On Easter Sunday, one of the holiest of Christian holidays, a series of coordinated suicide bomb attacks targeting churches and hotels swept across the island nation of Sri Lanka.
By the time the smoke cleared, more than 300 people had died, and hundreds more had been injured.
The vast majority of the victims were Sri Lankan, but citizens of eight other countries, including the US, were reportedly killed in the attacks as well.
Authorities have blamed an Islamist militant group called National Thowheeth Jama’ath for the devastating explosions and are holding 24 people in custody. The Sri Lankan government believes that the group had help from an international terrorist organization in carrying out the attacks.
The bombings come after a decade of relative calm in Sri Lanka — though it’s been rocked by ethnic tensions and fighting in the past.
The Sinhalese ethnic group, who are mainly Buddhist, make up the majority of Sri Lanka’s population, while the Tamil ethnic group, who are mostly Hindu but also include Christians and Muslims, are a minority. Tamils have been historically marginalized and disenfranchised, and after the country (which was known as Ceylon at that time) gained independence from the British in 1948, tensions between the Sinhalese majority and Tamil minority increased.
Beginning in the 1980s, a separatist group called the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or Tamil Tigers, fought a civil war with the Sri Lankan government. The decades-long conflict scarred the country, and left as many as 100,000 people dead. (The country also was hit hard by an Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, which decimated much of Sri Lanka’s coastal infrastructure.)
After the civil war ended in 2009, though, a relative calm ensued. Sri Lanka is known for its lush jungles, tea plantations, Buddhist temples, and beaches, and is a popular tourism destination. Lately, though, Sinhalese Buddhist nationalism has been on the rise; last year Buddhist mobs violently attacked Muslims and Muslim-owned businesses on the island.
The scale of Sunday’s attack targeting Christians, who make up roughly 7 percent of the country’s population, was completely unprecedented, though. It appears the government had advance notice of terrorist threats to churches, but political squabbling among fractious politicians led to the squandering of this intelligence.