On Easter Sunday, i.e., April 21, 2019, suicide bombers killed at least 253 people and injured some 500 at churches and top-end hotels across Sri Lanka. Starting from 08:45 Six blasts took place within a short space of time. Three were at churches – in the Kochchikade district of the capital, Colombo; in Negombo, to the north; and in the eastern city of Batticaloa. The other three blasts rocked the Shangri-La, Kingsbury and Cinnamon Grand hotels in Colombo. Two further explosions were reported later as police searched for suspects – one in Dehiwala in southern Colombo, and another one near the Colombo district of Dematagoda, during a police raid. And again on April 22 another blast rocked a street near a church in the capital. Police were attempting to defuse explosives in a vehicle used by the attackers when it blew up.
Most victims were Sri Lankans, but at least 38 foreigners are among the dead, including British, Indian and US citizens.The official death toll had reached 359 by April 25. However, the Sri Lankan government then revised the figure down, blaming a calculation error. The confirmed international casualties are from the UK, Denmark, Portugal, India, Turkey, Australia, the Netherlands, Japan, Switzerland, Spain, Bangladesh, the US and China.
The doubt for this terrorist bloodshed was raised on local jihadists linked to the Islamic State (IS) group and police have made a number of arrests. Sri Lankan authorities said on April 22 that they believed a little-known local militant Islamist group known as National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ) was to blame. On the same day, police raided the a house in the eastern town of Sainthamaruthu where relatives of the bombers’ suspected mastermind, Islamist preacher Zahran Hashim were hiding. About 15 relatives of the alleged mastermind were killed. Although, Sri Lankan officials pinned the blame on the NTJ at a news conference one day after the attacks, the NTJ did not admit carrying out the wave of bombings.
The NTJ is believed to have splintered off from another hardline Islamist group in the country, the Sri Lanka Thowheed Jamath (SLTJ).It was founded by Zahran Hashim, the suspected leader of the suicide bombers who blew himself up at a hotel in Colombo. However, Hashim is said to have been expelled from the NTJ after making hate speeches and may, in turn, have founded another splinter group. While still relatively unknown, the SLTJ is a bit more established. Its secretary, Abdul Razik, was arrested in 2016 for inciting hatred against Buddhists. He later issued an apology. But the NTJ is an extremist fringe group within an already small religious minority – only 9.7% of Sri Lanka’s population of about 21 million are Muslim. Its social media presence is sparse, too. Although it has a Facebook page, it is only updated every few weeks or so. The NTJ Twitter feed has not been updated since March 2018.
Meanwhile, On April 29, Sri Lanka banned its citizens from wearing face coverings under an emergency law, after terrorist attacks at prominent churches and upscale hotels left hundreds dead in the small island nation. President Maithripala Sirisena said the ban was meant to ensure national security, helping authorities to identify people. He did not specifically mention the niqab and burka, types of facial coverings worn by Muslim women across the world, but critics say the new measure violates their rights. Amid heightened safety concerns, a body of Islamic scholars in Sri Lanka advised last week that Muslim women “should not hinder the security forces in their efforts to maintain national security by wearing the face cover (Niqab).”