Colombo: More than 200 people, including 22 foreigners, were killed and over 400 in a series of blasts in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, hospitals and police officials said, the worst outbreak of violence since the end of the civil war a decade ago.
According to media reports, at about 0845 hrs, at least eight bombing attacks struck at least three churches, along with three five-star hotels frequented by foreigners, killing at least 207 people, in what the police said had been a coordinated attack.
Seven people were detained in connection with the attacks, defence minister Ruwan Wijewardene said.
The explosions led to an immediate clampdown, with the government declaring a 12-hour nationwide curfew and blocking major social media and messaging services, including Facebook and WhatsApp, to curb misinformation, according to the president’s secretary Udaya Seneviratne.
Some of the victims were killed as worshippers gathered for Mass at St. Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo, the capital; St Sebastian’s Church in Negombo, about 20 miles north of Colombo and Zion Church in the eastern city of Batticaloa, officials said.
The attacks also targeted high-end hotels in Colombo, the capital, including the Shangri-La, the Cinnamon Grand and the Kingsbury.
The first six explosions were all reported within a short period in the morning just as church services were starting.
World leaders condemned the attack.
India strongly condemned the serial blasts on multiple locations. The Ministry of External Affairs in a statement said, ‘India has always opposed and rejected terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, and has urged concerted action by the international community against terrorism, including cross-border terrorism. There can be no justification whatsoever for any act of terror. We call for perpetrators of such ghastly and heinous act and those who provide them support to be brought to justice expeditiously.We stand together with the people and Government of Sri Lanka in this hour of grief.’
President Ram Nath Kovind and Vice-President M Venkaiah Naidu offered their condolences to the people and government of the island nation and said such senseless violence, aimed at innocent people, has no place in a civilised society.
‘India condemns the terror attacks in Sri Lanka and offers its condolences to the people and government of the country. Such senseless violence, aimed at innocent people, has no place in civilised society,’ said Mr Kovind in his tweet.
‘We stand in complete solidarity with Sri Lanka,’ the President said.
Mr Naidu said, ‘I am shocked and deeply saddened to learn about the loss of innocent lives in multiple bombings on Easter Sunday in Colombo.’
Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to his Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and offered all possible help and assistance to ensuring its security against challenges posed by terrorism.
Mr Modi said that there was ‘no place for such barbarism’ in the region and India stands in solidarity with the people of the Island nation and will help in whatever way it can.
‘Strongly condemn the horrific blasts in Sri Lanka. There is no place for such barbarism in our region. India stands in solidarity with the people of Sri Lanka,’ Mr Modi said.
Indian National Congress and its party president Rahul Gandhi condemned terrible attacks on churches in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday and expressed condolences to the families of the victims.
‘I’m saddened & disturbed by reports of multiple bomb blasts in Colombo in which over 100 people have died & more than 300 injured. I strongly condemn this diabolical act of terrorism.
My condolences to the families of the victims. I pray the injured make a speedy recovery,’ Rahul said in a tweet.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, campaigning for the Lok Sabha elections in Nadia district, on Sunday condemned terrible attacks on churches and hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday and expressed condolences to the families of the victims.
In a tweet message, Ms Banerjee said, “Saddened and shocked at the disturbing news coming in from Sri Lanka. All forms of violence are unacceptable.Easter is a Festival of Peace. My thoughts and prayers with the grieving families,” she added.
Pope Francis, after celebrating Easter Mass in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, said the bombings in Sri Lanka had “brought mourning and sorrow.”
He expressed “affectionate closeness to the Christian community, struck while it was gathered in prayer, and to all the victims of such cruel violence.”
In a Twitter post, Sri Lanka Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe denounced the assaults and urged the public not to spread misinformation, which has fueled the country’s sectarian divide in the past.
Prime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan said his country “stands in complete solidarity with Sri Lanka in their hour of grief.”
Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain, President Emmanuel Macron of France and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany were among the European leaders to express their grief.
Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Union Commission, said that he had received news of the bombings “with horror and sadness.”
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey said in a post on Twitter that the attack was “an assault on all of humanity.”
President Trump said on Twitter that the United States stood ready to help, though the tweet inflated the number of victims in a typo.
“Heartfelt condolences from the people of the United States to the people of Sri Lanka on the horrible terrorist attacks on churches and hotels,” he wrote, adding that the explosions had “killed at least 138 million people and badly injured 600 more.”
Sri Lanka’s civil war ended almost 10 years ago, but memories of urban carnage are still fresh, particularly for residents of the capital. During the conflict, brutal bombings of airports, bus stations, banks, cafes, and hotels were not uncommon.
The Cinnamon Grand, one of the hotels targeted on Sunday, had been blown up before, in 1984, when it was called the Hotel Lanka Oberoi.
The Roman Catholic Church in Sri Lanka traces its roots to the arrival of the Portuguese in the early 1500s and the subsequent influence of Portuguese, Dutch and Irish missionaries. Sri Lankan Catholics make up a significant minority of the country’s population, accounting for roughly 6 percent of the country and centered largely in the Colombo-Negombo area.
In 1995, Pope John Paul II traveled to Sri Lanka to canonize Joseph Vaz, an Indian-born priest and missionary. Thousands of people greeted the pope’s motorcade as it traveled from the airport in Negombo to Colombo.
Meenakshi Ganguly, the South Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said that given Sri Lanka’s long history of ethnic and religious violence, including a nearly three-decade civil war that only ended in 2009, it was premature to jump to conclusions about whether radicalized Muslims might have played a role in the attacks.
But the scale of the attacks and the death toll on Sunday were unprecedented even by Sri Lanka’s bloody standards, Ms.Ganguly said.
“In three decades of war, this scale of attack has never happened,” she said. “In terms of serious, religion-based violence, we haven’t really seen that.”