News Analysis

Big story: Hundreds killed in Sri Lanka church bombings


What happened?

More than 300 people were killed in a series of bomb attacks in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday. The eight bomb blasts targeted churches and hotels, including the shrine of St Anthony of Padua in the capital city Colombo. Christians, almost all Catholics, make up less than eight per cent of Sri Lanka’s 21 million residents.

The government believes the attacks were carried out by the Islamist group National Thowheed Jamath. Twenty-four people have been arrested.

What the media said

In the New York Times, Randy Boyagoda said that the attackers must have chosen their targets carefully. St Anthony’s is a national shrine and “has long been a place frequented by travellers – domestic and foreign, Catholic and non-Catholic – before they begin journeys around the island”. Negombo, where another church was bombed, is known as “Little Rome” thanks to its “robust Catholic culture”; yet the annual festival in honour of St Sebastian attracts those of all faiths. The question for Sri Lanka was whether terrorism would wreck its tradition of pluralism.

In the Guardian, Giles Fraser said the attacks reminded us that “We are living though one of the most serious phases of Christian persecution in history, and most people refuse to acknowledge it.”

What world leaders said

PopeFrancis expressed his “grief and sorrow”, and said that he was praying “for the numerous victims and injured”. He hoped “that everyone will condemn these terrorist acts, inhuman acts, that are never justifiable.” The UN Secretary General, António Guterres, and Mike Pompeo, the US Secretary of State, also offered their condolences and condemned the attack.

Other responses were less predictable. On Twitter, Barack Obama referred to the victims not asChristians but as “Easter worshippers” – a phrase also used by several US politicians, including Hillary Clinton. There was some debate on social media over whether the phrase was an attempt to avoid saying “Christian”, or merely an awkward formulation.