Officials claim that the incident is being linked to a jihadi terrorist group in reprisal for the attack which took place in Christchurch, New Zealand. Hundreds of people celebrating Easter at churches, visiting hotels or other public locations across Sri Lanka were killed and many more wounded.
It was stated by the Sri Lankan Defence Minister that the reason behind the atrocity in the country was due to the recent attack in Christchurch, New Zealand which saw 50 members of the Islamic community killed without reason.
So far 40 members of the Islamist group National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ) have been arrested after nine devices were planted and detonated at Christian churches, hotels and public locations across Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday.
The official death toll has been given as 321 killed with a further 500 wounded to date and in memory of the dead the country has observed three minutes of silence and a state of emergency is in effect to prevent further attacks.
The first mass funeral has been held for 30 of the victims at St Sebastian’s church in Negombo, north of Colombo, which was one of the places targeted in Sunday’s blasts. Another funeral service was scheduled for later on Tuesday.
Among the many dead and injured were people from the UK, Europe, Australia and the US with the majority being Sri Lankan nationals. However, one of the victims has been officially identified as Sri Lankan celebrity chef Shantha Mayadunne.
Three of the British nationals killed were all from the same family and officially named as Anita Nicholson, his 14-year-old son Alex and 11-year-old daughter Annabel were killed in the restaurant of the Shangri-La Hotel.
In a statement released to the media Mr Nicholson said: “Mercifully, all three of them died instantly and with no pain or suffering, I am deeply distressed at the loss of my wife and children. Anita was a wonderful, perfect wife and a brilliant, loving and inspirational mother to our two wonderful children. The holiday we had just enjoyed was a testament to Anita’s enjoyment of travel and providing a rich and colourful life for our family, and especially our children.
“Alex and Annabel were the most amazing, intelligent, talented and thoughtful children and Anita and I were immensely proud of them both and looking forward to seeing them develop into adulthood.”
He also asked the media to “respect our privacy and allow us to grieve together.” Another high-profile victim were the three children of Danish billionaire Anders Holch Povlsen, whom also died in the attacks. The company was unable to reveal any more details and asked for the family’s privacy to be respected.
Mr Povlsen, 46, owns the bestseller clothing chain and is the largest stakeholder in the hugely popular online retailer ASOS. There were also 10 Indian nationals, some of whom were political party workers from Bangalore, also killed in the bombings.
The party workers have been identified as K G Hanumantharayappa, M Rangappa, K M Laxminarayan, Lakshmana Gowda Ramesh, H Shivakumar, A Maregowda and H Puttaraju. They were all members of the Janata Dal Party (JDP).
The chief minister of the Indian state of Karnataka, H D Kumaraswami said on twitter that he had known some of the party workers personally, adding that he was “deeply pained”.
He added: “They were also committed workers of our party and their death has brought immense sorrow to us.” According to Priyalal Disanayaka, Sri Lanka’s deputy inspector general of police, the attacks in the country could have been stopped as he had a signed letter addressed to the directors of four Sri Lankan security agencies, warning them that a local group was planning a suicide attack in the country.
The intelligence report attached to his letter, which has circulated widely on social media, named the group allegedly plotting the attack, National Towheed Jamaar, identifying its leader as Zahran Hashmi, and said it was targeting “some important churches” in a suicide terrorist attack that was planned to take place “shortly.”
Word from international intelligence agencies that a local group was planning attacks apparently didn’t reach the prime minister’s office until after the massacre, exposing the continuing political turmoil in the highest levels of the Sri Lankan government. This has highlighted some of the political turmoil at the heart of the Sri Lankan government and the way it currently operates.
In a statement the Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena, said: “A special meeting was held with the participation of Heads of Security Forces, Police and Civil Security Department and other relevant Agencies regarding the current security situation in the country, and during that meeting, the Government decided to take steps to tighten security at all religious places, tourist hotels, hospitals and Embassies and provide security to all the catholic religious leaders and important locations of the Government.
“Furthermore, the President has instructed the Inspector General of Police to impose a police curfew across the country with immediate effect until further notice. Similarly, a National Action Unit has been established to conduct investigations under the guidance of the Chief of Defence Staff and to conduct search operations to arrest the perpetrators. Instructions have been given to all authorities of the hospitals to provide prompt treatment facilities to the victims.
“At present, the process of body identification is being carried out and the judicial authorities are taking steps to conduct the post-mortems promptly. The Government has decided to bear funeral expenses of all the deceased persons.”