Over 300 people were killed and around 500 others were injured in eight coordinated attacks on churches and hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday.
The Sri Lankan government has identified National Thowheeth Jama’ath, a small Islamist terrorist organization, as the culprits behind the assault. ISIS, the terrorist group President Donald Trump says was defeated in Iraq and Syria, claimed responsibility for the attack. It’s worth being skeptical of this claim, though, as ISIS tends to say it had a hand in devastating terrorist attacks without evidence.
Sri Lanka’s state minister of defense also said that the attack was carried out in retaliation for the March attack on Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand. However, the official provided no further detail or evidence.
Authorities had intelligence the terrorists planned to target churches with suicide attacks, according to reports, though it appears that nothing was done about it. Many suspect the organization had outside help, which enabled them to carry off coordinated bombings on opposite sides of the country. At least 24 people are in custody in relation to the attacks.
As a way to halt misinformation, the Sri Lankan government temporarily cut off use to Facebook and WhatsApp.
It’s possible the devastation could’ve been worse — a six-foot pipe bomb was reportedly found near the airport hours after the initial wave of attacks.
Sri Lanka’s prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, released a statement on Sunday condemning the “cowardly attacks on our people” and asked “all Sri Lankans during this tragic time to remain united and strong.”
US President Donald Trump also joined other international leaders in offering his sympathy to Sri Lanka, saying: “The United States offers heartfelt condolences to the great people of Sri Lanka. We stand ready to help!”
Christians are a minority in Sri Lanka, and the majority of Christians in the country are Roman Catholic. Easter is one of Christianity’s holiest days, and many Sri Lankan Christians were worshipping at church when the attacks took place.
The coordinated bombings mark some of the worst violence the country has seen since the end of its civil war a decade ago.
What we know
- Around 8:45 am local time on Sunday, a series of blasts rang out at three churches where Easter Mass was taking place, the New York Times says.
- One church that was attacked, St. Anthony’s Shrine, is in Sri Lanka’s capital of Colombo. A church 20 miles to the north, St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo, was attacked as well. The third location was Zion Church, in the eastern city of Batticaloa.
- Bombings occurred in at least five other locations, including three Colombo hotels: the Cinnamon Grand, the Shangri-La Hotel, and the Kingsbury Hotel.
- According to CNN, two other locations hit by bombs were: Dehiwala Zoo in Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia, and a house in Dematagoda, which are both Colombo suburbs.
- One witness who was at the Shangri-La said in a Facebook post: “The bomb blasted inside Table One restaurant on the 3rd floor, the main restaurant of the Shangri-La Hotel, Colombo, where people were apparently having their Easter breakfast. 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.”
- Officials believe the attacks were conducted by people wearing suicide bombs. Authorities believe at least 321 people were killed and at least 500 others were wounded.
- Nearly 40 foreigners have been killed, according to Sri Lanka’s tourism minister. This number includes at least three British citizens, two people with dual US/UK citizenship, two Turkish citizens, three Chinese citizens, three Indian citizens, one Portuguese citizen, and one Dutch national. All the foreigners who were killed died in the hotel attacks.
- Officials from countries whose residents were killed in the attacks say they have been in touch with wounded residents as well as with the families of victims. James Dauris, high commissioner of the UK to Sri Lanka and Maldives, said he has “been speaking this afternoon with Brits in hospital,” and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands Stef Blok tweeted: “Our thoughts are with the victims, including one Dutch national at this moment.”
- Sri Lanka’s prime minister was abroad when the attacks happened. Wickremesinghe tweeted a statement condemning the attacks and requesting unity:
- The government state news portal, news.lk, said officials have imposed a temporary ban on social media across the country that includes messaging services like WhatsApp. The decision was made “as false news reports were spreading through social media,” according to the president’s office.
- Three police officers were killed in a raid while searching a home in connection with the bombing, AFP reports.
- A number of leaders have condemned the killings. Pope Francis, at Easter Sunday Mass, referred to the attacks as acts of cruel violence. “I entrust to the Lord all those who have tragically perished,” he said, “And I pray for the injured and all those who suffer as a result of this tragic event.”
- Other world leaders — including New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Trump — have expressed their outrage over the bombings and sent their condolences to the Sri Lankan people. Former US President Barack Obama called the bombings “an attack on humanity.”
- US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said “several US citizens were among those killed,” and added, “these vile attacks are a stark reminder of why the United States remains resolved in our fight to defeat terrorism.”
- Twenty-four people have been arrested in connection with the bombings.
What we don’t know
- If ISIS and National Thowheeth Jama’ath were really involved