The Sri Lankan police confirmed Monday that the death toll from the Sri Lankan bomb blasts had risen to 290, with 500 others injured. President Maithripala Sirisena called a meeting of the National Security Council, which will also be attended by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, reported news agency Reuters. As of Monday morning, 13 people have been arrested in connection with the attacks.
Curfew was lifted across the country at 6 am this morning, but social media websites, including Facebook and WhatsApp, remain blocked. The police defused a “homemade” hand pipe near the Colombo airport on Monday morning, which contained explosives. It has also found 87 bomb detonators at Colombo’s main bus stand.
“It was a crude six-foot pipe bomb that was found by the roadside,” an air force spokesman was quoted as saying by AFP.
While the Sri Lankan government has acknowledged that it had prior information of the attacks, many questions on the coordinated attacks remain unanswered.
Who is behind the Sri Lanka attacks?
No individual or group has come forward to claim responsibility for the attacks. A warning issued by the Sri Lankan police chief on April 11, the National Towheeth Jamaath, which preaches a puritanical form of Islam, would target the Indian High Commission and churches. The group has had an influence on Sri Lankans leaving to join the Islamic State.
A top Sri Lankan official, meanwhile, told The Indian Express that the “involvement of international elements is clear”. Shiral Lakthilaka, the advisor and coordinating secretary at the Presidential Secretariat, said, “Terrorists have penetrated our security system… We suspect the role of international elements behind this. We cannot pinpoint anyone, a political or religious angle, to this tragedy right now… The situation is under control and the army is on standby to assist and take over any crisis situation.
Globally, previous attacks on churches and Christian targets have been claimed by the ISIS or linked to it.
What is the motive for the Sri Lanka bomb blasts?
The reason for targeting churches on Easter Sunday and hotels frequented by tourists remains unknown. Of Sri Lanka’s 22 million population, Christians form a little over 7 per cent. Buddhists form 70 per cent of the population, Hindus 12.6 per cent and Muslims just under 10 per cent.
The police said they have arrested at least 13 people in connection with the case, but the identities of these people remain unknown.
Lakthilaka told The Indian Express, “Those who were arrested cannot be linked directly to the blast as they were taken in custody out of suspicion, for being in the vicinity of an apartment where the terrorists were camping…”
What steps is Sri Lanka taking after the bomb blasts?
The Sri Lankan government convened a national security meeting this morning to take stock of the situation. Some 200 troops have been deployed in Colombo, where most of the bombs were detonated. According to Bloomberg, the Prime Minister has sought international help to “check foreign links of these groups”.
Wickremesinghe said Sunday that he feared the blasts could trigger instability in the country and vowed to “vest all necessary powers with the defense forces” to act against the culprits.
Sri Lankan presidential elections, and the economy
The Sri Lankan presidential elections are scheduled for the end of the year, and terrorism could feature once again as a theme in the polls. In a series of political developments at the end of last year, veteran leader Mahinda Rajapaksa was suddenly appointed prime minister by President Maithripala Sirisena, shortly before Wickremesinghe—the deposed prime minister—was reinstated in December after a Supreme Court decision.
The political crisis had an impact on the country’s economy, which grew 3 per cent in 2018 — the lowest since 2001. At the end of 2018, Sri Lanka had a debt of $50 billion to foreign lenders — 77 per cent of its GDP — and had to pay back over $4 billion in foreign loans. The Sri Lankan rupee dropped nearly 17 per cent that year, its lowest ever against the US Dollar, before recovering this year.
Given that high-end hotels were targeted in Sunday’s attack, it is significant to note that tourism is a big source of revenue for the country.