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290 ppl died in Sri Lankan bomb blast on Easter

22 April, 2019

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290 ppl died in Sri Lankan bomb blast on Easter13 suspects were arrested on Monday in connection with Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka that targeted churches and hotels, killing at least 290 people and leaving 500 others wounded, police said, as a curfew imposed yesterday was lifted.

Authorities have not made public details on those held after Sunday's attacks, but a police source told AFP the 13 were detained at two locations in and around Colombo. The source said the 13 men are from the same group.

At least two of the eight attacks were carried out by suicide bombers, according to police and other sources, and three police were killed when another suicide bomber detonated explosives during a raid on a house where suspects were.

Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera declined to give a breakdown of those killed and wounded in each of the blasts. He added that police are investigating whether suicide bombers were involved in all of the blasts.

The government said the dead included three Indians, three Britons, two from Turkey and one Portuguese national. Two people holding both British and US passports were also among the fatalities.

"Additionally, while nine foreign nationals are reported missing, there are 25 unidentified bodies believed to be of foreigners," the foreign ministry said.

A government source said President Maithripala Sirisena, who was abroad when the attacks happened, has called a meeting of the National Security Council early today. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe will attend the meeting, the source said.

The scale of the bloodshed recalled the worst days of Sri Lanka's 26-year civil war, in which the Tamil Tigers, a rebel group from the ethnic Tamil minority, sought independence from the Buddhist-majority country. The Tamils are Hindu, Muslim and Christian.

According to a Dawn report, a common factor linking the church attacks was that they predominantly targeted Tamil Christians.

The St Anthony’s Catholic church in Kochchikde, located in a conclave near the Colombo port, was among the first to be bombed, when a mass in the Tamil language was going on.

The St Sebastian church in Negombo came under attack soon afterwards. Negombo is a popular tourist destination about 35km from Colombo.

Also coming under attack was the Christian Zion church in Eastern Batticaloa, a district which is populated primarily by Tamils and Muslims.

Only a small fraction of mainly Buddhist Sri Lanka is Catholic, but the religion is seen as a unifying force because it includes people from both the Tamil and majority Sinhalese ethnic groups.

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), which represents more than 200 churches and other Christian organisations.

This year, the NCEASL recorded 26 such incidents, including one in which Buddhist monks allegedly attempted to disrupt a Sunday worship service, with the last one reported on March 25.

Out of Sri Lanka's total population of around 22 million, 70pc are Buddhist, 12.6pc Hindu, 9.7pc Muslim, and 7.6pc Christian, according to the country's 2012 census.

In its 2018 report on Sri Lanka's human rights, the US State Department noted that some Christian groups and churches reported they had been pressured to end worship activities after authorities classified them as "unauthorised gatherings".

The defence ministry said a temporary social media shutdown imposed yesterday would extend until the government concludes its investigation into the bomb blasts that rocked churches, luxury hotels and other sites.

However, NetBlocks observatory cautioned that such post-attack blackouts are often ineffective.

"What we've seen is that when social media is shut down, it creates a vacuum of information that's readily exploited by other parties," said Alp Toker, executive director of the London-based group. "It can add to the sense of fear and can cause panic."

The group said its monitoring of Sri Lankan internet connectivity found no disruptions to the fundamental infrastructure of the internet, meaning the blackout was directed at specific services. Some social media outlets, such as Twitter, appeared unaffected, but the blockage affected popular messaging services.

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