As Christians in Sri Lanka gathered on Sunday morning to celebrate Easter Mass, the culmination of Holy Week, powerful explosions ripped through three churches packed with worshipers, leaving hundreds of victims amid a havoc of splintered and blood-spattered pews.
In what the police said were coordinated terrorist attacks carried out by a single group, bombers also struck three hotels popular with tourists. At least 207 people were killed and 450 others injured, a police spokesman, Ruwan Gunasekera, said.
News of the bombings, the largest attack on South Asian Christians in recent memory, rippled out all Easter morning, interrupting celebrations across the world. Pope Francis, after celebrating Mass in St. Peter’s Square, said the attacks had “brought mourning and sorrow” on the most important of Christian holidays.
• The bombings began around 8:45 a.m., and targeted Roman Catholic houses of worship — St. Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo, the capital; St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo; and Zion Church in Batticaloa — along with three luxury hotels: the Shangri-La, the Cinnamon Grand, and the Kingsbury, all in Colombo.
• At least seven suspects were held in connection with the bombings, Sri Lanka’s defense minister, Ruwan Wijewardene, said. He said that suicide bombers had been behind the explosions.
Who did it? We don’t know yet. No one has claimed responsibility. But Time reports:
News agency AFP says it has seen documents that show that Sri Lankan police have been on the alert for several days, fearing that suicide bombers from a local radical Muslim group, the National Thowheeth Jama’ath (NTJ) were targeting prominent churches.
AFP also reported that Sri Lankan police seized a haul of explosives and detonators in January after arresting four men “from a newly formed radical Muslim group.”
A number of Sri Lankan Muslims were known to have joined ISIS in Syria, according to Reuters.
Sri Lankan Muslim organizations have strongly condemned the bombings.
On Easter Sunday! We live in an age of martyrs.
Our reader and regular commenter Hector is of Sri Lankan heritage. Hector, is there news from your family back in Sri Lanka? I hope and pray they are safe.