On Sunday, April 21st 2019, a series of coordinated suicide bombings targeting churches and hotels across Sri Lanka left 321 dead and 500 injured.
At 8.45 am in Colombo, Sri Lanka’s capital, suicide bombers targeted St Anthony’s Shrine and three hotels – Kingsbury, Shangri-La, and Cinnamon Grand. Two smaller explosions were reported later in the day, as attackers fled from the police.
At the same time as the first explosions in the capital, a bomber targeted St Sebastian’s church in Negombo, a town north of the capital. At least 110 were killed in this attack.
In Batticaloa, in Sri Lanka’s Eastern Province, at 9.05am another church was targeted, the Zion evangelical church.
It has been reported that there are 45 children among the dead.
ISIS have claimed responsibility for the attack through their Amaq news agency, though they have provided little evidence for their claim. A local Islamist group, National Thowheeth Jama’ath, were considered the main suspects. It is being investigated whether they received ‘international support’.
Some have claimed that the attacks in Sri Lanka were revenge attacks for the Christchurch shooting on March 15th in New Zealand, where Muslim worshippers were targeted.
In 2019, prior to the attacks in Sri Lanka, AOAV had recorded over 1,100 deaths and injuries from suicide attacks globally across 16 countries. Of the casualties recorded, just over half (56%) were civilians.
In 2018, AOAV recorded 218 attacks which involved suicide bombings across 21 countries. The attacks left 7,000 casualties, including 5,644 civilians.
Iain Overton, Action on Armed Violence’s Executive Director and author of ‘The Price of Paradise: how the suicide bomber shaped the modern world’, travelled to Sri Lanka in 2018 to interview former LTTE fighters who had volunteered to be suicide bombers during Sri Lanka’s bloody civil war (1983 – 2009).
“We know that the LTTE was influenced directly by Hezbollah’s use of suicide bombings in Lebanon”, Overton said. “The LTTE sent fighters to meet that Shi’a militant group to learn how to use suicide bombings in their own attacks on Sri Lanka’s incumbent government, where 92% of such attacks were political or against members of the security forces.”
“What these recent bombings show, though, is how ISIS has influenced suicidal terror. Unlike the LTTE’s tactics, these strikes were explicitly at civilian targets – illustrating how toxic Salafist-jihadist justifications for attacking civilians have changed the focus of terror attacks worldwide. This targeting of civilians was first seen when Palestinian Sunni groups attacked buses in Israel. Now it is ISIS inspired fighters attacking churches in Sri Lanka.”
“What is clear is that the defeat of ISIS in the field of battle in Iraq and Syria has not ended suicide bombings. In 2016, over 26 countries worldwide saw suicide attacks, as the globalised terror group struck again and again. Sri Lanka is a new field of atrocity for them; a country that – sadly – saw at least 115 suicide bombings during its terrible civil war.”
“It is likely that more attacks of this terrible nature will happen again and again, as ISIS’s claim that they ‘love death more than we love life’ finds meaning in the hearts of its followers.”
AOAV calls on all states to urgently address the threat of IED attacks. There is an urgent need for preventative measures to be implemented by States and the international community.
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