Dozens dead, hundreds hurt in attacks on Sri Lankan churches, hotels

Updated April 21, 2019 17:32:45

Easter Sunday bomb blasts at three Sri Lankan churches and three luxury hotels killed about 138 people and injured more than 400, following a lull in major attacks since the end of the civil war 10 years ago.

Key points:

  • A total of six sites were targeted, including Christian churches and luxury hotels
  • The attacks come almost 10 years after the end of a bloody civil war
  • There were no immediate claims of responsibility for the attacks

In just one church, St Sebastian’s in Katuwapitiya, a predominantly Catholic area north of Colombo, more than 50 people had been killed, a police official told news agency Reuters, with pictures showing bodies on the ground, blood on the pews and a destroyed roof.

Media reported 25 people were also killed in an attack on an evangelical church in Batticaloa in the country’s eastern province.

Three explosions were also reported at the Shangri La, Cinnamon Grand and Kingsbury luxury hotels in the centre of Colombo.

Nine foreigners were among the dead, the officials said.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe summoned his national security council for an emergency meeting.

“I strongly condemn the cowardly attacks on our people today. I call upon all Sri Lankans during this tragic time to remain united and strong,” he said in a tweet.

“Please avoid propagating unverified reports and speculation. The government is taking immediate steps to contain this situation.”

A spokesperson from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) told the ABC the “Australian High Commission in Colombo is making urgent enquiries with local authorities to determine the welfare of any Australians affected”.

DFAT added anyone concerned for the welfare of family and friends in the area should attempt to contact them directly, or call DFAT’s Consular Emergency Centre on 1300 555 135 (within Australia) or +61 2 6261 3305 (from overseas).

There were no immediate claims of responsibility for the attacks in a country that has experienced sporadic bursts of intense violence in recent history due to a prolonged conflict involving the Tamil Tigers — a separatist group that fought for independence for the country’s ethnic Tamil minority.

The group was listed by the US Department of State as a foreign terrorist organisation in 1997.

The group’s official insurgency was brought to a bloody end in 2009, but the UN’s special rapporteur on torture, Juan E Mendez, said atrocities continued after the end of the conflict.

Current President Maithripala Sirisena promised reconciliation and the persecution of war crimes when he took power in 2015.

Christian worshippers targeted

The attacks happened during Easter Sunday services.

Alex Agileson, who was near St Anthony’s when the bomb exploded, said buildings in the surrounding area shook with the blast.

St Sebastian’s Church posted pictures of destruction inside the church on its Facebook page, and requested help from the public.

Christians make up 7.4 per cent of the predominantly Buddhist country’s total population of 22.4 million. An estimated 82 per cent of Sri Lankan Christians belong to the Roman Catholic Church.

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.

In its 2018 report on Sri Lanka’s human rights, the US State Department noted that some Christian groups and churches reported they had been pressured to end worship activities after authorities classified them as “unauthorised gatherings”.

ABC/wires

Topics: terrorism, sri-lanka

<

p class=”published”> First posted April 21, 2019 15:00:15

Advertisements

You may have missed