Sri Lanka attacks: What we know about the Easter bombings

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People who live near the church that was attacked yesterday, leave their houses as the military try to defuse a suspected van before it exploded in Colombo, Sri Lanka April 22, 2019.Image source, Reuters

On Easter Sunday, suicide bombers killed at least 253 people and injured some 500 at churches and top-end hotels across Sri Lanka.

Most victims were Sri Lankans, but at least 38 foreigners are among the dead, including British, Indian and US citizens.

The official death toll had reached 359 by Thursday. However, the Sri Lankan government then revised the figure down, blaming a calculation error.

Evidence is mounting that local jihadists linked to the Islamic State (IS) group carried out the attack, and police have made a number of arrests.

What happened?

The first reports were at about 08:45 (03:15 GMT) on Sunday 21 April. Six blasts took place within a short space of time.

Three were at churches - in the Kochchikade district of the capital, Colombo; in Negombo, to the north; and in the eastern city of Batticaloa. The other three blasts rocked the Shangri-La, Kingsbury and Cinnamon Grand hotels in Colombo.

Two further explosions were reported later as police searched for suspects - one in Dehiwala in southern Colombo, and another one near the Colombo district of Dematagoda, during a police raid.

How the Sri Lanka attacks unfolded

Sri Lanka is GMT+5.5

Six near-simultaneous explosions at luxury hotels and churches holding Easter mass

Blast damage at St Sebastian's Church in Negombo.
Image caption: Blast damage at St Sebastian's Church in Negombo. Image copyright by Reuters

Three churches in Negombo, Batticaloa and Colombo's Kochchikade district are targeted during Easter services and blasts also rock the Shangri-La, Kingsbury and Cinnamon Grand hotels in the country's capital.

Sri Lankan government closes school for two days.

Five hours after the initial attacks, a blast is reported near the zoo in Dehiwala, southern Colombo. This is the seventh explosion.

An eighth explosion is reported near the Colombo district of Dematagoda during a police raid, killing three officers.

A member of the Sri Lankan Special Task Force (STF) pictured outside a house during a raid.
Image caption: A member of the Sri Lankan Special Task Force (STF) pictured outside a house during a raid. Image copyright by AFP

Sri Lankan government shuts down access to major social media messaging services

Sri Lanka's government declares an islandwide curfew from 18:00 local time to 06:00 (12:30 GMT-00:30).

Reuters reports a petrol bomb attack on a mosque and arson attacks on two shops owned by Muslims in two different parts of the country, citing police.

Nationwide curfew is lifted.

A "homemade" bomb found close to the main airport in the capital, Colombo, has been made safe, police say.

Image copyright by AFP

Death toll leaps

At least 290 people, including many foreigners, are now confirmed to have died. More than 500 are injured.

Another curfew is imposed from 20:00 local time to 04:00 23 April as a precautionary measure.

Police in Colombo have recovered 87 low-explosive detonators from the Bastian Mawatha Private Bus Station in Pettah, the BBC's Azzam Ameen reports.

People flee after new explosion

Video footage from St Anthony's Shrine, shared by Guardian journalist Michael Safi, showed people running from the area in panic. According to BBC Sinhala's Azzam Ameen, the blast happened while "security forces personnel... tried to defuse a newly discovered explosives in a vehicle".

Late on Sunday, an improvised explosive device was found and disposed of close to the country's main airport, near Colombo.

And on Monday another blast rocked a street near a church in the capital. Police were attempting to defuse explosives in a vehicle used by the attackers when it blew up.

According to police sources, an attack on a fourth hotel failed and helped lead police to the Islamist group now blamed for the assault.

On Friday, relatives of the bombers' suspected mastermind, Islamist preacher Zahran Hashim, were among 15 people killed when police raided a house in the eastern town of Sainthamaruthu.

Who are the victims?

Hundreds of Sri Lankan families are in mourning. One of the first victims to be indentified was celebrity chef Shantha Mayadunne. Other Sri Lankans killed included members of church congregations and staff at the hotels targeted.

The confirmed international casualties are from the UK, Denmark, Portugal, India, Turkey, Australia, the Netherlands, Japan, Switzerland, Spain, Bangladesh, the US and China.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Seven victims belonging to one family were buried in Negombo on Wednesday

Among the dead are three children of Danish billionaire Anders Holch Povlsen, owner of the Bestseller clothing chain and the largest shareholder in clothing giant Asos.

Who were the attackers?

On Monday Sri Lankan authorities said they believed a little-known local militant Islamist group known as National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ) was to blame.

On Tuesday, IS said it had carried out the attacks, and released video of men it says were the bombers, pledging allegiance to the group.

All but one of the men can be seen with their faces covered. Some are holding knives. The man with his face uncovered has been named as Hashim, who went on to blow himself up at a hotel in Colombo.

Image source, EPA
Image caption,
Security forces remain on high alert at St Anthony's, and across the country

IS said "members of the US-led coalition and Christians in Sri Lanka" had been targeted.

BBC security correspondent Gordon Corera says that while IS in the past has claimed attacks it was not involved in, this statement is being taken seriously due to the scale of the attacks.

The choice of targets is more in line with IS ideology than with traditional types of communal violence seen in Sri Lanka, he adds.

According to the Sri Lankan government, most of the attackers were "well educated" and had come from "middle- or upper middle-class" families.

Two were sons of a wealthy spice trader, Mohamed Ibrahim, who was arrested after the attacks.

How has the government responded?

The NTJ was banned on Saturday and dozens of arrests have been made since the attacks. A curfew was also imposed.

The government admitted a "major intelligence lapse" after it was revealed that an Indian intelligence warning from the beginning of the month about planned attacks was not properly shared by the authorities.

Security services had been monitoring the NTJ, but the prime minister and the cabinet were not warned, ministers said.

President Maithripala Sirisena moved to sack the defence secretary and inspector general of police.

What is the country's religious make-up?

Sunday's attacks were the worst ever against Sri Lanka's small Christian minority, who make up just 7% of the 21 million population.

Theravada Buddhism is Sri Lanka's biggest religion, accounting for about 70% of the population. Hindus and Muslims make up around 12% and 10% of the population respectively.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Christians are a small minority in Sri Lanka

The attacks are Sri Lanka's deadliest act of violence since the end of the 26-year civil war in 2009.

The war is thought to have killed between 70,000 and 80,000 people and ended with the defeat of the Tamil Tigers, who had fought for independence for the Tamil minority.