Melbourne, 23 April: Over the placid Easter weekend, Sri Lanka was hit hard with explosions occurring in eight separate places, killing at least 290 people and injuring more than 500. These explosions have been labelled ‘terrorist’ attacks as Sri Lankan authorities work tirelessly to bring the situation under control and take stock of things.
Soon after the attacks when it was not clear who was behind the explosions , they are “certainly acts of terror,” said Manisha Gunasekera, high commissioner of Sri Lanka to the UK.
“This is an attack against the whole of Sri Lanka because Sri Lanka is (a) multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural country, and the whole country comes together in celebration of Easter Sunday,” Gunasekera said.
The sites for Easter Sunday’s attacks were cleverly chosen by the culprits to cause maximum damage and casualties. Eight sites of Sunday explosions included:
- Anthony’s Shrine, Colombo
- Sebastian’s Church, Negombo – where Manik and Alexendria were killed.
- Zion Church, Batticaloa
- Cinnamon Grand, Colombo
- Shangri-La Hotel, Colombo
- The Kingsbury Hotel, Colombo
- Near Dehiwala Zoo in Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia
- A house in Mahawila Gardens, Dematagoda
If the media reports are to be believed, there has been a massive failure of intelligence in Sri Lanka. An intelligence memo warning of a possible attack had circulated 10 days earlier. The document, titled “Information of an alleged plan attack,” is dated April 11 and signed by the Deputy Inspector General of Police, Priyalal Dissanayake.
It raises serious questions about whether more preventative measures could have been taken.
“Serious action need to be taken as to why this warning was ignored,” Sri Lanka’s Minister of Telecommunications, Harin Fernando, tweeted along with a photo of the memo.
Some intelligence officers were aware of this incidence. Therefore there was a delay in action. What my father heard was also from an intelligence officer. Serious action need to be taken as to why this warning was ignored. I was in Badulla last night
“The confidential security memo laid it all out: names, addresses, phone numbers, even the times in the middle of the night that one suspect would visit his wife”, reported the New York Times.
“In the days leading up to the devastating suicide bombings that killed nearly 300 people in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, the country’s security agencies had been closely watching a secretive cell of the National Thowheeth Jama’ath, a little-known radical Islamist organization that security officials in Sri Lanka now say carried out the attacks and may have received help from abroad”, it added.
They knew the group was dangerous. They had collected intelligence on the whereabouts of its leaders in the April 11 security memo, which warned of Catholic church bombings.
Pre 11 April Indian had also warned Sri Lanka earlier
The New York Times also reported that the Sri Lankan authorities had also been “warned even earlier by India that the group, also known by the spelling National Thowheed Jama’ath, was plotting church attacks. They knew as far back as January that radical Islamists possibly tied to the group had stockpiled weapons and detonators.”
And how within hours of when three churches and three hotels were bombed, Sri Lankan security services swooped down on at least 24 suspects?, suggesting that they also knew exactly where the group had been operating from.
Some are suggesting political conspiracy of silence because of deep divisions in the polity of Sri Lanka. Truth by any shot is long way off as there are hundreds of families currently grieving.
Two Australians and 4 Americans are among the dead while more identifying work is being undertaken.
The two Australians among the dead were Manik Suriaaratchi and her 10-year-old daughter Alexendria.
Manik’s husband Sudesh Kolonne was outside the church when the bomb went off.
“I heard a huge noise and I jumped into the church and I saw that my wife and my daughter were on the floor,” he told the ABC.
“I just saw my daughter on the floor and I tried to lift her up … she was already dead … exactly the same … next my wife is there.”
Suriaaratchi worked in marketing helping international brands into new countries and regional locations.
Sudesh’s daughter Alexendria was a grade five student at an international school in the capital.
A papa’s daughter, Kolonne said Alexendria was a “very good kid” who “loved music, loved to dance”.
The family lived in Melbourne’s South East where Alexendria was born before the family moved back to Sri Lanka in 2014 to look after a family member.
The family attended the St Sebastian Catholic church north of Colombo, regularly.
Scott Morrison to speak to Sudesh Kolonne
Prime Minister Scott Morrison, speaking on Channel Seven Network said he would speak to Sudesh Kolonne later in the day.
“It is just the most sickening of news,” Morrison said. “His whole world has been rocked by these events. We just have to reach out and hold them and hold each other as Australians.”
Australian counter-terrorism officers would be involved in the investigation into the attacks, Scott Morrison added.
Other foreigners killed include at least three Indians, two Turkish nationals and two Chinese citizens, five British citizens, including two dual US-UK nationals.
Social media is cut off
The Sri Lankan government has blocked social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram while the investigation got under way.