(Photo by LAKRUWAN WANNIARACHCHI / AFP)
(Photo by LAKRUWAN WANNIARACHCHI / AFP)

A string of eight powerful blasts, including suicide attacks, struck churches and luxury hotels frequented by foreigners in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, killing 290 people, including six Indians, and shattering a decade of peace in the island nation since the end of the brutal civil war with the LTTE.

What happened?

At least 290 have been killed, over 500 injured in the attack that targeted churches and hotels across the island nation of 23 million.  The blasts – one of the deadliest attacks in the country’s history – targeted St Anthony’s Church in Colombo, St Sebastian’s Church in the western coastal town of Negombo and Zion Church in the eastern town of Batticaloa around 8.45 a.m. (local time) as the Easter Sunday mass were in progress.

Later, explosions were reported from three five-star hotels – the Shangri-La, the Cinnamon Grand, and the Kingsbury in Colombo. More explosions followed in the afternoon, all in Colombo. The first was at the Tropical Inn, a small hotel not far from the national zoo in the suburb of Dehiwala. There was also at least one explosion at a housing complex in another suburb, Dematagoda.

The arrests

Sri Lankan authorities have arrested 24 people from the minority Muslim community in connection with the multiple blasts that rocked the island nation. However, the government said they will not disclose the details of the suspects involved in the attacks to prevent them from getting publicity.

But, according to PTI, police officials privately said the suspects were all from the minority Muslim community. Police said the van which had carried explosives to carry out bomb attacks at the three hotels was arrested with its Muslim driver.

The police have also discovered a safe house where the bombers had lived for nearly three months leading to the attacks in the south of Colombo suburb of Panadura.

Curfew

Sri Lanka temporarily blocked major social media and messaging services, including Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram, to curb the spread of misinformation.  The government set a nationwide curfew from 6 p.m. Sunday to 6 a.m. Monday.

The victims

The death toll on Monday sharply rose to 290, including six Indians, from a series of eight blasts that tore through churches and luxury hotels in Sri Lanka, in which 33 foreign nationals were killed.

Chairman of Sri Lanka Tourism Kishu Gomes confirmed 33 foreign nationals have been killed in the coordinated attacks believed to be carried out by a single group. Director of the National Hospital Dr Anil Jasinghe identified 12 of the 33 foreign nationals, which include three Indians, two Chinese and one each from Poland, Denmark, Japan, Pakistan, America, Morocco and Bangladesh.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, in a series of tweets, identified the three Indians as Lakshmi, Narayan Chandrashekhar, and Ramesh.

What is the ethnic, religious mix of Sri Lanka?

Sri Lanka lies off the southern tip of the Indian subcontinent, the teardrop-shaped island is separated from its giant neighbour by the narrow strip of sea known as the Palk Straits. The Tamils, the second-largest ethnic group, make up more than 15 percent of the population and live mainly in the north and northeast of the country. The majority of Sri Lankans are Buddhist – 70 percent, mostly Sinhalese – while 12 percent are Hindus, mostly Tamils, Muslims count 10 percent of the population, and Christians about six percent.

Christianity is a minority religion in Sri Lanka, where the majority are Buddhists. Christians account for less than 10 percent of the total population of 21.4 million. Sunday’s attacks are the deadliest seen in Sri Lanka since the end of the country’s civil war in 2009. The civil war ended with the defeat of the Tamil Tigers, who had fought for 26 years for an independent homeland for the minority ethnic Tamils. The war is thought to have killed between 70,000 and 80,000 people. The nation has seen some sporadic violence since. In March 2018, a state of emergency was declared after members of the majority Buddhist Sinhala community attacked mosques and Muslim-owned properties.

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