A series of 8 bomb attacks in hotels and churches Sri Lanka, targeting the country’s Christian minority left at least 290 people dead and more than 500 injured.
The timeline of the attacks is the following:
On April 21st, at 9 AM local time an explosion went off during Easter services at St. Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo, the capital city. Three high-end hotels were also targeted: Cinnamon Grand, Shangri-La Hotel and The Kingsbury.
Around the same time, St. Sebastian’s Church, more than 22 miles north of the capital in the city of Negombo, was targeted.
And on the other side of the island, also around 8 AM local time, a bomb went off the evangelical Zion Church, 196 miles away from Colombo on Sri Lanka’s east coast city of Batticaloa.
In the early afternoon, a hotel in front of the Dehiwala Zoo, the Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia was attacked in Colombo.
Finally, the final blast happened outside of a private house in Mahawila Gardens in the Dematagoda area while police officers conducted a raid in connection with the attacks. Three police officers were killed.
A Sri Lanka military spokesman says that an explosive device was found and defused later in the day, on an access road to the international airport near Colombo. Air Force Group Captain Gihan Seneviratne said Monday that authorities found a “homemade” pipe bomb filled with 50 kilograms of explosives in Andiambalama, near the airport.
No group has assumed responsibility for the attacks as of mid-day on April 22nd.
#Colombo at 8.00 am.
Usually Fort and Pettah roads will be flooded by vehicles at this time.
Literally no vehicles at all in the road. It's like unofficial curfew.#SriLanka #SriLankaAttacks #SriLankaBlasts pic.twitter.com/CPIPbGCu4q
— Loshan – ARVLOSHAN (@ARVLoshan) April 22, 2019
In a press conference on April 22nd, Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne confirmed that police were “aware of information” regarding possible attacks around Easter.
Speaking at Temple Trees, the official residence of the prime minister, Senaratne said the country’s police chief wrote a letter on April 9 warning of possibile “acts of terror.”
LIVE: Officials in Sri Lanka are holding a news conference following a series of blasts on #EasterSunday that killed 290 people.
— Al Jazeera News (@AJENews) April 22, 2019
“Intelligence reports said that during this Easter period these types of attacks can take place, and they also mentioned that Christian places of worship and places of tourist interest may be targeted,” Senaratne said.
“So, we have to investigate as to why the people concerned did not take prompt action despite the intelligence reports indicating possible attacks during this period.”
Speaking on April 21st, Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe also acknowledge that there was information about possible attacks.
“We must also look into why adequate precautions were not taken,” he said.
A Sri Lankan government forensic analyst told AP news agency that the six near-simultaneous attacks on three churches and three luxury hotels were carried out by 7 suicide bombers.
The government analyst Ariyananda Welianga says an analysis of the attackers’ body parts collected from the scenes shows that the attacks were suicide bombings.
Welianga said two people were involved in the attack at the Shangri-La hotel. One bomber each attacked the Cinnamon Grand and Kingsbury hotels and St. Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo, St. Sebastian’s church in the city of Negombo and Zion Church in the city of Batticaloa.
Police spokesperson Ruwan Gunasekara said that 24 individuals were arrested, all locals, and all of them were being questioned by the Criminal Investigations Department.
Speaking outside St Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo, Sri Lanka’s Minister of Housing Sajith Premadasa said the Easter attacks were shocking for the country. He also vowed a “shocking” response.
“Since the end of the war in 2009, we have not experienced this type of attack so we are extremely disturbed and concerned about this,” he said. “It’s a shock and we will apply shock therapy,” he added later.
He also said that there were security oversights leading up to the attacks and that that would also be investigated.
Harsha de Silva, the country’s economic reforms minister, promised in a tweet that funeral costs for those who died at St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo will be covered by the government.
Words can’t describe the pain here at St. Sebastian’s, Katuwapitiya. 102 innocent Catholics lost their lives; a mass funeral. @sajithpremadasa and I visited to ensure all funeral costs are taken care of, compensation paid, n church renovated; the least we can do at the moment. pic.twitter.com/BV6aPuGpFI
— Harsha de Silva (@HarshadeSilvaMP) 22 April 2019
The US Department of State issued a travel advisory to Sri Lanka: “Terrorist groups continue plotting possible attacks in Sri Lanka.”
US President Donald Trump tweeted his condolences on the “horrible terrorist attacks.”
138 people have been killed in Sri Lanka, with more that 600 badly injured, in a terrorist attack on churches and hotels. The United States offers heartfelt condolences to the great people of Sri Lanka. We stand ready to help!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 21, 2019
Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed his condolences and said that Russia would remain a “reliable partner of Sri Lanka in the fight against international terrorism.”
“Dear Mr. President, please accept my most sincere condolences over the tragic consequences of a series of terrorist acts in the cities of your country. I would like to confirm that Russia was and remains a reliable partner of Sri Lanka in the fight against the threat of international terrorism … Our country is shared by grief relatives and friends of the victims and hope for a speedy recovery of all the wounded,” Putin said.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called the bombings “an assault on all of humanity.”
British Prime Minister Theresa May said: “The acts of violence against churches and hotels in Sri Lanka are truly appalling, and my deepest sympathies go out to all of those affected at this tragic time.”
“I learned with sadness and pain of the news of the grave attacks, that precisely today, Easter, brought mourning and pain to churches and other places where people were gathered in Sri Lanka,” he told tens of thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square to hear his Easter Sunday message.
“I wish to express my affectionate closeness to the Christian community, hit while it was gathered in prayer, and to all the victims of such cruel violence.”
The population of Sri Lanka is approximately 23 million people, out of which 10% are Muslims and about 6% are Christian.
Earlier in 2018, anti-Muslim violence was on the rise across central Sri Lanka, fed by rumours spread over social media about attacks on Buddhists. A state of emergency was briefly declared in the wake of those attacks.