AT LEAST 257 people have been killed and hundreds more have been injured in a series of explosions in churches and hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Day.
Eight explosions were reported in and around the capital of Colombo, on Sunday morning, including at two RC churches during the Easter mass: St Sebastian’s, Negombo, where at least 67 people were killed, and St Anthony’s Shrine, Kochchikade. There was a third explosion at Zion Church, an evangelical church in Batticola.
Three more explosions were reported at luxury hotels in Colombo: the Shangri La, Cinnamon Grand, and Kingsbury Hotel. Another was reported later that day, near Dehiwala Zoo in Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia. An eighth bomb was detonated as police raided a house in Mahawila Gardens, Dematagoda.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks, but the government of Sri Lanka has blamed the local Islamist group National Thowheed Jamath. More than 40 people have been detained by police. Sri Lanka is a majority Buddhist country: about six per cent of the population are Roman Catholic.
Local police were on the alert for further attacks, and people were urged to stay inside their homes. The President of Sri Lanka, Maithripala Sirisena, who called an emergency meeting, said: “I strongly condemn the cowardly attacks on our people today. I call upon all Sri Lankans during this tragic time to remain united and strong.”
Early reports from nearby hospitals suggested that at least 35 foreigners were among the dead.
The RC Archbishop of Colombo, the Most Revd Malcolm Ranjith, said: “I condemn, to the utmost of my capacity, this act that has caused so much of death and suffering to the people.” He urged the Government to hold “a very impartial, strong inquiry, and find out who is behind this act. And also to punish them mercilessly, because only animals can act like that.”
He urged people in Sri Lanka “not to take the law into their own hands, and to maintain peace and harmony in this country.”
He requested prayers for healing of the injured and for the bereaved to be consoled, and urged blood donors to come forward.
The Anglican Bishop of Colombo, the Rt Rev Dhiloraj Canagasabey, said that he was “terribly shocked and deeply saddened by the barbarous acts of violence brought on innocent worshippers. . . The Church of Ceylon unreservedly condemns these cowardly and cruel acts of terrorism.”
He called on the government to take “quick action to investigate thoroughly these incidents and to bring the perpetrators to justice, to ensure the safety of places of religious worship and to prevent any individuals or group from taking the law into their hands or provoking acts of intimidation or violence against any community or group.”
He urged the people of Sri Lanka to “act with patience and understanding. The motives of those twisted and warped minds that planned and executed such appalling acts could very well be to destabilise the country and to cause damage to the unity and harmony of our nation.
“I pray that these persons, whoever they may be, will be awakened to the awfulness of their crime and will be moved to repentance.”
He concluded his statement with a prayer: “May the peace of the Risen Christ, who on the cross prayed for forgiveness, be with you all.”
In his Easter Day sermon, the Archbishop of Canterbury said that Bishop Dhiloraj had begun the prayer of consecration during the Easter Eucharist when police had told him: “You must come with us, they are about to come and kill you.”
He had refused to move until he had finished the prayer, and had told Archbishop Welby: “If God gives me permission to live, I shall live. If he gives me permission to die, I shall die.”
“Today, we say the Easter acclamation, Christ is risen, with bittersweet joy, knowing that our sisters and brothers, and many others of other faiths, suffer and mourn,” Archbishop Welby said.
On Twitter he wrote: “Those affected by the appalling and despicable attacks on churches and hotels in Sri Lanka will be in the prayers of millions marking Easter Sunday around the world today. On this holy day, let us stand with the people of Sri Lanka in prayer, condolence and solidarity as we reject all violence, all hatred and all division.”
“I entrust to the Lord those who are tragically deceased, and I pray for the wounded and all those who suffer due to this dramatic event,” Pope Francis said during an address in St Peter’s Square.
The general secretary of the World Council of Churches, the Revd Dr Olav Fykse Tveit said: “The targeting of churches in this manner is an attack on religious peace and harmony and on the social and cultural fabric of the nation, which has long struggled to uphold principles of religious harmony and diversity.”
The Prime Minister said in a statement: “The acts of violence against churches and hotels in Sri Lanka are truly appalling, and my deepest sympathies go out to all of those affected at this tragic time. We must stand together to make sure that no one should ever have to practise their faith in fear.”
The Church of England released a prayer for people of Sri Lanka:
God our saviour,
look on this wounded world
in pity and in power;
hold us fast to your promises of peace
won for us by your risen Son,
our Saviour Jesus Christ.