BANGKOK (CNS): “I don’t know what to say to them. I try. I tried to go to their funerals and I tried to embrace them and tell them I am with them, but I have no words to say. I am suffering with them,” Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith of Sri Lanka told Canadian Broadcasting Corp. Radio (CBC) in the wake of the deadly Easter bombings in his country (Sunday Examiner April 28).
“There are no words with which I can console my people,” he lamented.
By April 24, more than 350 people—including 45 children—were confirmed dead and 500 others injured.
A national day of mourning was declared for April 23 when the burials of the dead began.
Cardinal Ranjith continued to criticise of the Sri Lankan government for its failure to heed the warnings about the attacks, claiming he would have cancelled all Holy Week services had he been told. Indian security officials said they issued three warnings to their southern neighbour—one only an hour before six bombs were detonated across the island nation.
“It’s absolutely unacceptable behaviour on the part of these high officials of the government, including some of the ministry officials,” Cardinal Ranjith told CBC Radio.
“I was shocked to hear the interview with (defense secretary, Hemasiri Fernando), who sort of, you know, answered the questions in a slipshod manner, as if he has not felt any responsibility, any weight of what has happened to our people.”
Sri Lankan police chief, Pujuth Jayasundara, issued a warning about the organisation which carried out the suicide bombings of prominent churches 10 days before the attacks, Agence-France Presse reported. It was unclear what action security forces had taken ahead of Easter in response.
Sri Lankan prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, claimed he and other top government officials were not told and said, “We must look into why adequate precautions were not taken.”
The government confirmed on April 24 that nine suicide bombers, including one woman, were involved and that 40 people had been arrested.
On April 23, Islamic State tried to claim responsibility for the attacks, but this has not been confirmed. One video showed the bombers pledging allegiance to the radical group.
The government pointed fingers at two Islamic extremist groups, Jammiyathul Millathu Ibrahim and National Thowheeth Jama’ath, for the attacks that targeted three churches and three luxury hotels across the country, and authorities said they believe the bombers had offshore help, a theory backed by experts. Authorities also said that it appeared that a second wave of attacks was being planned.
The Indian Bishops’ Conference announced a day of prayer on April 28, Divine Mercy Sunday, “to pledge our closeness and solidarity with the victims of the multiple bomb blasts.” The bishops said Masses and prayer services would help draw “the attention of our people to the gruesome tragedy occurred in our neighbouring country.”
The violence was the deadliest Sri Lanka had seen since a 26-year civil war ended in 2009.
Damien Kingsbury, a professor of international politics and a Sri Lankan expert at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia, said there has been no history of Islamic terrorism in Sri Lanka. National Thowheeth Jama’ath surfaced on only on a few occasions in recent years in relation to hate speech and property-related attacks on Buddhist temples, he said.
“It’s likely that recent return of Islamic State fighters to Sri Lanka had strengthened their resolve,” Kingsbury said.
Earlier in April, the Sri Lankan government had identified a number of nationals who had returned to the country following the collapse of the so-called IS caliphate in Syria.
Experts noted that the precise coordination—six explosions went off within 20 minutes of each other—and the number of sites chosen for attack echoed the 2008 assault on major hotels in Mumbai by an Islamic State-linked terrorist group.
The bombings ended a decade of relative peace in Sri Lanka, a country with a long history of battling terrorism during civil war between government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.
Meanwhile on April 26, Vatican News reported that the Church in Sri Lanka had suspended Sunday Mass services until further notice,.
Cardinal Ranjith also appealed for financial support to rebuild the lives of affected people and reconstruct the damaged churches.