By Samantha Loomes
Last month on Sunday the 21st, the Easter celebrations of the Sri Lankan population were cut short by eight bomb blasts that rocked the country. The attacks left, over 350 people dead and 500 injured as the first 6 bombs went off almost simultaneously the country plummeted into chaos, the final two came later in the day. One of which went off during a police raid which killed three officers. The attackers targeted 3 churches and 3 hotels, the most deadly of the attacks being the bomb at St. Sebastian church that killed 104 people.
Following the first 6 blasts, the country was placed into a state of emergency, all major social media’s were blocked and a dusk to dawn curfew was implemented, this allowed police to sweep across the nation, performing raids and searches, hoping to find answers to this horrific attack. Seven of the eight attackers have been identified as Sri Lanka citizens.
The minister of state for defence, Ruwan Wijewardene told the national body that from their investigations they have deduced that, “this attack was carried out in retaliation for the attack against Muslims in Christchurch”.
On Monday the Sri Lankan police confirmed that they thought the attack was carried out by National Thowheeth Jama’ath (NTJ) a homegrown terrorist group, they also allegedly had help from international terrorist groups, over 60 people were arrested in connection with the bombings. On Tuesday, however, the Islamic State (IS) claimed they were behind the attack, they released a video in which men can be seen pledging their allegiance to the organization. All of the men’s faces were covered except for one, who was identified as the ringleader and an Islamist preacher Zahran Hashim. It is still unclear if he was among the suicide bombers. In the video, it is said that the targets were “members of the US-led coalition and Christians in Sri Lanka”.
The whereabouts of Hashim remain unclear and his sister was quoted telling the BBC that she “Came to know about his actions only through the media. Even for a moment, I [she] never thought that he would do such a thing.
She went on to say, “I strongly deplore what he has done. Even if he is my brother, I cannot accept this. I’m not worried about him anymore.”
According to the authorities, all of the attackers came from well-educated backgrounds, one of them supposedly had even studied in Australia and the UK before returning to Sri Lanka.
Two of the attackers were sons of a wealthy spice trader, Mohamed Ibrahim, who was arrested after the attacks.
The worst part about these horrific attacks is that they could have been prevented, an Indian intelligence memo circulated to some government members weeks before the bombings warning them of what could happen. In light of the gross lapse in security the president of Sri Lanka, Maithripala Sirisena, has moved to remove the defence secretary and inspector general of police from their respective positions.
The Deputy Defence Minister, Ruwan Wijewardene has stated that “We have to take responsibility because unfortunately if the sharing of the intelligence information had been given to the right people, I think that at least this could have been avoided or even minimised.”
However, Lakshman Kiriella, the leader of parliament, said senior officials had withheld the critical information deliberately. “Some top intelligence officials hid the intelligence information purposefully,” he told MPs.
The defence secretary has denied this.
One of the first mass funerals were held on Tuesday, as Sri Lanka marked an official day of mourning for the victims. The mass funeral for about 30 victims took place at St Sebastian’s church in Negombo, north of Colombo.
Most of the victims that died were Sri Lankan nationals, many of which were Christians attending Easter Sunday church services.
The bombings are Sri Lanka’s deadliest act of violence since the end of the 26-year civil war in 2009. These attacks were the worst ever recorded against Sri Lanka’s small Christian minority, who make up just 7% of the population.
Priests and church leaders have urged the public to not retaliate against Muslims, they are urging people to end this cycle of violence.
Terrorism has no religion. There is no justification for what happened in New Zealand and there is no sense in what happened in Sri Lanka just days ago.