“It felt like there was an earthquake,” said Vijaya Kumar. “Everything shook and fell, I was lucky because I was near a door. I ran out. I was terrified.”
The 36-year-old had been at the Easter service at St Anthony’s Shrine in Kochchi Kade, just outside Colombo, when it was hit by one of several synchronised terror attacks at 8.45am on Sunday morning. The church was one of three targeted in the blasts, which marked the worst attacks in Sri Lanka since the end of the three-decade civil war with Tamil Tiger rebels.
“It is a terrorist attack by cowardly perpetrators,” said government minister Sajith Premadasa, whose father – a former president – was assassinated by Tamil Tigers. “I grieve with the victims as I know exactly what they are going through.”
At St Sebastian’s church in Katana, the attacker – said by Sri Lankan police to be a suicide bomber – was said to have entered the building shortly after the final prayer before detonating.
Police say at least 207 people were killed and 450 injured in a series of explosions across Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday.
At least eight bombings were reported, with three churches in Kochchikade, Negombo and Batticaloa targeted during Easter services.
Three of Sri Lanka’s luxury hotels located in the heart of Colombo – The Kingsbury, Shangri La and The Cinnamon Grand – were also targets. As special task force and forensic teams teemed the bloodied bombed sites, hotel staff of the Cinnamon Grand said a suicide bomber blew himself up in the hotel’s restaurant.
These attacks were followed three hours later by a bomb close to the country’s national zoo, killing at least four, before three policemen died at an apartment block in Dematagoda, investigating a tip-off from neighbours. “The explosion came from the upper floor of the house,” said a witness.
As the death toll rose, an island-wide curfew was brought in. Government officials also blocked social media networks and messaging apps including Facebook and WhatsApp – measures they said would stop the spread of rumour and disinformation.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe called the country to stand together to protect law and order blamed the attacks on “extremist factions.”
Sri Lanka’s most senior Catholic figure, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the archbishop of Colombo, called on the government to find the attackers behind the blasts, saying: “We need to punish them mercilessly, because only animals can behave like this.”
Meanwhile, five hours after the explosion, clergy visited St Anthony’s Shrine to survey the devastation. Among the debris and the blood, workers were continuing to retrieve the bodies of victims, and lay them down at the feet of the statue of St. Anthony carrying the baby Jesus.