On the Easter morning of April 21, bomb explosions in eight locations in Colombo, Sri Lanka, left at least 290 people dead and over 500 injured.
The reportedly coordinated bomb blasts, which targeted mainly Catholic churches and luxury hotels across the island country, claimed the lives of mostly Sri Lankan Christians and foreign tourists. Experts and analysts are calling the bombings one of the bloodiest attacks in the country since the civil war ended a decade ago, which lasted 25 years and saw a loss of over 1,00,000 lives.
This is what we know so far:
What happened on Sunday?
According to reports, at around 8:45 am, the first of the explosions went off during the Easter service at St Anthony’s Shrine, followed by a blast at around 9 am at Shangri La Hotel’s Table One Restaurant—both located in the capital city of Colombo. This was followed by blasts in Cinnamon Grand Hotel, Kingsbury Hotel, Tropical Inn and Dematagoda housing complex, all in suburban Colombo—the last of which also claimed the lives of three police officers who were conducting a raid in connection with the attacks.
Within a few hours, two explosions, at the St Sebastian Church in Negombo (over 35 kilometres from Colombo), and at the Zion Church in the east coast city of Batticaloa (315 kilometres from Colombo), killed almost 100.
Who were affected in the bombings?
The bombings are being called the biggest attack on South Asian Christians in recent memory. Sri Lanka currently has a population of 22 million, out of which Christians make up 6 percent of the population.
In the light of the bombings, a New York Times report highlights increased attacks on minorities, particularly Christians and Muslims, in Sri Lanka, although none of them have been of such scale. The Easter bombings are also being seen as an escalation amid existing tensions around minorities across Asia—which includes countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Myanmar, Bangladesh, and the Philippines.
Who is responsible for the bombings?
In a press conference, the State Minister of Defence Ruwan Wijewardene said, “Most of the blasts appear to have been suicide bombings.” However, there is no official or verified confirmation on who is responsible. So far, 24 suspects have been arrested, although the investigative authorities are yet to disclose the names of these alleged perpetrators.
A report published by The Indian Express states that India had passed “specific intelligence” to the Sri Lankan authorities about an imminent attack, which had led to a nationwide red alert 10 days before the bombings by the Sri Lankan police. “The alert stated: ‘A foreign intelligence agency has reported that the NTJ (National Thowheeth Jama’ath) is planning to carry out suicide attacks targeting prominent churches as well as the Indian High Commission in Colombo,’” according to the report. (The NTJ is a little-known Muslim radical group that, according to experts, promotes extremist Islamic ideology.)
What happened after the bombings?
Several international and local reports have quoted eyewitness accounts, describing horrific and disturbing scenes of bloody carnage that has claimed lives of men, women, and children.
In the immediate aftermath of the bombings, a nationwide curfew was imposed, which was lifted early Monday morning. The Sri Lankan government also blocked social media platforms on Sunday, including YouTube, Facebook, WhatsApp, Viber, and Instagram, to avoid "false news reports."
How is the world responding to it?
Leaders, both local and international, have expressed their condemnation over the bombings. Pope Francis spoke about the attacks after Easter at the mass at St Peter’s Square, stating how the they have “brought mourning and pain to churches and other places where people were gathered in Sri Lanka.”
The Sri Lankan Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera called the attacks “a well-coordinated attempt to create murder, mayhem and anarchy,” while the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi stated in a tweet on Sunday afternoon, “There is no place for such barbarism in our region.”
What’s the latest update?
For now, the US State Department has issued a travel advisory to tourists, stating that “terrorist groups” are still plotting possible attacks. “Terrorists may attack with little or no warning,” they stated on Sunday, adding that possible target areas are transportation hubs, malls, hotels, sites of worship, airports and other public spaces.
As investigations go on and the government keeps the outgoing information to a minimum to avoid panic and misinformation, things are still tense. Especially after a pipe bomb filled with about 110 pounds of explosives was found late Sunday near the Bandaranaike International Airport, which was later defused by the Sri Lankan Air Force.
For now, the Sri Lankan authorities have urged the citizens to avoid hate speech and misinformation on social media.
UPDATE 22/4/2019: News of an explosion resurfaced from St Anthony's Shrine in Colombo at around 4 pm (local time), the site where the first explosion had taken place on Sunday morning. While it caused panic, it was later clarified that the explosion was a controlled one conducted by the bomb disposal units, who had found a suspect package in a van. Earlier on Monday, the Colombo police had reportedly found 87 low-explosive detonators from the Bastian Mawatha Private Bus Station in Pettah. The Sri Lankan government has declared April 23 to be the National Day of Mourning, and pledged compensation to victims. A "conditional state of emergency" will also be imposed from midnight onwards, along with a curfew from 8 pm Monday to 4 pm (local time) Tuesday as a precautionary measure.
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