Bodies lay in St. Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo after bombings in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday. Reuters.
Dear Commons Community,
Yesterday on Easter Sunday, Catholic churches and hotels visited mostly by tourists were bombed killing hundreds of innocent people. The death total was estimated at 290 as of this morning and rising. As reported by the New York Times:
“ The clock hands on the steeple of St. Anthony’s Shrine were stuck at 8:45 a.m., the exact moment when the first suicide bomber’s explosion ripped through the wooden pews as Easter Sunday worshipers were praying.
Minutes later a second suicide blast shattered the Sunday brunch tranquillity at the Shangri-La Hotel’s Table One Restaurant, a favorite of foreign tourists.
Within a few hours on Sunday, suicide bombings hit three Catholic churches and three upscale hotels in the Indian Ocean island nation of Sri Lanka, still recovering from a quarter-century civil war in which the suicide bomb was pioneered.
The death toll in the attacks rose to 290, with about 500 people wounded, a police spokesman, Ruwan Gunasekera, said, although he would not give a breakdown of where the fatalities occurred. The finance minister, Mangala Samaraweera, called the attacks “a well-coordinated attempt to create murder, mayhem and anarchy.”
By day’s end, the police said at least 13 people had been arrested in connection with the attacks in the capital, Colombo, and the cities of Negombo and Batticaloa. Seven of them were seized at a hide-out after one suspect blew himself up, killing three officers.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility. The police said they believed the bombings were the work of one group but declined to identify it.
At least 36 of the victims were believed to be foreigners, including several Americans. For years, as Sri Lanka has climbed away from war, it has been building a robust tourism industry.
The bombings were the deadliest attack on Christians in South Asia in recent memory and punctuated a rising trend of religious-based violence in the region.
The St. Anthony’s Shrine blast left a scene of broken bodies, billowing black smoke and splintered wood. “It was a river of blood,” said N. A. Sumanapala, a shopkeeper near the church who said he had run inside to help.
“Ash was falling like snow,” he said. “I saw limbs and heads. There were children, too.”
The shock of the bombings and the anger they generated was compounded by news that a top police official had alerted security officials 10 days earlier about a threat to churches from a radical Islamist group, National Thowheeth Jama’ath. It was unclear what precautions, if any, had been taken, or whether that group had played any role in the assaults.
Sri Lanka’s prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, pointedly said he and other ministers had not been warned, in what appeared to be a sign of the recent frictions within the government hierarchy.
“We must look into why adequate precautions were not taken,” he said at a news conference. For now, he said, “the priority is to apprehend the attackers.”
The bombings came as Christians and other religious groups have been increasingly targeted in South Asia, where a mix of surging nationalism, faith-based identity politics and social media rumor mongering has created a combustible atmosphere.
While Sri Lanka has suffered political instability and sporadic attacks since its civil war ended in 2009, there has been nothing on this scale. “It has been 10 years since we last saw this kind of horror,” said Hemasiri Fernando, the secretary to the Ministry of Defense.
News of the bombings rippled out all Easter morning, interrupting celebrations across the world in a week where Christians were still grieving over the devastating fire at the Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris.
Pope Francis, after celebrating Mass in St. Peter’s Square, said the attacks had “brought mourning and sorrow” on the most important of Christian holidays. Other world leaders also expressed shock.
By Sunday afternoon, Colombo was under a tight lockdown. Elsewhere in the country, soldiers shut down roads, a jittery government imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew and all police officers were ordered back to duty, their leaves canceled. Bus companies banned all baggage for fear of hidden bombs.
At nightfall, few cars moved on the streets and almost nobody ventured outside.
The government temporarily blocked major social media and messaging services, including Facebook and WhatsApp, to prevent the spread of misinformation online, according to the president’s secretary, Udaya Seneviratne.
The deadliest of the explosions appeared to be at St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo. Pictures posted on social media showed blood and rubble as members of the congregation tended to wounded people strewn across pews. Besides St. Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo, Zion Church in Batticaloa was also attacked.
The hotels that were bombed included the Shangri-La, the Cinnamon Grand and the Kingsbury, all within Colombo’s seaside neighborhoods. Their marbled lobbies were smeared with blood.”
May these worshipers and the other innocents rest in peace!
The aftermath of the bombing in St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo, Sri Lanka.