Is it safe to travel to Sri Lanka? Tourists warned to ‘stay indoors’ after the Colombo bomb attacks killed 207

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TOURISTS in Sri Lanka have been urged to stay indoors after the Easter Sunday suicide bomb attacks left at least 207 dead and around 500 injured.

The UK Foreign Office issued emergency phone numbers for the thousands of British tourists on the island, as well as families in the UK concerned about their welfare.

The suicide bomb attacks in Sri Lanka targeted churches and hotels
The suicide bomb attacks in Sri Lanka targeted churches and hotels

Officials advised holidaymakers and expats to observe the nationwide curfew put in place by Sri Lankan authorities after the series of deadly blasts.

“You should limit movements until this has been lifted, following the instructions of the local authorities and your hotel/tour operator,” the advice states.

Brits in Sri Lanka have been urged to contact family and friends to update them about their safety.

“If you are in Sri Lanka and you are safe, we advise that you contact family and friends to let them know that you are safe,” the Foreign Office said.

“If you are in Sri Lanka and have been directly affected by the attacks, please call the British High Commission in Colombo: +94 11 5390639, and select the emergency option from where you will be connected to one of our consular staff.

AVOID LARGE GATHERINGS

“If you’re in the UK and worried about British friends or family in Sri Lanka caught up in the incidents, please call the FCO switchboard number: 020 7008 1500 and follow the same steps.

“Security has been stepped up across the island and there are reports of ongoing security operations.

“If you are in Sri Lanka, please follow the advice of local security authorities, hotel security staff or your tour company. The airport is operating, but with increased security checks.

“Some airlines are advising their passengers to arrive early for check-in, in light of increased security screening.”

The Irish Travel Agents Association (ITAA) added: “Travellers are advised to stay indoors where possible and to avoid large gatherings.”

SUICIDE BOMB ATTACKS

Nearly 500 were injured when suicide bomb blasts ripped through three churches, four hotels and a block of flats in the capital Colombo.

Tourists were slaughtered while eating breakfast and Christian worshippers killed while gathering for morning mass.

Five Brits, including a mum and her two kids, are feared to be among at least 207 killed in the explosions.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has confirmed ‘several’ Americans were also killed- along with victims from the Netherlands, Portugal and China.

Three churches and three hotels – the luxury Shangri-La Hotel, Cinnamon Grand and The Kingsbury Colombo – were targeted in the devastating attacks.

Colombo International Airport was later put on lockdown amid reports of a suspicious package – which was later destroyed by a bomb disposal squad.

All of the six explosions this morning – as Christians attended Easter mass – were carried out by suicide bombers, according to initial investigations.

Sri Lanka’s minister of defence Ruwan Wijewardene confirmed 13 people have been arrested over the string of deadly blasts – one of whom is said to have been stopped in a van transporting explosives to the city.

ISIS SUPPORTERS CELEBRATE

ISIS supporters have gleefully celebrated the bombings as revenge for the New Zealand mosque massacre and the US-backed military campaign in Syria.

But no terror group has officially claimed responsibility for the blasts.

It has emerged Sri Lanka’s police chief warned of suicide bombers planning to hit “prominent churches” 10 days before today’s attack.

Pujuth Jayasundara reportedly said: “A foreign intelligence agency has reported that the NTJ (National Thowheeth Jama’ath) is planning to carry out suicide attacks targeting prominent churches as well as the Indian high commission in Colombo”.

The NTJ is a radical Muslim group in Sri Lanka that was linked last year to the destruction of Buddhist statues.

There has been no immediate claims of responsibility for the attacks in a country which was at war for decades with Tamil separatists until 2009, during which bomb blasts in the capital were common.

Last year, there were 86 verified incidents of discrimination, threats and violence against Christians, according to the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (NCEASL).


And there have been recent reports of clashes between Sinhalese Buddhist and Muslim communities, with some hardline Buddhist groups accusing Muslims of forcing people to convert to Islam.

Only around six per cent of majority-Buddhist Sri Lanka is Catholic, but the religion is seen as a unifying force because it includes people from both the Tamil and majority Sinhalese ethnic groups.

The Colombo bombings are the worst violence in Sri Lanka since the country’s bloody civil war ended a decade ago.

NATION DIVIDED Sri Lanka’s long history of violence

The suicide bomb attacks that devastated Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo on Easter Sunday recalled the worst days of the country’s 26-year civil war.

Sri Lanka, an island nation of some 23 million people, had been enjoying a period of relative calm despite its troubled history of ethnic and religious divides.

But just weeks before the country was set to mark 10 years since the end of the civil war, this was shattered by the series of blasts that killed more than 200 people.

The country was dominated for decades by the sharp divide between the majority Sinhalese, who are overwhelmingly Buddhist, and the minority Tamil, who are Hindu, Muslim and Christian.

The mistreatment of Tamils helped nurture the growth of armed separatists and led to the start of a civil war in 1983.

The Tamil Tiger fighters eventually created a de facto independent homeland in the country’s north.

But they were crushed in a 2009 government offensive, with some observers believing that tens of thousands of Tamils died in the last few months of fighting alone.

After the civil war ended, a religious divide quickly took hold.

Hardline Buddhist monks started rallying Sri Lankans against what they argue is a pernicious threat: Muslims, who make up roughly 10 per cent of the country’s population.

Buddhist nationalist leaders accused Muslims of recruiting children, trying to grow their ranks by marrying Buddhist women and attacking Buddhist shrines.

Muslims denied the accusations. Small-town economics also plays a significant role, since Muslims own many of the country’s small shops.

In 2018, anti-Muslim violence flared across the hills of central Sri Lanka, fed by rumours spread over social media about attacks on Buddhists.

Mobs of Buddhists swept through small towns, attacking mosques and Muslim-owned shops.

The government briefly declared a state of emergency and ordered popular social media networks, including Facebook, Viber and WhatsApp, blocked for a time to stop the violence from spreading.

An explosion ripped through the luxury Shangri-La Hotel
Reuters

An explosion ripped through the luxury Shangri-La Hotel[/caption]

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AFP or licensors

Pews knocked to the floor and the walls of a church damaged in an attack on Easter Sunday[/caption]

EPA

Multiple buildings have been destroyed throughout the capital this morning – with hundreds of victims[/caption]

Sri Lankan military officials stand guard in front of St Anthony's Shrine
Reuters

Sri Lankan military officials stand guard in front of St Anthony’s Shrine[/caption]

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