Over 138 die as Sri Lanka’s blasts hit churches, hotels
• World leaders mourn, govt imposes curfew, shuts down social media
President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday joined world leaders in condemning the bomb attacks on several churches and hotels in Sri Lanka.At least 138 people were killed and 450 hurt in the incident, which coincided with Easter celebrations.Eight blasts were reported, including at three churches in Negombo, Batticaloa and Colombo’s Kochchikade district. The Shangri-La, Kingsbury and Cinnamon Grand hotels and one other, all in the capital, were also targeted.
A national curfew has been put in place “until further notice” and social media networks have been temporarily blocked.Buhari, in a statement by Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity Garba Shehu extended condolences to the families of persons killed and wished the injured speedy recovery. “We stand with victims of terrorism all over the world because we know and understand this harrowing inhuman activity,” the president said.He added that Nigeria was standing with the people of Sri Lanka, even as he urged authorities not to spare “the wicked elements behind these mischievous attacks.”
President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) Rev Dr Samson Ayokunle said it was “a tragic irony that these dastardly acts took place while we are celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ who died for the sin of the world including those terrorists.”In a statement, he urged the United Nations to step up aid to victims of similar attacks in Nigeria and other countries.He recalled: “This weekend, here in Nigeria, not fewer than 11 people were reportedly killed in Benue State during the Easter celebrations,” adding optimistically: “The good news is that Jesus, the Prince of Peace, will restore peace to the world.”
Also, state chairman of CAN, Kaduna chapter, Rev Joseph Hayab, called on the international community and world leaders to bring the perpetrators to book. “They should be punished. The world should find solution to these killings and attacks that are spreading across countries,” he said.Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena issued a statement calling for people to remain calm and support the authorities in their investigations. Also, Prime Ministrer Ranil Wickremesinghe condemned what he described as “cowardly attacks”. He called on the people “during this tragic time to remain united and strong.”
Pope Francis, in his traditional Urbi et Orbi speech at the Vatican, condemned the attacks as “such cruel violence” targeting Christians celebrating Easter.Cardinal Archbishop of Colombo, Malcolm Ranjith, told the BBC: “It’s a very difficult and a very sad situation for all of us because we never expected such a thing to happen and especially on Easter Sunday.”
UK Prime Minister Theresa May tweeted condolences, saying the “acts of violence against churches and hotels in Sri Lanka are truly appalling”.US President Donald Trump tweeted “heartfelt condolences” for the “horrible terrorist attacks”.A Sri Lankan foreign ministry official meanwhile said at least 27 foreign nationals were among the dead.
Reports say seven people were arrested. It however remains unclear who was responsible for the attacks.The country’s defence minister said one group probably carried out the bombings.The first reports of explosions came at about 8:45 a.m. local time, with six blasts reported close together at churches and luxury hotels.St Sebastian’s church in Negombo was severely damaged in one explosion, with dozens killed at the site. Images from inside showed blood on the pews and the building’s ceiling shattered.
There were also heavy casualties at the site of the first blast in St Anthony’s, a hugely popular shrine in Kochchikade, a district of Colombo.Robert Tyler, who has lived in Sri Lanka for six years, told the BBC that at least two of the hotels appeared to have had their restaurants targeted at a busy time for breakfast.A seventh explosion later hit near the zoo in Dehiwala, southern Colombo, and an eighth explosion was reported near the Colombo district of Dematagoda.
Media say it was suicide bombing and that three people, believed to be security personnel, were killed during a police raid.Security was stepped up at the country’s main Bandaranaike International Airport. Officials said people would be able to travel to the airport under the curfew if they produced their boarding pass and identification at checkpoints. Travellers were advised to arrive at the airport four hours before their scheduled flight time.
The vast majority of those killed were thought to be Sri Lankan nationals, including dozens who were attending Easter church services.At least five British people, including two with joint US citizenship, were believed to be among the dead. Netherlands Foreign Minister Stef Blok confirmed in a statement that one Dutch national was killed. Two Turkish citizens were killed, state news agency Anadolu reports.
Colombo resident Usman Ali told the BBC there were massive queues as he joined people trying to donate blood. “Everyone had just one intention and that was to help the victims of the blast, no matter what religion or race they may be. Each person was helping another out in filling forms,” he said. Rumours have been reported of more attacks and police have told people to stay indoors and remain calm. But there is some element of panic.The attacks were the deadliest in Sri Lanka since the end of the country’s civil war in 2009.The conflict ended with the defeat of the Tamil Tigers, who had fought for 26 years for an independent homeland for the minority ethnic Tamils. The war is thought to have killed between 70,000 and 80,000 people.
The nation has seen some sporadic violence since. In March 2018, a state of emergency was declared after members of the majority Buddhist Sinhala community attacked mosques and Muslim-owned property.Only about six per cent of mainly Buddhist Sri Lanka is Catholic, and the country is a patchwork of different religious and ethnic groups, dominated by Buddhist Sinhalese.
Out of Sri Lanka’s total population of around 22 million, 70 per cent are Buddhist, 12.6 percent Hindu, 9.7 percent Muslim and 7.6 per cent Christian, according to the country’s 2012 census.Last year, there were 86 verified incidents of discrimination, threats and violence against Christians, according to the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (NCEASL), which represents more than 200 churches and other Christian organisations. This year, the NCEASL recorded 26 such incidents, including one in which Buddhist monks allegedly attempted to disrupt a Sunday worship service, with the last one reported on March 25.
There have been no attacks in Sri Lanka linked to foreign Islamist groups, but in January, Sri Lankan police seized a haul of explosives and detonators following the arrest of four men from a newly formed radical Muslim group.Documents seen by AFP revealed that Sri Lanka’s police chief Pujuth Jayasundara issued an intelligence alert to top officers 10 days ago, warning that suicide bombers planned to hit “prominent churches”.
“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,” the alert said.The NTJ is a radical Muslim group in Sri Lanka that was linked last year to the vandalisation of Buddhist statues.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, speaking late Sunday, acknowledged “information was there” about possible attacks and that an investigation would look into “why adequate precautions were not taken”.
As reported from guardian