Lanka solidarity and support. In particular, Pope Francis expressed his “affectionate closeness to the Christian community, hit while it was gathered in prayer, and to all the victims of such cruel violence...” during his Easter Sunday address in St. Peter’s Square, Vatican City.