The Slatest

Blasts at Churches and Hotels in Sri Lanka Kill More Than 200 on Easter Sunday

Sri Lankan security personnel walk through debris following an explosion in St Sebastian's Church in Negombo, north of the capital Colombo, on April 21, 2019.
Sri Lankan security personnel walk through debris following an explosion in St Sebastian’s Church in Negombo, north of the capital Colombo, on April 21, 2019.
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Bombs struck three churches in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday and three luxury hotels popular with foreign tourists, killing at least 207 people and wounding 450 in what are being described as a series of coordinated terrorist attacks. The death toll has been increasing in quick succession since the blasts and the latest number comes from law enforcement officials. A seventh and eighth bombing Sunday afternoon that took place at private house and another hotel appear to have been carried out by suspects as they were fleeing from police. Seven suspects have been arrested in the attacks that officials say were mostly suicide bombings and marked the deadliest violence to strike the country since the end of the civil war a decade ago. There were at least 27 foreigners, including British, Dutch, and American citizens, among the dead, according to hospital officials.

Some of the bombings, which were mostly carried out in or around the capital city of Colombo, at the churches appear to have been timed to hit the highest number of worshippers possible. So far the deadliest explosion appears to have taken place at St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo, which is about 20 miles north of Colombo. More than 50 people were killed in that blast that blew out much of the church’s roof. The church posted horrific photos showing the aftermath of the blast on Facebook as it appealed for help. The other bombed churches were St. Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo and Zion Church in the eastern city of Batticaloa. “It was a river of blood,” N. A. Sumanapala, a shopkeeper near St. Anthony’s said. “The priest came out and he was covered in blood.” As panic spread to other churches, most stopped or canceled their Easter services. The three high-end hotels targeted in Colombo were: the Shangri-La, the Cinnamon Grand and the Kingsbury.

Sri Lankan authorities imposed a curfew and blocked social media networks as they launched a massive security operation to locate the culprits. No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks but Defense Minister Ruwan Wijewardena blamed religious extremists for the blasts that rocked a country that once regularly saw bombings in Colombo during a decades-long war with Tamil separatists. Around 70 percent of Sri Lanka’s population of around 22 million are Buddhist, 12.6 percent are Hindu, 9.7 percent, Muslim, and 7.6 percent Christian, according to the 2012 census.

The archbishop of Colombo, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, called on the public to join forces to support the victims and demanded a “very impartial strong inquiry” from the government to punish those found responsible “mercilessly because only animals can behave like that.” The Muslim council of Sri Lanka issued a statement condemning the attack on “our Christian brothers and sisters on their holy day of Easter, as well as on the hotels in Colombo.”

Leaders around the world also rushed to condemn the bombings. “New Zealand condemns all acts of terrorism and our resolve has only been strengthened by the attack on our soil,” New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in reference to the March 15 shootings at two mosques in Christchurch. “New Zealand rejects all forms of extremism and stands for freedom of religion and the right to worship safely.” President Donald Trump also offered condolences on Twitter. “The United States offers heartfelt condolences to the great people of Sri Lanka,” Trump wrote. “We stand ready to help!” British Prime Minister Theresa May called the attacks “truly appalling” and offered her sympathies to the victims. “We must stand together to make sure that no one should ever have to practise their faith in fear,” May tweeted.