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The Sri Lanka Easter Bombings

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The Sri Lanka Easter Bombings

Written by Matthew Mendez, Journalist

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On 21 April 2019, two-hundred fifty-three innocent lives perished at the hands of a series of terrorist bombings in Sri Lanka. Coordinated by the National Thowheeth Jama’ath, an Islamic jihadist group, the bombings targeted Christian churches throughout the country and three luxury hotels in Colombo. In addition to hundreds of native Sri Lankans, forty-two foreign nationals and three police officers were killed by the terrorists. Amidst all the chaos following the bombings, various theories have arisen explaining the cause of the attacks, with State Minister of Defence Ruwan Wijewardene naming the terrorists’ actions as retaliation for the Christchurch massacre on 15 March 2019 in which a white supremacist murdered fifty innocent people at mosque. However, others claim that the attacks had already been well planned out prior to Christchurch.

Unfortunately, Sri Lanka has been afflicted by terrorism for years. Prior to 2009, Sri Lanka had been plagued by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a Tamil-supremacist group who sought to seize control of the country from the Sinhalese majority and establish an ethnic-Tamil state. However, by 2009, they were defeated by the Sri Lankan government and peace was temporarily restored. By 2010, attacks targeting Christian churches became much more prominent – a trend attributed to the increased activity of jihadis arriving in Sri Lanka to radicalize the Muslim population.

On 4 April, seventeen days before the attacks, Sri Lankan authorities received news about the possibility of an imminent terrorist attack. However, no specifics about the exact time and locations of the attacks were revealed. By 21 April (Easter Sunday) though, it was too late to take any extra precautionary measures. The first attacks occured at the Catholic Shrine of St. Anthony in Colombo and at St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo. The first two attacks were followed by a third attack on Protestant Evangelical Zion Church in Batticaloa. In addition to the bombings at the churches, three luxury hotels in Colombo (the Shangri-La Hotel, the Cinnamon Grand Hotel, and the Kingsbury) and a guest house (the Tropical Inn) in Dehiwala were attacked. Police were able to identify eight of the nine suicide bombers, with most of the culprits coming from well-off or wealthy families. Through further investigation, Sri Lankan security forces also arrested thirty-three suspected accomplices.

Following the attacks on 21 April, the Sri Lanka police faced much criticism for not preventing the bombings. In addition, former president of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapaksa, criticized the government for having weakened the intelligence services and thus, allowed extremism to exist more unchecked. On the 24 April, President Sirisena pledged to reform the Sri Lankan nation’s security and police forces in the coming weeks in order to better respond to national security threats. More political fallout seems to be on the horizon though, especially as the Sri Lankan presidential elections draw ever closer.

 

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