Celebration turned Terror: The Devastating Attacks that Shocked Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday
By Sophie Germain and Maya Gomes
Easter Sunday, known by many as a day of celebration and faith, was marred by the news of a series of devastating bombings in Sri Lanka. Early on the morning of Sunday, April 21st, a series of coordinated suicide bombings, which targeted churches and hotels in the small island country, left over 250 dead and 500 injured.
Three churches holding Easter services were targeted in the attacks: St. Antony’s, which is located in the country’s capital, Colombo; St. Sebastian’s in Negombo, which is north of the capital, and the Zion Church, located in the eastern port city of Batticaloa.
The perpetrators turned what should have been a day of blissful festivities and worship into a day of fear and extreme loss for the marginal Christian population in Sri Lanka. Approximately 7.6% of the Sri Lankan population identifies as Christian, so the attacks were viewed by many as a deliberate act of hatred toward a minority group.
At the same time as the attacks on the churches were transpiring, bombs were detonated in several luxury hotels popular with international guests: the Shangri-La, the Cinnamon Grand, and the Kingsbury. Additionally, a bomb was detonated near a hotel located by the Dehiwala Zoo in Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia, which is in the country’s western province.
The final explosion of the day came from a private residence which police were raiding in response to the earlier attacks, killing three officers.
In the days following the brutal attacks, it has emerged that the Sri Lankan government had been warned by foreign intelligence officials about the likelihood of an attack on Easter prior to the bombings occuring. Their failure to respond according to the warnings left the country vulnerable to the bombings. The Sri Lankan government has since apologized, and two top defense ministers have been forced to resign over their lack of action regarding the explosions and the warnings that were given.
Information has since surfaced about the suicide bombers, describing them as well-educated middle-class Sri Lankans, and has linked them with a homegrown militant Islamic group that is connected to the bombings. The group, called the National Thowheeth Jama’ath, is a local group, but officials suspect that the association received aid from international terrorist groups (possibly including ISIS according to preliminary US investigations) in carrying out the attacks. More than sixty people have been arrested in connection to the bombings.
For many Sri Lankans, the bombings served as a reminder of the civil war that ended only 10 years ago, in 2009. The war was a brutal affair that lasted for almost 30 years. Officials have warned that there is still a possibility of more attacks, as explosives continue to be found and suspects are still being sought after.