Scotland

Sri Lanka attacks: Minister recalls hotel bomb explosion

St. Andrew's Scots Kirk in Colombo Image copyright Google
Image caption Worshippers heard one of the bombs go off before the Easter Sunday service at St Andrew's Scots Kirk in Colombo

The congregation of a Scots kirk in Sri Lanka continued to worship as terror attacks unfolded nearby.

The Reverend Bill Davnie heard one of the bombs explode in a hotel next to St Andrew's Scots Kirk in Colombo as he prepared for the Easter service.

But it was only when worshippers started receiving phone messages that the enormity of the attacks sank in.

They were given the chance to leave but instead decided to stay and pray for those affected by the terror.

The death toll in Sri Lanka has soared to 290 after a wave of blasts hit churches and luxury hotels across the country on Sunday.

Police said 24 people had been arrested, but it is not yet known who carried out the attacks.

About 500 people are injured and at least 35 foreigners are among the dead.

These include three of the four children of Danish billionaire Anders Holch Povlsen, one of Scotland's largest landowners.

Worship continued

Rev Davnie recalled the blast on BBC Radio's Good Morning Scotland.

He said: "We were preparing for worship which took place at 09:30 for us on Easter Sunday morning.

"One of the explosions was at a hotel which is immediately next door to the church. We heard the explosion although we didn't understand what the significance of it was at the time."

The bomb was detonated at about 09:00 local time on Sunday.

Rev Davnie added: "We could hear lots of sirens and knew that something serious was taking place but we hadn't enough news then to know the full extent of the attacks yesterday and we were able to continue on with worship.

"We learned more news as smart phones messaged people during the service but continued on to enjoy a time of fellowship and remembering that we need our community strength, even at times of great dismay and horror."

Image copyright AFP
Image caption St Sebastian's Church in Negombo was among the buildings targeted in the Easter Sunday attacks
Image copyright AFP
Image caption Locals gathered outside St Anthony's Shrine in Colombo, the day after it was hit by a bomb blast

The minister said the global impact of the tragedy cannot be underestimated.

He said: "To have nearly 300 dead and we could maybe yet reach that total, given the number injured, is a huge event.

"So it's going to have a lot of impact on Sri Lanka internally and on its international reputation, so it's going to do a lot of damage both economically and politically and then psychologically.

"It's a shock to a country that thought it was 10 years away from civil war and while this is certainly not civil war, it's the kind of violence they experienced then."

"I think there is real effort to say 'we are better than this'."

'Dreadful acts'

He added: "This is not who Sri Lanka is anymore, not what it wants to be. There is of course concern about fringe elements.

"The civil war was carried on by the Tamil Tigers. There's certainly no reason to believe that there's any involvement by that group.

"And I think Sri Lankans want to stand in solidarity and show that they're not giving into this."

Image copyright PA
Image caption The Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the Right Reverend Susan Brown

The Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland said she was "tremendously sad" at the news.

The Rt Rev Susan Brown said: "That these attacks have been perpetrated on Easter Sunday, the highlight of the Christian year, is devastating to all the churches in Sri Lanka and to Christians around the world.

"The Church of Scotland St Andrew's congregation was gathering for worship in the centre of Colombo when they heard the bomb go off in the neighbouring hotel.

"The minister gave people the chance to go home immediately, but most people did not leave, instead staying to worship God and to pray together for everyone touched by these dreadful acts."