Sri Lanka marks Easter Sunday attack anniversary

Church bells have rung out across Sri Lanka, marking one year since more than 250 people were killed by a group of suicide bombers.

But there are no other large-scale events planned to remember the men, women and children – from worshippers celebrating Easter in church to tourists enjoying breakfast in hotel restaurants – whose lives were ended 12 months ago.

Sri Lanka has been observing a curfew since March, as it tries to contain the spread of coronavirus, which has so far killed seven on the island nation.

But the day is not going unnoticed – not least for those whose lives were changed forever by the violence.

Investigations into the attacks are continuing. Parliament heard last year that an Indian intelligence warning at the beginning of the month about planned attacks was not properly shared by officials in the previous administration.

What happened?

Nine suicide bombers detonated their devices in six locations around the country on Easter Sunday last year.

Reports of the explosions first came in at about 08:45 (03:15 GMT) on 21 April.

Three blasts were at churches: in the Kochchikade district of Colombo; in Negombo, to the north of the capital; and in the eastern city of Batticaloa. The churches were packed with worshippers celebrating Easter.

The other three blasts were at three luxury hotels in the capital – the Shangri-La, Kingsbury and Cinnamon Grand.

After those initial blasts, two other explosions were reported as police searched for the suspects. One was in Dehiwala in southern Colombo, and another one near the Colombo district of Dematagoda.

Later on Easter Sunday 2019, an improvised device was found and defused close to the country’s main airport, near Colombo.

The following day, another explosion occurred on a street near a church in Colombo. Police were attempting to defuse devices in a vehicle used by the attackers when it suddenly blew up.

According to police sources, the attackers had planned an explosion at a fourth hotel but it failed.

ISIS behind the attack:

Shortly after the attacks, authorities in Sri Lanka said local militant group National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ) were to blame.

Islamist preacher Zahran Hashim, who founded the NTJ but was reportedly later expelled from the group, is suspected of having been the bombers’ ringleader. He blew himself up at a hotel in Colombo.

However the Islamic State (IS) militant group claimed responsibility for the attacks. It released video of men it says were the bombers, pledging allegiance to the group – however all but one of the men have their faces covered in the footage.

A video released by IS showed Hashim pledging allegiance to the group’s then leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Two of the bombers are said to have been the sons of a wealthy and well-known spice trader. All but one of the nine bombers came from middle or upper class families.