Sri Lanka falls silent for victims of terrorist attack

Sri Lanka falls silent for victims of terrorist attack

Day of mourning in Sri Lanka
Silence is observed as a tribute to victims during a memorial service in Colombo, Sri Lanka on Apr 23, 2019, two days after suicide bomb attacks on churches and luxury hotels on Easter Sunday. (Photo: Reuters)

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka began a day of national mourning on Tuesday (Apr 23) with three minutes of silence to honour more than 300 people killed in suicide bomb blasts that have been blamed on a local militant group.

Flags were lowered to half mast on government buildings, and people bowed their heads and reflected silently on the violence that has caused international outrage.

The silence began at precisely 8.30am (11am Singapore time), the time that the first of six bombs detonated on Sunday morning, unleashing carnage at high-end hotels and churches packed with Easter worshippers.

Day of mourning in Sri Lanka after bomb attacks
Security personnel observe three minutes of silence as a tribute to victims of the Sri Lanka attacks. (Photo: Reuters)

The first memorial services for the 310 victims, among them dozens of foreigners, were also planned for Tuesday, hours after the government imposed a state of emergency and said a militant group was behind the violence.

At St Anthony's Shrine in Colombo - where scores died as they gathered for Easter Sunday prayers - a crowd of a few dozen people held candles and prayed silently, palms pressed together.

Some of them struggled to hold back tears and as the three minutes drew to a close, the crowd began to chant prayers.

READ: Singapore-based British mum and her two children among those killed in Sri Lanka blasts

Day of mourning in Sri Lanka after bomb attacks
Priests and relatives carry the coffin of a bomb blast victim after a funeral service at St Sebastian's Church in Negombo on Apr 23, 2019. (Photo: AFP)

Forty people have been arrested over the suicide bomb attacks - the worst atrocity since Sri Lanka's civil war ended a decade ago.

The attacks were also the worst ever against the country's small Christian minority, who make up just 7 per cent of its population of 21 million.

Investigators are now hunting for clues on whether the local terrorist group named as the chief suspect - National Thowheeth Jama'ath (NTJ) - received "international support", said cabinet minister and government spokesman Rajitha Senaratne.

Day of mourning in Sri Lanka after Easter Sunday bomb attacks
A woman is helped after she collapsed as silence is observed on Apr 23, 2019 after a string of suicide bomb attacks on churches and luxury hotels across the island on Easter Sunday. (Photo: Reuters)

The spokesman added that it was not possible for such "a small organisation" to carry out such well coordinated suicide strikes.

President Maithripala Sirisena's said there was intelligence that "international terror groups" were "behind local terrorists" and that he would seek foreign help to investigate.

READ: Scale of Sri Lanka blasts exceeds Bali bombings, Mumbai attacks

The state of emergency, which gave police and the military special powers to counter militant strikes, came into force at midnight. Suspects can be detained without a court order.

A second straight night-time curfew was also put in place, but lifted before dawn.

Officials are also investigating why more precautions were not taken after an Apr 11 warning from Sri Lanka's police that a "foreign intelligence agency" had reported the NTJ planned suicide attacks on churches.

READ: Sri Lanka PM not alerted to warning of attack because of feud

Senaratne said that warning was not passed on to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe or other top ministers.

TENSIONS HIGH

Tensions remained high and security heavy after a bomb discovered by police on Monday near one of the targeted churches blew up before police could defuse it. Although there was a powerful blast, no injuries were reported.

Police also found 87 bomb detonators at a Colombo bus station.

Details have begun to emerge about some of the foreigners killed in the blasts.

The United States reported at least four Americans killed - including a child - and the Netherlands raised their toll to three.

A Danish billionaire lost three of his children in the attacks, a spokesman for his company said.

READ: Three children of Danish billionaire killed in Sri Lanka attacks

Eight Britons, eight Indians and nationals from Turkey, Australia, France, Japan and Portugal, were also killed, according to Sri Lankan officials and foreign governments.

The suicide bombers hit three Colombo luxury hotels popular with foreign tourists - the Cinnamon Grand, the Shangri-La and the Kingsbury - and three churches: two in the Colombo region and one in the eastern city of Batticaloa.

Two additional blasts were triggered as security forces carried out raids searching for suspects.

Interpol said it was deploying investigators and specialists to Sri Lanka, and the US State Department warned of possible further attacks in a travel advisory.

MEMORIES OF CIVIL WAR

Ethnic and religious violence has plagued Sri Lanka for decades, with a 37-year conflict with Tamil rebels followed by an upswing in recent years in clashes between the Buddhist majority and Muslims.

At St Sebastian's, coffins were being brought in individually for services in the run-up to a mass memorial beginning mid-morning.

Sri Lanka St Sebastian nuns military bomb attacks Easter Sunday
Nuns walk past soldiers standing guard at the St Sebastian's Church in Negombo on Apr 23, 2019, two days Easter Sunday bomb attacks. (Photo: AFP)

"There are so many bodies that we can't accommodate them all at once," Anthony Jayakody, auxillary bishop of Colombo, told AFP.

The attacks have sparked local and international outrage.

Two leading Sri Lankan Muslim groups issued statements condemning the attacks, with the All Ceylon Jamiyaathuul Ulama, a council of Muslim theologians, urging the "maximum punishment for everyone involved in these dastardly acts".

On Apr 25, the Sri Lankan government revised the death toll to 253.

Source: AFP/hm

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