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Sri Lankan military officials stand guard at St. Anthony's Shrine in Colombo, Sri Lanka, April 21, 2019. Sri Lankan officials reported 290 confirmed deaths from eight blasts at churches and hotels in three cities in apparently coordinated Easter attacks.
Sri Lankan military officials stand guard at St. Anthony's Shrine in Colombo, Sri Lanka, April 21, 2019. Sri Lankan officials reported 290 confirmed deaths from eight blasts at churches and hotels in three cities in apparently coordinated Easter attacks.
Photo Credit: Dinuka Liyanawatte | Reuters

Sri Lanka searches for answers after bombings

At least 250 people were killed and 500 injured in attacks on three churches and three hotels on Easter Sunday

Sri Lankan Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith said he is struggling following the Easter bombings in his country “because there are no words with which I can console my people.”

“I don’t know what to say to them. I try. I tried to go to their funerals and I tried to embrace them and tell them I am with them, but I have no words to say. I am suffering with them,’” he told Canadian Broadcasting Corp. Radio as the death toll from attacks continued to rise. By April 24, more than 250 people — including many children — were confirmed dead and 500 others injured. Authorities originally reported more than 350 people died, but later revised that total.

A national day of mourning was held April 23 when the burials of the dead began.

Cardinal Ranjith also continued his criticism of the Sri Lankan government’s failure to heed the warnings about the attacks, claiming he would have canceled all Holy Week services had he been told. Indian security officials said they issued three warnings to their southern neighbor, one only an hour before six bombs were detonated across the island nation.

“It’s absolutely unacceptable behavior on the part of these high officials of the government, including some of the ministry officials,” Cardinal Ranjith told CBC Radio.

Sri Lankan Police Chief Pujuth Jayasundara issued a warning about the organization carrying out suicide bombings of prominent churches 10 days before the attacks, reported Agence-France Presse. It was unclear what action security forces had taken in response.

People in Colombo, Sri Lanka, reacted April 22 as military attended a suspected van containing explosives. Sri Lankan officials reported 290 confirmed deaths from the eight blasts at churches and hotels in three cities the previous day.
Photo Credit: Dinuka Liyanawatte | Reuters
Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe claimed he and other top government officials were not told and has said “we must look into why adequate precautions were not taken.”

The government confirmed April 24 that nine suicide bombers, including one woman, were involved and said it had arrested 40 people.

On April 23, Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks, but the claim has still not been confirmed. One video showed the bombers pledging allegiance to the jihadist group.

The government named two Islamic extremist groups, Jammiyathul Millathu Ibrahim and National Thowheeth Jama’ath, for the attacks that targeted three churches and three luxury hotels across the country, and authorities said they believe the bombers had help from offshore, a theory backed by experts. Authorities also said that it appeared that the radical groups responsible were planning a second wave of attacks.

The Indian bishops’ conference announced it would hold a day of prayer April 28, Divine Mercy Sunday, “to pledge our closeness and solidarity with the victims of the multiple bomb blasts.”

Two Catholic churches — St. Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo and St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo — as well as an evangelical church in Batticaloa were targeted during Easter services. The Shangri-La, Kingsbury and Cinnamon Grand hotels in Colombo also were attacked.

The majority of those killed and injured were Sri Lankan nationals, many of whom were Christians attending church services.

Pope Francis used his Easter Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican to express his “loving closeness to the Christian community, targeted while they were gathered in prayer, and all the victims of such cruel violence.” He also prayed for them on Easter Monday.

Bishops’ conferences around the world, including those in the United States, Australia, Pakistan and Indonesia, extended their sympathy.

“We offer our prayers for the victims and their families. And we join with all people of goodwill in condemning these acts of terrorism,” Cardinal Daniel N. Dinardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops stated. “This evil cannot overcome the hope found in our Savior’s resurrection. May the God of hope who has raised His Son, fill all hearts with the desire for peace.”

Damien Kingsbury, professor of international politics and a Sri Lankan expert at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia, said there has been no history of Islamic terrorism in Sri Lanka. National Thowheeth Jama’ath surfaced on only on a few occasions in recent years in relation to hate speech and property-related attacks on Buddhist temples, he said.

“It’s likely that recent return of Islamic State fighters to Sri Lanka had strengthened their resolve,” Kingsbury told Catholic News Service. Earlier in April, the Sri Lankan government had identified a number of Sri Lankans who had returned to the country following the collapse of the so-called IS caliphate in Syria.

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