Joy turned sadness in Sri Lanka churches and hotels on the calm of Easter Sunday as horrific bombings killed at least 207 people.
Though the source of the eight explosions that locked down a country of 21 million people is yet unknown.
Sri Lanka’s minority Christian community appeared to be the main target of Sunday’s attack. Christianity is a minority religion in Sri Lanka, accounting for less than 10% of the total population of 21.4 million.
According to census data, 70.2% of Sri Lankans identify as Buddhist, 12% Hindu, 9.7% Muslim, and 7.4% Christian. It is estimated that 82% of Sri Lankan Christians are Roman Catholic.
“You can see pieces of flesh thrown all over the walls and on the sanctuary and even outside of the church,” Father Edmond Tillekeratne, social communications director for the Archdiocese of Colombo, told CNN from St. Sebastian’s Church, one of the explosion sites.
He estimated that more than a thousand people had come to the church for Easter Sunday “because it is a special day.” Many came from villages afar, he said.
The violence punctured a decade of relative peace in the country following the end of its civil war in 2009 — where attacks were common during the 25-year struggle.
Since then, Sri Lanka has turned itself into a popular tourist destination, winning the title of best place in the world to visit in 2019 from travel guide publisher Lonely Planet.
How the attacks Happened
The first wave of attacks struck during busy Easter services at churches in the heart of the country’s minority Christian community — in the cities of Colombo, Negombo and Batticaloa.
More blasts ripped through three luxury hotels in the capital city of Colombo: the Shangri La, Cinnamon Grand and Kingsbury.
The Shangri-La in Colombo said the hotel’s Table One cafe was attacked just after 9 a.m local time. The hotel is popular with foreign tourists and the country’s business community.
Another blast rocked a hotel in front of the Dehiwala Zoo in Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia.
The final blast struck a private house in Mahawila Gardens, in Dematagoda, during a raid in connection with the attacks, officials said. Three police officers were killed.
“When crime division officials started questioning the people in the house, two explosions occurred,” police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara said. “One sub inspector and two constables of police have been killed.”
In all, the eight sites of explosions Sunday included:
St. Anthony’s Shrine, Colombo
St. Sebastian’s Church, Negombo
Zion Church, Batticaloa
Cinnamon Grand, Colombo
Shangri-La Hotel, Colombo
The Kingsbury Hotel, Colombo
Near Dehiwala Zoo in Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia
A house in Mahawila Gardens, Dematagoda
“There is also information that these have been suicide bombings carried out,” Gunasekera said.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility by any terror group. But seven people were arrested following the attacks, said Harsha de Silva, Sri Lanka’s minister of economic reforms and public distribution.
At least 20 foreigners were among those killed in the capital city of Colombo, hospital director general Anil Jasinghe said.
Police in Sri Lanka imposed an island-wide curfew from Sunday evening until Monday morning.
The country’s authorities convened an emergency meeting involving the heads of the army, air force and navy, according to de Silva, Sri Lanka’s economic reforms minister.
“Horrible scenes, I saw many body parts strewn all over,” de Silva said after visiting the Kochchikade church and Shangri-La Hotel in Colombo. “We took multiple casualties to hospital. Hopefully saved many lives.”
De Silva said rescue operations were underway, adding that emergency crews were operating in “full force.”
Sunday’s attacks risk upsetting the country’s fragile post-war peace. Tensions between the majority Sinhalese and the Tamil minority led to a 25-year civil war between the Tamil Tigers, classified by the United States and others as a terrorist organization, and government forces.
In recent years, the country has witnessed a surge in ultra-nationalist Buddhism led by the Bodu Bala Sena, the country’s most powerful Buddhist organization, which has pledged to defend the religion.