Sri Lanka bomb blasts: At least 160 killed in coordinated attacks on churches, hotelshttps://indianexpress.com/article/world/sri-lanka-colombo-bomb-blasts-church-hotel-5686739/

Sri Lanka bomb blasts: At least 160 killed in coordinated attacks on churches, hotels

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has called a national security council meeting at his house and 200 troops have been deployed to carry out the rescue operation.

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Police said that three churches were targeted, namely, St. Anthony’s church in Colombo, St. Sebastian’s Church in the western coastal town of Negombo and a church in the eastern town of Batticaloa.

A series eight blasts ripped through cities in Sri Lanka on Sunday, killing over 160 people, including 35 foreigners, and wounding 400. Three churches were targeted in the attacks that occurred at around 8.45 am local time when several people were at Sunday Easter mass. Four five-star hotels were also bombed. Calling it a “cowardly attack”, Sri Lanka Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe held an emergency security meeting to take stock of the situation. The government has deployed 200 troops in Colombo in the wake of the bombings.

The three churches that were targeted are St. Anthony’s church in Colombo, St. Sebastian’s Church in the western coastal town of Negombo and an evangelical church in the eastern town of Batticaloa. Three explosions were also reported from five-star hotels, Shangri La, Cinnamon Grand and Kingsbury. Details of the seventh blast are awaited.

The motive for the attacks remains unclear, and no individual or group has claimed responsibility yet. Sri Lanka has a population of about 22 million, of which 7.6 per cent are Christian.

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Sri Lanka blasts: PM Wickremesinghe chairs emergency meet

Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe held a national security council meeting at his residence this morning. He took to social media to condemn the “cowardly attacks” and call on Sri Lankans to remain “united and strong. He tweeted, “I strongly condemn the cowardly attacks on our people today. I call upon all Sri Lankans during this tragic time to remain united and strong.”

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Sri Lankan firefighters stand in the area around St. Anthony’s Shrine after a blast in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Sunday. (AP Photo)

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena has ordered the police special task force and military to investigate the case and find out who was behind the attacks and their motive.

Schools have been closed across the country till April 24. Security has been stepped up at Colombo’s international airport.

India stands in solidarity with Sri Lanka: PM Narendra Modi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi condemned the bomb blasts in Sri Lanka, and said India stands firmly with the people of the country. There is no place for such barbarism in our region, he added.

Ministry of External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said the Indian government was closely monitoring the situation. The Indian High Commission in Colombo has assured assistance to Indians in Sri Lanka and released helpline numbers (+94777903082, +94112422788, +94112422789).

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Three churches were targeted in the attacks that occurred at around 8.45 am local time when several people were at Sunday Easter mass.

Violence in Sri Lanka

Sunday’s serial blasts come years after the decades-long Sri Lankan civil war ended in 2009. During the time, separatist Tamil Tigers and other rebel groups had targeted several places across the country with bombs, including the Central Bank, a shopping mall, a Buddhist temple and hotels popular with tourists, reported Reuters.

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Sri Lankan military officials stand guard in front of the St. Anthony’s Shrine, Kochchikade church after an explosion in Colombo, Sri Lanka April 21, 2019. (Reuters)

The US State Department had, in its 2018 report on Sri Lanka’s human rights, stated that some Christian groups and churches said they were pressured to end worship after authorities classified them as “unauthorized gatherings.”

Last year, there were 86 verified incidents of discrimination, threats and violence against Christians, according to the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (NCEASL), news agency PTI reported. At least 26 similar incidents have been reported this year, including the latest one on March 25 where Buddhist monks allegedly attempted to disrupt a Sunday worship service.

(With inputs from agencies)