Sri Lankan security personnel walk past bodies covered with blankets amid debris at St. Anthony’s Shrine following an explosion in Kochchikade in Colombo on Sunday. A string of blasts ripped through high-end hotels and churches holding Easter services, killing at least 215 people. Photo: AFP
Sri Lankan security personnel keep watch outside the church following a blast at the St. Anthony’s Shrine in Kochchikade in Colombo on Sunday. Photos: AFP
Chinese people are mourning the dead and injured from a series of bloody bombings that rocked Sri Lanka on Sunday, killing at least 215 people, including two Chinese nationals, and injuring 450.
The powerful blasts – six in quick succession and then two more hours later – wrought devastation, including at Colombo’s well-known landmark St Anthony’s Shrine, a historic Catholic Church, Reuters reported.
Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe condemned the attacks as “cowardly” and said the government was working to contain the situation, according to the Reuters.
The explosions in Sri Lanka, some of which officials said were suicide bomb attacks, led to an immediate clampdown, with the government declaring a curfew and blocking access to most major social media and messaging sites.
Two Chinese nationals have died and four others were injured by the blasts, the Chinese Embassy to Sri Lanka has confirmed. The embassy said it has launched contingency plans to inform local Chinese enterprises, overseas Chinese and Chinese tourists in the country to mind their own safety.
There were no immediate claims of responsibility for the attacks, but Sri Lanka’s Defense Minister Ruwan Wijewardene said the perpetrators had been identified and were religious extremists, the Guardian reported.
Following the appalling news, Chinese netizens are mourning the dead and injured on social media platforms. A topic with the hashtag “Sri Lanka church blasts” on Sina Weibo received over 130 million views as of press time.
Noting that the attacks might be related to terrorism, some said they were impressed by the country’s landscape but didn’t know religious conflicts had been so intense. Saying they felt fortunate to live in a stable and peaceful country, a majority of netizens praised China’s domestic efforts at containing terrorism.
Wang Hongwei, a professor at the Renmin University of China’s School of Public Administration and Policy, told the Global Times that religious extremists planning terrorist attacks could mobilize and recruit followers “under the guise of religious activities.”
“Terrorist attacks usually happen in places where security methods are looser than other countries and regions. In countries like Sri Lanka where multiple religions coexist, counterterrorism is a tough and long-term mission,” Wang noted.
China used to have extremists who visited overseas terrorist bases before planning attacks domestically, but such activities have been effectively contained with strict regulations and a crackdown on extremism, Wang said.
Diverse ethnic composition
Analysts noted that religious conflicts have been relatively mild in East and Southeast Asia compared to divisions elsewhere. But if looking into the ethnic composition of Asia, there is a geographic arc marking areas that are dominated by Muslims and other religious communities.
Out of Sri Lanka’s total population of around 22 million, 70 percent are Buddhist, 12.6 percent Hindu, 9.7 percent Muslim and 7.6 percent Christian, according to the country’s 2012 census.
Zhao Gancheng, director of the Center for Asia-Pacific Studies at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies, pointed out the infamous Islamic State group may have infiltrated other Asian countries and regions after its caliphate collapsed in the Middle East.
“Sri Lanka can be easily targeted by the religious terrorists as it does not have an efficient system to prevent them as has been done in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” Zhao said.
“The attack is unlikely to stir up religious conflicts in the country,” Zhao said, noting Sri Lanka is a Buddhist-majority country.
Pope Francis also condemned attacks in Sri Lanka as “such cruel violence” and said he was close to the Christian community that was attacked while celebrating Easter.
Leaders of Sri Lanka’s South Asian neighbors Pakistan and India both strongly condemned the blasts.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan said “Pakistan stands in complete solidarity with Sri Lanka in their hour of grief.”
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a tweet that “There is no place for such barbarism in our region.”
Chinese travel agencies lvmama.com and Ctrip on Sunday confirmed with the Global Times that Chinese tourists in Sri Lanka who booked group itineraries with its platform are safe.
There have been no attacks in Sri Lanka linked to foreign Islamist groups, despite local media reports that a 37-year-old Sri Lankan was killed in Syria in 2016 while fighting for the Islamic State group, AFP reported.