The bloody Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lankan churches and hotels have claimed at least 310 lives. The first blasts were heard during Easter services at churches in the heart of Sri Lanka’s minority Christian community in the cities of Colombo, Negombo and Batticaloa. More attacks then struck three luxury hotels in the capital of Colombo – the Shangri La, Cinnamon Grand and Kingsbury – all popular with foreign tourists and the local business community. The third blast then rocked a hotel close to the Dehiwala Zoo and the final one struck a private residence in Mahawila Gardens.
Sri Lanka’s Christian minority, which accounts for around 7 percent of the total population of 21.4 million, most of them Roman Catholic, has been identified as an apparent target. Around 70 percent of Sri Lankans identify as Buddhist, 12% are Hindu and 9.7% as Muslim. The attacks are feared to stoke sectarian and ethnic fighting reminiscent of the 25-yer civil war between the majority Sinhalese and the Tamil minority. The civil war claimed more than 700,000 lives and ended when Sri Lankan forces defeated the Tamil Tigers, a Tamil militant organization classified by the United States as terrorist, in 2009.
In recent years, Sri Lanka has seen a surge in ultra-nationalist Buddhism led by the country’s most powerful Buddhist organization, which says it wants to defend the religion. While it is not yet clear who is behind the attacks, it has been reported that Sri Lankan intelligence services had been warned of the planned attacks. An intelligence memo that had been circulated around 10 days prior to the bombings raises questions of why the warnings had not been addressed and what preventive measures could have been taken.