Here's What to Know About the Easter Sunday Blasts in Sri Lanka



Scores of people have been killed and hundreds wounded in a series of blasts that rocked Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday.

Explosions have occurred in the capital Colombo, as well as in a town north of the capital and a town on the east coast. Churches and hotels were targeted. Nobody has claimed responsibility so far.

What are the casualty figures?

State media in Sri Lanka says 129 people have been killed, while an official toldthe Associated Press that the death told had reached 138. News reports say that around 500 people have been injured.
The BBC reports that several foreign nationals are among the dead. Accordingto AFP, as many as 35 foreigners may have died.

Where did the explosions take place?

Four explosions took place in Colombo, one at St. Anthony’s Shrine and three at hotels, reported by the BBC to be the Shangri La, Cinnamon Grand and Kingsbury hotels. The Cinnamon Grand is near the official residence of Sri Lanka’s prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.
AP reports that explosions also occurred in at St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo, a north of Colombo that is home to many Catholics, and in the eastern town of Batticaloa at the Zion Church.
AFP reported that a seventh blast took place at approximately 04:50 ET killing two more people. CNN reported that the latest blast took place a guest house in Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia, outside of Colombo.
Local media reported that an eight blast took place around 05:10 ET at a housing project in Dematagoda, a suburb of Sri Lanka, but further details have yet to emerge.

What have eyewitnesses said?

A priest at St. Sebastian’s Church told CNN that the ground was covered in glass and rubble and shattered glass.
“You can see pieces of flesh thrown all over the walls,” he said.
Sri Lanka’s Minister of Economic Reforms and Public Distribution, Harsha de Silva, said he had been at St Anthony’s Shrine, and described “Horrible scenes. I saw many body parts strewn all over.”
One resident of Colombo tweeted that many Sri Lankans had arrived at the National Blood Centre to give blood donations. “It’s so overcrowded they cannot control the crowd. Currently they are sending back people who have come after taking down name, contact and blood group,” he said of the overwhelming response.
Sarita Marlou, whose Facebook page appears to indicate that she is a singer at the Shangri-La, was at the hotel when it happened. According to her Facebook post, the explosion was at the Table One restaurant on the third floor of the building.
“Felt the blast all the way up to the 17th floor where we were sleeping. Few minutes later, we were asked to evacuate the hotel. While running down the stairs, saw a lot of blood on the floor but we were still clueless as to what really happened,” she wrote.
“Only after we got out of the hotel that we knew about the unfortunate incident and that it also hit two other nearby hotels, Cinnamon Grand and The Kingsbury. Apparently, churches were bombed, too. What a tragic day for Sri Lanka indeed.”
Chris Plosaij, who was visiting Colombo from Hong Kong, said on Facebookthat he was having breakfast at Shangri-La at around 9:00 a.m. Shortly after eating, he went upstairs to his room. That was when the explosions happened.
“We are ok and left with no injuries, but as we evacuated it became clear that many people were not as lucky as us. The place we were eating less than 10 minutes prior is now just a black hole with rubble,” he wrote.

What has the response been?

Ruwan Wijewardene, Sri Lanka’s minister of defense and mass media, has ordered a temporary ban on social media and a 12-hour curfew from 6pm, according to a tweet sent out by his cabinet colleague Harsha de Silva.
Wijewardene described the attacks as “a terrorist incident.”
Meanwhile, AP reported that Prime Minister Wickremesinghe convened Sri Lanka’s top military officials for an emergency meeting.
In a tweet, the prime minister said “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. Please avoid propagating unverified reports and speculation. The government is taking immediate steps to contain this situation.”
State media reported him as saying: ““I have given instructions to take very stern action against the persons who are responsible for this conspiracy.”
Mangala Samaraweera, Sri Lanka’s finance minister, tweeted that the blasts were “a well coordinated attempt to create murder, mayhem & anarchy.” He called for “All those who cherish democracy, freedom & economic prosperity” to “unite now with nerves of steel to defeat this heinous attempt.”
According to CNN, citing local media, Sri Lankan law enforcement have told the public to stay indoors and not to gather at the explosion sites or at the hospitals where the injured are being treated.
Leaders of Sri Lanka’s regional neighbors have condemned the attacks. “There is no place for such barbarism in our region,” Indian prime minister Narendra Modi tweeted. Pakistan’s prime minister Imran Khan tweeted that “Pakistan stands in complete solidarity with Sri Lanka in their hour of grief.”
Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the Archbishop of Colombo, called on Sri Lanka’s government to launch a “very impartial strong inquiry” and to punish those found responsible “mercilessly because only animals can behave like that,” AP said.
Facebook has activated its crisis response tool in the wake of the blasts.
The Shangri-la hotel in Colombo, where one of the blasts took place, issued a statement saying it was “deeply saddened and shocked by the incident and our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the casualties and those who have been affected.”
Local media is reporting that all schools will be closed for two days. Travelers are also being asked to arrive at the airport four hours before their flightsbecause of additional security.

What is known about the perpetrators?

An official told AP that two of the blasts were suspected to have been carried out by suicide bombers. Nobody has stepped forward to claim responsibility.
News agency AFP says it has seen documents that show that Sri Lankan police have been on the alert for several days, fearing that suicide bombers from a local radical Muslim group, the National Thowheeth Jama’ath (NTJ) were targeting “prominent churches.”
AFP also reported that Sri Lankan police seized a haul of explosives and detonators in January after arresting four men “from a newly formed radical Muslim group.”

What about sectarian tensions on the island?

While the majority (70%) of Sri Lankans are Buddhists, just under 10% are Muslims and about 7.5% are Christian. Hindus make up about 12.5% of the population.
A number of Sri Lankan Muslims were known to have joined ISIS in Syria, according to Reuters.
Sri Lanka declared a state of emergency in March 2018 after Buddhist mobs attacked Muslim businesses, homes and a mosque in the central city of Kandy. The BBC reported that a Muslim man was found dead in a burned-out building. The attacks were reportedly in retaliation for the earlier beating of a Buddhist by Muslim men.
In recent years, hardline Buddhist groups such as Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), otherwise known as Buddhist Power Force, have been accused of stirring sectarian hatred in Sri Lanka. The BBS accuses Sri Lanka’s Muslims of threatening the nation’s Buddhist identity, and enjoys support at high levels of the political establishment.
In a 2014 interview with TIME, Jehan Perera, executive director of the National Peace Council NGO, said “Prejudices are growing because there is a small but influential group of extremist Buddhists who are having a relatively free run and are able to articulate very national sentiments and highlight the insecurity of the [ethnically dominant] Sinhalese.”
Hinduism is dominant in the north and east of Sri Lanka. In 2009, Tamil insurgents who fought to create an independent state in the north were defeated after a 26-year-long campaign.
This is a developing story

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