Eight coordinated explosions in churches and hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday killed at least 290 people and wounded 500 others, in what officials have called “a new kind of terrorism.”
Police arrested 24 people in connection with the suicide bombings, the worst acts of violence that the island of South Asia has seen since its bloody civil war ended 10 years ago.
A ninth improvised explosive device (IED) was deactivated near the Bandaranaike International Airport in the capital on Sunday night, according to an Air Force spokesman. The explosions appear to have targeted tourist access points, as well as churches, in an attempt to gain maximum global attention.
Among the dead are foreign nationals, including five British citizens, two of whom also had a United States nationality, three Indians, two Australians, two Chinese, one person from the Netherlands, two Turkish citizens and one person from Portugal.
No group claimed responsibility for the attacks, but Sri Lankan Defense Minister Ruwan Wijewardene said the “terrorist incident” was carried out by those who follow “religious extremism.”
On Sunday night it was revealed in a leaked note that the police had been warned of a possible attack by Nation Thawahid Jaman (NTJ), an Islamist group led by Mohomad Saharan. It is not clear if the information is related to the attacks on Sunday.
The prime minister of Sri Lanka said that the intelligence information had not been shared with him or with other ministers. Sajith Premadasa, Minister of Housing and Cultural Affairs, said the officials had acted with “negligence and incompetence.”
Analysts, however, have warned against rushing to draw conclusions. Dhruva Jaishankar, a professor of Foreign Policy Studies at Brookings India, said the NTJ is a little-known group, which had previously disfigured Buddhist statues, and that it was unlikely to have the ability or sophistication to execute an attack like Sunday’s. without help.
Although there is a well-known transnational Islamist presence in places like Pakistan, Malaysia, and the Philippines, Jaishankar said that little is known about Islamic radicalism in Sri Lanka and that it was “premature” to speculate on which organizations might have been involved.
Christianity is a minority religion in Sri Lanka, which accounts for less than 10% of the total population of 21.4 million. According to census data, 70.2% of Sri Lankans identify themselves as Buddhists, 12% as Hindus, 9.7% as Muslims and 7.4% as Christians.
It is estimated that 82% of Christians in Sri Lanka are Roman Catholics.
A blockade of social networks was imposed while the authorities tried to contain the violence and establish who carried out the attacks and why.
How the attack developed
The first wave of attacks occurred during the services on Easter Sunday.
More than 1,000 people had gone to one of the sites of the explosions, the church of San Sebastian, where 102 people were killed, according to Father Edmond Tillekeratne, director of social communications of the Archdiocese of Colombo.
When the Easter services were launched in the churches of the cities of Colombo, Negombo, and Batticaloa, the explosions were recorded. The bombs blew up the roofs of the churches and killed the faithful. The images showed bloody banks, broken glass and columns of smoke.
“You can see pieces of meat all over the walls and in the sanctuary and even outside the church,” Tillekeratne said.
Other explosions swept through three luxury hotels in the capital city, Colombo: the Shangri-La, the Cinnamon Grand, and the Kingsbury, all popular with foreign tourists and the country’s business community. At Shangri-La, the bomb was detonated just after 9 a.m. local time at the Table One cafe, when tourists and guests were having breakfast.
Jaishankar, who has visited the three hotels attacked, said there was “very little security” in all of them.
Another explosion shook a hotel in front of the Dehiwala Zoo in Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia. The final explosion occurred at a private residence in Mahawila Gardens, Dematagoda, during a raid in connection with the attacks, authorities said. Three policemen were killed.
In recent years, Sri Lanka has become a holiday destination. In 2017, it received 2.2 million visitors compared to only one million in 2012. The country provides tourists with an affordable alternative to tropical destinations such as the Maldives.
On Monday morning, however, the beachfront hotel district, where several of the bombs struck, was heavily guarded by soldiers carrying AK47s and bomb-sniffing dogs were in the closed doors of the hotels where they were registered. the guests.
Boom of ISIS in Asia
Premadasa, the Sri Lankan minister, called Sunday’s attacks a “new kind of terrorism.”
“We have not had any separatist movement in the last 10 years and this was a shock to all of us,” he said.
The civil war between the Tamil Tiger separatists and the Sri Lankan government ended in 2009, after charging between 70,000 and 80,000 lives. The handling of that conflict, said Premadasa, had prepared the government to deal with terrorism.
“During the 30 years of terrorist war there were indiscriminate attacks against all the institutions, they (the Tamil Tigers) did not forgive anyone in their search for a separatist state, but we were victorious in defeating terrorism,” he added.
The targets of the attacks – crowded worshipers on Easter Sunday and three five-star hotels serving foreigners – have featured in previous attacks in the Asian region and beyond in recent years.