On April 21, 2019, a series of coordinated bomb explosions killed hundreds in Sri Lanka as they congregated for Easter Sunday mass.
As at 8.20 am on April 22, 2019, 290 were reported dead and 500 injured in the attacks.
Foreign Secretary Ravinath Aryasinha confirmed that as at 5.30pm on April 21st, 27 foreignerswere among the dead, with another five reportedly missing.
Several countries including Switzerland, the US, the UK, Canada, India and Pakistan have issued statements on the attacks. The UK and Canada have also issued travel advisories.
St. Anthony’s Church, Kochchikade was the first to be hit by an explosion, followed by St Sebastian’s Church in Katuwapitiya, Negombo and the Zion Church in Batticaloa. There were also explosions at the Kingsbury, the Shangri-La hotel and the Cinnamon Grand.
An explosion in Dehiwala killed two – the Government has not confirmed whether this attack is related.
At 3:30 pm, there was an 8th explosion in Dematagoda. STF officers entered the house wearing protective masks. Three police officers died, while 2 suspects were detained.
State Minister for Defence Ruwan Wijewardene said that 7 suspects had been arrested in connection with the bombings in Colombo, Negombo and Batticaloa, adding that “most of them” were suicide bomb attacks carried out by one group. The State has remained tight-lipped as to the identity of the group carrying out the attacks. At 8.20am on April 22nd, it was reported that a total of 24 suspects had been arrested in connection with the incidents.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said that information about these attacks had been received in advance, but attempted to sidestep responsibility. “We must look into why adequate precautions were not taken. Neither I nor the Ministers were kept informed.”
This raises the question as to why, as Minister of Defence, President Sirisena did not see fit to act on the intelligence received.
Wijewardene has said that a State of Emergency will not be announced until after his meeting with the President today, on April 22. Those who are catching flights have been advised that visitors will not be allowed inside Bandaranaike International Airport. An islandwide curfew was imposed on the afternoon of the 21st, and lifted at 6am this morning.
Access to Facebook, WhatsApp and Viber has been blocked within Sri Lanka, in an attempt to stop the of misinformation. This is the second time that a block was put in place – in March 2018, violent riots in Ampara in the Eastern Province and in Digana in the Central Province led to the State blocking social media in an attempt to curb the spread of hate speech.
A Government Analyst speaking to the media on April 22nd confirmed that the explosions at St. Anthony’s Kochchikade, St. Sebastian’s Katuwapitiya, Zion Church Batticaloa, Shangri-La, Kingsbury and Cinnamon Grand were carried out by suicide bombers. 24 persons have been arrested so far, and police believe most of them are part of a ‘radical Islamist group’.
In a press conference held later that day, Cabinet Minister and government spokesman Rajitha Senaratne confirmed that information about possible suicide attacks at Christian places of worship and tourist areas had been shared prior to the attacks by foreign intelligence and local intelligence, including with the DIG of the Special Security Division of the Sri Lanka Police. Intelligence had been shared two weeks, four days prior and even ten minutes prior to the attack, Senaratne said. He named the radical group as the National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ); all those arrested have been locals, and the government does not know if it has any international connections.
Minister Rauff Hakeem, who is also the leader of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, called these revelations a colossal failure on the part of the intelligence services. He claimed that sharing all information about the lapses on part of the Government is not to pass the blame, but to take responsibility for these inactions and strategise how to move forward.
The information reflects what was carried in a letter, initially debunked as false, that was reported to have come from the IGP, warning about the planned attacks by the NTJ. No official government source has confirmed its authenticity. Minister Harin Fernando tweeted the letter publicly, while Mano Ganesan said his ministerial security personnel received intelligence on a threat one week prior to the attacks.
The rest of his press conference highlights the continued division within the Sirisena – Wickremesinghe government after the political crisis of October 2018. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has not been invited to a national Security Council meeting since the crisis. Following the attacks, he had invited the Security Council for a meeting, which they refused to attend. He himself therefore went to the defence establishment to join their meeting, and was kept waiting for some time before he was able to participate.
The letter containing the information on the attacks was issued from IGP Pujith Jayasundera, chief of Sri Lanka’s police, to local intelligence as well. All these institutions currently fall under the purview of President Sirisena, who is the Ministry of Defence. Constitutionally, he holds the Defence portfolio, but after the crisis last year, he ordered that the Police Department be brought under the Defence Ministry, in an extension of his executive power.
Senaratne apologised to the families of the dead and injured for the huge lapse on the part of the Government for failing to follow up on this information. However, the apology does not eradicate the government’s failure to act, and the many lives lost as a result.
The National Security Council has gone on to impose a conditional State of Emergency with articles on combating terrorism to come into effect at midnight on April 22nd. The details of these clauses and their implementation is yet unknown.
A contained blast was reported at 4.25pm this evening, when security forces personnel attempted to defuse a bomb in a van parked close to the Kochchikade church.
Funerals for the deceased have begun to take place in Kotahena and Negombo.
As at 9.04am on April 23rd, 310 have been reported dead, with 26 individuals arrested in connection with the incidents. The day has also been declared a national day of mourning for the deceased, and a 3-minute silence was observed islandwide at 8.30am.