Peace-loving people of Sri Lanka had been enjoying a decade of peace since the end of a 26-year-old civil war when, suddenly this Sunday, simultaneous explosions ripped through three churches where worshipers had gathered for Easter Sunday prayers.
The carnage by some unknown group started around 8.45 am at Colombo’s St Antony’s church where people of all faiths had gathered reflecting the multi-ethnic, multi-religious culture of the island nation.
Within minutes, more blasts occurred at St Sebastian’s church, above, in Colombo’s suburb of Negombo and at another church in far-off Batticaloa.
Such synchronised blasts also hit three luxury hotels in the heart of the capital and one small hotel in its suburb.
What happened on Sunday was a coordinated attack on the religious faith of a community that lives in harmony with people who follow other faiths. The group behind the serial attacks probably wanted to set one community against the other and create an environment to expand its base in Sri Lanka.
Sunday’s bombings were also an attack on Sri Lanka’s thriving tourism sector. The attackers wanted to scare away tourists. Among the 359 killed were 37 foreigners.
The quick arrests of seven people allegedly linked to the serial blasts later in the day indicate that the government knew the group behind the attacks.
Three police officers were killed as they were about to nab some suspects linked to the group from a house in the Colombo suburb of Dematagoda. Police suspect the group plotted Sunday’s attacks from this home.
While the police had thwarted terror attacks during the civil war, they failed to act on an intelligence alert issued by police chief Pujuth Jayasundara to top officers days before the bombings. In the note, he even named the group planning suicide attacks on prominent churches.
Luxury hotels and police in Sri Lanka had always coordinated well to ensure the safety of guests. On Sunday, however, the attackers took advantage of the complacency of hotel managements and police.
However, as soon as the news of church attacks reached the government, it made a wise move by immediately blocking social media networks to prevent misinformation and hate speech.