Questions for Sri Lankan government after not taking precautions before Easter bombings
By Michael Sainsbury | Catholic News Service
BANGKOK – Sri Lankan Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith said he is struggling following the Easter bombings in his country "because there are no words with which I can console my people."
"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," he told Canadian Broadcasting Corp. Radio as the death toll from attacks continued to rise. By April 26, more than 250 people – including 45 children – were confirmed dead and 500 others injured.
A national day of mourning was held April 23 when the burials of the dead began.
Cardinal Ranjith also questioned the Sri Lankan government's failure to heed the warnings about the attacks, claiming he would have canceled all Holy Week services had he been told. Indian security officials said they issued three warnings to their southern neighbor, one only an hour before six bombs were detonated across the island nation.
"It's absolutely unacceptable behavior 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 organization carrying out suicide bombings of prominent churches 10 days before the attacks, reported Agence-France Presse. 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 has said, "We must look into why adequate precautions were not taken."
As for April 26, the government had confirmed that nine suicide bombers, including one woman, were involved; about 70 suspects have been detained.
The Indian bishops' conference announced it would hold a day of prayer April 28, Divine Mercy Sunday, "to pledge our closeness and solidarity with the victims of the multiple bomb blasts." They said Masses and prayer services would help draw "the attention of our people to the gruesome tragedy occurred in our neighboring country."
The violence was the deadliest Sri Lanka had seen since a 26-year civil war ended in 2009.
Two Catholic churches – St. Anthony's Shrine in Colombo and St. Sebastian's Church in Negombo – as well as an evangelical church in Batticaloa were targeted during Easter services. The Shangri-La, Kingsbury and Cinnamon Grand hotels in Colombo also were attacked.
The majority of those killed and injured were Sri Lankan nationals, many of whom were attending church services. The government said those killed included at least 39 foreign nationals from the United States, United Kingdom, India, China, Japan, Australia, Turkey, Australia and other European countries.
Christians make up about 6%, or about 1.5 million, of Sri Lanka's population of 22 million, according to the country's 2012 census. About 85% of Christians are Catholic. The majority of the population, about 70.2%, is Buddhist, while Muslims make up 9.6% and Hindus 12.6% of the population.
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 Mumbai assault on major hotels 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.[[In-content Ad]]