Sri Lankan authorities have imposed a curfew across the country starting at 3 pm today. This follows multiple attacks on three hotels and three churches in Colombo, Negombo, and Batticaloa, Asia News reports.
Police have asked the population to stay at home and above all not to visits the blast sites, nor stay outside the hospitals where the victims have been taken. The Education Ministry has ordered all schools closed for the next two days. The country’s universities will also be closed starting tomorrow until further notice.
In less than 24 hours the death toll has risen to 228 deaths and at least 470 wounded. At least nine foreigners are among the dead.
In addition to the blasts at the three churches – Zion in Batticaloa, St Anthony’s in Kochchikade, St Sebastian in Negombo – and at the three hotels – Shangri-La, Cinnamon and Kingsbury – there were two other explosions: one at a small hotel near Dehiwela Zoo, in Colombo, and another in a house in Mahawila Gardens, in the Colombo suburb of Dematagoda.
No one has claimed responsibility for the first six explosions, the deadliest, but police have arrested seven people in connection with the other two. Of those detained, two were taken into custody over the Dematagoda incident that left three police officers dead.
In the predominantly Buddist nation, Islamic terrorism is not a major issue, although some fear that foreign fighters back from the Middle East might be behind the attacks. Out of Sri Lanka’s total population of 22 million, Christians only account for 7.6% according to the 2012 census.
Christians in Sri Lanka have claimed to be facing increasing intimidation from Buddhist extremists in recent years. According to the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (NCEASL), which represents more than 200 churches and other Christians groups in Sri Lanka, there were 86 verified incidents of persecution in 2018. This included incidents of discrimination, threats, and violence against Christians.
In 2019, NCEASL has already recorded 26 verified incidents of persecution. This includes incidents as recent as a mob attack on a Methodist Prayer Center on Palm Sunday. In that incident, ICC reported that 25 young people pelted Christian worshipers with stones and firecrackers before locking the Christians within the prayer center and refusing to release them.
As messages of solidarity poured in from around the world, including from Pope Francis, Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena condemned the brutal attack on religious and non-religious sites and promised speedy investigations and arrest of the perpetrators of such dastardly attacks as well as those behind this conspiracy. He called on SrI Lankans not to believe in baseless rumours and false stories and to support instead the government.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe expressed sorrow for the victims and stressed that these attacks will affect the nation and its economy. He also urged the Defence Ministry to “protect law and order” in the country.
Card Malcolm Ranjith, archbishop of Colombo, described the attacks as “bestial and inhuman” and extended his condolences to the families of the dead and wounded. He also called on health professionals to do everything possible to save the innocent victims of such cruel acts.