First Day of Mourning Begins For the Sri Lanka Bombings

  • img Harvey Cawdron
  • POSTED ON 23 Apr 2019
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Sri Lanka has entered its first day of mourning after the death toll increased and the first burials happened after Sunday’s bombings.

Police have said that the official death toll is now 310 and around 500 wounded. Three minutes of silence were held on Tuesday, beginning at 8:30am, which coincided with the beginning of Sunday’s attacks on Christian worshippers and hotel guests.

Coffins were brought in individually at St Sebastian’s for services in preparation for a mass memorial beginning mid-morning. Anthony Jayakody, auxiliary bishop of Colombo, told AFP: ‘There are so many bodies that we can’t accommodate them all at once’.

Tensions still remained high as flags on government buildings were lowered to half mast and people bowed their heads. After an unattended package was found at Kollupitiya railway station in Colombo, and bomb disposal squads were called there. People were urged to stay away from the area by the US embassy until the all-clear was given.

A state of emergency has been announced and a total of 40 arrests have been made, with the second overnight curfew lifting at 4am. On Tuesday, Parliament is due to convene, and the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is expected to give an announcement.

Cabinet minister and government spokesman Rajitha Senaratne said that investigators are searching for information as to whether the chief suspect, a local Islamist group called ‘National Thowheeth Jama’ath’, received ‘international support’. However, no group has yet claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Experts have suggested that it is very unlikely the organisation would have been able to quickly develop the ability to carry out a complex attack involving multiple suicide bombings without significant assistance from the outside. Senaratne said such ‘a small organisation’ could not have carried out such well-coordinated attacks.

As security forces continued searching Colombo for more explosives, focus moved towards the role that the infighting in the government may have played in allowing Sunday’s attack to occur.

An intelligence note with information about the names, targets and whereabouts of possible attackers was circulated in parts of the government, but it is thought not to have reached the cabinet nor the Prime Minister. It is also not clear whether their security council considered the warnings.

Since a constitutional crisis late last year, where the Prime Minister and his supporters were not invited to meetings of the Country’s top security officials, Sri Lanka’s government has been divided into factions.

On Tuesday at St Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo, where many died at Easter Sunday prayers, a crowd of a few dozen people prayed silently whilst holding candles, palms pressed together. Some struggled to hold back tears, and as the three minutes ended, the crowd started chanting prayers.

The attacks effected the country’s Christian minority the most, with it making up just seven percent of its 21 million population. It’s the worst atrocity since Sri Lanka’s civil war ended a decade ago.

President Maithripala Sirisena’s office claimed that there was intelligence that ‘international terror groups’ were ‘behind local terrorists’ and that foreign help would be sought to assist in investigating.

According to the BBC, on Tuesday, defence minister Ruwan Wijewardene told Parliament that ‘preliminary investigations’ suggested that the bombings were in retaliation for the Christchurch attacks in New Zealand.

At midnight a state of emergency was called, giving the police and the military special powers to counter militant strikes. This allowed them to detain suspects without a court order.

Tensions were still high and security still heavy on Monday after a bomb was discovered near one of the targeted churches by police and exploded before they could diffuse it. No injuries were reported, however.

87 bomb detonators were also found by police at a Colombo bus station.

Details have begun emerging about some of the foreigners killed in the blasts. Sri Lanka’s foreign ministry said 31 foreign nationals were killed in the blast, with 14 unaccounted for. The US reported at least four Americans killed, one a child, and the Netherlands three. A Danish billionaire lost three of his children in the attacks, according to a spokesman for his company.

According to Sri Lankan officials and foreign governments, eight Britons, ten Indians, two Australians, and nationals from Turkey, Portugal and France, were also victims of the attacks.

The bombers targeted three Colombo luxury hotels popular with tourists from other countries - the Cinnamon Grand, the Shangri-La and the Kingsbury – and three churches: two in the Colombo region and one in Batticaloa.

Two more explosions were triggered as security forces carried out raids searching for suspects.

Interpol claimed it was deploying specialists and investigators to Sri Lanka, and the US State Department warned of possible future attacks in a travel advisory.