MASS funerals have been taking place for hundreds of victims of a series of targeted attacks on churches and hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Day.
More than 350 people died in eight near-simultaneous explosions in and around the capital of Colombo. Among them were two RC churches during the celebration of mass: St Sebastian’s, Negombo, 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, the Cinnamon Grand, and the Kingsbury Hotel, on Sunday morning. Another bomb was detonated near Dehiwala Zoo in Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia. An eighth bomb was detonated as police raided a house in Mahawila Gardens, Dematagoda, later on Sunday.
More than 500 people were injured in the blasts. At least 39 foreigners, including eight members of three British families, have been confirmed as among the dead.
Sri Lanka was placed on immediate curfew: social media channels, including whatsapp, were blocked from use, and residents were urged to remain in their homes. On Monday, a state of emergency was declared.
The country, in national morning, observed three minutes’ silence at 8.30 a.m. local time, on Tuesday, 48 hours after the first of the bombs was detonated. Flags were flown at half-mast.
On the same day, hundreds of mourners gathered at St Sebastian’s, which suffered the heaviest casualties, for the burial of 30 victims. At least 80 people were killed when a suspect detonated a bomb, held in a backpack, in the midst of worshippers during prayers. As at the other two churches, the roof was blown out and the pews and walls were spattered with blood.
Islamic State (IS), in a video, has claimed responsibility for the attacks. The Sri Lankan government initially suggested that the Islamist group National Thowheed Jamath, previously known for defacing Buddhist statues, had employed international support to carry out the near-synchronised bombings. Moulvi Zahran Hashim, an extremist cleric and member of the NTJ, appears in the video, and has been named by Sri Lankan intelligence as the mastermind behind the bombings.
Sri Lanka is a majority Buddhist country: about ten per cent of the population are Muslim; about 12 per cent are Hindu; and about six per cent are Roman Catholic.
Sri Lanka’s defence minister Ruwan Wijewardene told its parliament that the attacks had probably been “carried out in retaliation” to the mass shooting at a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March, in which 50 people were killed by a right-wing extremist. Mr Wijewardene denied rumours that the government had been warned two weeks previously that such an attack might take place.
More than 40 people have been detained by police, and security forces remain on high alert. More detonators have been discovered throughout Colombo, at sites including a bus station and rubbish dump, suggesting that more attacks were planned. Police suspect that other would-be suicide bombers are still at large.
One funeral procession, due to take place at St Sebastian’s on Tuesday afternoon, was suspended under the continued threat. The Sri Lankan cabinet has announced that it will give 100,000 rupees for funeral expenses to the families of each person who died.