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Over 200 people have been killed and 450 hurt in multiple explosions which have taken place at churches and hotels in Sri Lanka. The attacks took place during Easter services at three churches in Negombo, Batticaloa and Colombo’s Kochchikade. Eight blasts in total were reported, with three hotels in the capital being targeted, including the Shangri-La, Kingsbury and Cinnamon Grand. The government has said that suicide bombers had set off the explosions, and that 13 people were currently being held in connection with the attacks.
“We believe these were coordinated attacks, and one group was behind them,” said Defence Minister Ruwan Wijewardene. Mangala Samaraweera, the Sri Lankan finance minister, called the explosions “a well-coordinated attempt to create murder, mayhem and anarchy.” Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe gave a briefing on Sunday evening, and referred to allegations that officials had been in possession of intelligence which had suggested an impending attack. “We must look into why adequate precautions were not taken. Neither I nor the Ministers were kept informed,” he said. “For now the priority is to apprehend the attackers,” he added.
The piece of intelligence which the Prime Minister had referred to was a letter which top Sri Lankan police official Priyalal Dissanayake had issued on April 11 to government security officials, warning of possible suicide attacks planned at Catholic churches. The letter advised special security measures to be in place for areas covered by the relevant security divisions. Sri Lankan Minister of Telecommunication Harin Fernando tweeted a picture of the letter on Sunday, and has highlighted that “there was a delay in action. Serious action needs to be taken as to why this warning was ignored.” At this point, it is unclear what steps were taken by authorities to prevent an attack.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks, but there has been a significant increase in attacks against Christians, according to the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka. Two weeks ago there was an attack on a Methodist church in the northern town of Anuradhapura, which further instilled fear in Christian communities across the country. The Catholic bishop Asiri Perera has tried to get the government to focus on this issue. After the Anuradhapura attack, he said, “The faithful are heartbroken. They have no place to pray, or celebrate the Easter Triduum. We all pray that God may give them courage and keep them steadfast in the face of persecution.”
The death toll for the attacks which took place on Sunday have been the highest since the civil war ended in 2009. The country has since seen other religion related violence. In March 2018 a state of emergency was declared after members of the majority Buddhist Sinhala community attacked mosques and Muslim-owned properties. Religious minorities in the country do not seem to have been given enough protection, despite intelligence having been provided to security officials before Sunday’s attack, which even the Prime Minister admitted he was not aware of. This attack highlights the need for a focus on the safety of religious minorities in the country, and for government and security officials to work closer to prevent such attacks happening in the future.