Photo: Relatives of serial blast victims mourn outside a police morgue in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Monday, April 22, 2019. A government crime investigator says the coordinated Easter bombings that ripped through Sri Lankan churches and luxury hotels were carried out by seven suicide bombers which killed and injured hundreds of people, was Sri Lanka’s deadliest violence since a devastating civil war in the South Asian island nation ended a decade ago. (AP Photo/Chamila Karunarathne )
Our Christian family in Sri Lanka has suffered one of its greatest attacks in recent history.
Our hearts sank on Easter Sunday to hear that terrorists attacked three churches during Easter services and three hotels in Sri Lanka. The latest death toll is nearly 300, with 500 more wounded.
These deadly bombings will affect the lives of thousands of Christians in the country.
Religious attacks of this scale and severity are unprecedented in Sri Lanka. In the past, attacks on Christian churches and believers have been confined to certain areas of the country, usually at the village level, and with no bombs or sophisticated plots involved.
But on Sunday, that all changed.
The six initial blasts occurred in St. Anthony’s Church in Kochcikade, Colombo; St. Sebestian’s Church in Negombo; Zion Church in Batticaloa; and at the Kingsbury Hotel and the Cinnamon Grand Hotel in Colombo. The five-star hotels all offered special Easter-themed breakfasts, while all churches celebrated the resurrection of Jesus Christ with an Easter service. One explosion occurred in the residential district Dematagoda and one in a hotel near Dehiwala Zoo.
No group has claimed responsibility yet, but police officials report the arrests of 24 people suspected to have played a part in the attacks. Reportedly, the attacks were carried out by seven suicide bombers, all Sri Lankans. The Sri Lankan government has asked the media not to publish the names of the suspects, as releasing the names could give other extremist groups the opportunity to exploit the situation further.
Recent reports indicate the government blames little known Jihadist group, National Thoweed Jamath, for the bombings.
Background on Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is predominantly Buddhist and ethnic Sinhala (80 percent of the population). The country has a long and violent history for religious and ethnic reasons.
After decades of ethnic tension, a full-fledged civil war broke out in 1983. The Sinhalese Buddhist majority fought against the Tamil minority (mostly Hindu, but including a considerable number of Christians). There was a high death toll on both sides. The war ended in 2009 with the defeat of the Tamils, especially the Tamil Tigers group (LTTE), but true peace and reconciliation are still far off.
Due to this history, religious nationalism has thrived in Sri Lanka. Radical Buddhist groups have sprouted up across the country and were used by the previous government as a means of keeping religious minorities in check.
Terrorists have used Easter to launch deadly attacks in the past as well. Two of the most brutal killings took place on Palm Sunday 2017 in Egypt (45 dead) and Easter 2017 in Lahore, Pakistan (75 dead).
In many countries where faith costs the most, Christians run a higher risk of being assaulted during Christian holy days such as Christmas and Easter. In countries like Nigeria, Iraq, Egypt and Pakistan, worshipping on these special days often comes with potential danger.
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Our Christian brothers and sisters in Sri Lanka need to know they’re not alone and the worldwide Body of Christ stands with them through prayer and encouragement. We need to do everything we can to lift them up in prayer—and to strengthen them in the face of great persecution.