At least 200 people are dead and hundreds injured in coordinated bomb attacks across Sri Lanka. The attacks seem to target Christian churches on their Easter Sunday services as well as major hotels in the capital, Colombo.
Authorities said that some of the attacks were carried out by suicide bombers.
According to the Statesman newspaper, the churches that were attacked include St. Anthony’s Church in Kochchikade in Colombo, the St. Sebastian’s Church in Katuwapitiya in Katana and a third in Batticaloa.
Sri Lankan press say that the military has been called in to guard the churches and the hotels. The government has also called for a nighttime curfew and blocked access to social media on a temporary basis.
Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena called for calm in a statement issued by his office.
Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera said on Twitter the attacks appeared to be a “well-co-ordinated attempt to create murder, mayhem and anarchy” and had killed “many innocent people.”
No group has so far claimed responsibility.
Deadliest violence since Civil War
Sri Lanka has not seen violence on such a scale since a decades long civil war between the majority Sinhalese government and a rebel group composed of the Tamil ethnic minority ended with the defeat of the Tamil rebels.
While the bloody conflict saw the deaths of up to 100,000 Sri Lankans of all ethnicities, the war was not waged on religious but ethnic lines.
Over recent years there have been, however, tensions between the island’s various religious populations with the majority Buddhist population accusing Sri Lanka’s Muslim population of forcibly converting people in the countryside.
The country’s Christian population say they face intimidation from extremist Buddhist monks, according to a Reuters report. Christian places of worship have reportedly been forced to close down and some meetings abandoned after pressure from local Buddhists.
Internationally the attacks have been met with universal condemnation.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi condemned the blasts and said that India stands in solidarity with the people of Sri Lanka.
“Strongly condemn the horrific blasts in Sri Lanka. There is no place for such barbarism in our region. India stands in solidarity with the people of Sri Lanka. My thoughts are with the bereaved families and prayers with the injured,” the PM wrote on Twitter.
Pope Francis addressed the attacks at the end of his Easter sermon. The three churches that were targeted were Catholic.
“I wish to express my heartfelt closeness to the Christian community [of Sri Lanka], wounded as it was gathered in prayer, and to all the victims of such cruel violence.”
The United Kingdom’s Prime Minister Theresa May also released a statement condemning attack. “The acts of violence against churches and hotels in Sri Lanka are truly appalling, and my deepest sympathies go out to all of those affected at this tragic time. “We must stand together to make sure that no one should ever have to practise their faith in fear,” May tweeted through the UK foreign office account.
It was under British rule that Sri Lanka, then known as Ceylon, was amalgamated into a unitary state regardless of ethnic differences. Under British rule the minority Tamil were given preferential treatment for their English language proficiency over local Sinhalese. Tamils from the Indian mainland were also settled in Ceylon.