Tears and troops on the streets as Sri Lanka mourns suicide bomb dead

Published April 28, 2019, 7:54 PM

by Francine Ciasico

By Agence France-Presse 

Sri Lanka’s churches remained shut Sunday forcing Christians to say prayers of grief in private over the Easter suicide attacks that the country’s Roman Catholic leader called “an insult to humanity”.

A heavily-guarded vigil was held outside St Anthony's Shrine in Colombo at 8.45am, the moment the bomber struck (AFP / MANILA BULLETIN)
A heavily-guarded vigil was held outside St Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo at 8.45am, the moment the bomber struck (AFP / MANILA BULLETIN)

Fearing a repeat of the Easter Sunday bombings of churches and hotels in which 253 people died, the Archbishop of Colombo, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, held a private mass after cancelling all public services.

Amidst heavy security imposed across the country, a vigil was also held outside St Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo at 8:45 am, the moment the bomber struck the church, killing dozens of worshippers.

“Today during this mass we are paying attention to last Sunday’s tragedy and we try to understand it,” the cardinal said at his official residence, where President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe were among the small congregation.

“We pray that in this country there will be peace and co-existence and understanding each other without division,” he said.

“What happened last Sunday is a great tragedy, an insult to humanity,” he added.

Stuck in time 

At exactly 8:45 am, the singing of hymns by scores of people outside St. Anthony’s church stopped and the bells tolled. The hands on the tower clock are still fixed at the time of the blast.

“I come to this church every Sunday, it feels like my second home,” said Dharshika Fernando, 19, fighting back tears.

“It feels like people blasted my own home.”

Thousands of Sri Lankan troops remained on the streets, guarding churches and mosques for the symbolic day.

Security forces also carried out new arrests, a day after at least 15 people were killed in a raid on a jihadist hideout where suicide bombers blew themselves up.

Police said they arrested two top suspects in connection with the Easter bombings in central Nawalapitiya on Saturday night, taking the total number in detention to more than 100.

Authorities say they are seeking about 140 Islamic State influenced radicals in all.

The latest two, Mohamed Saadik Abdul Haq and Mohamed Saahid Abdul Haq, were on a list of six “most wanted” radicals issued on Thursday.

They were wanted for the December 26 desecration of Buddha statues at the central town of Mawanella, the act that first brought to prominence the National Thowheeth Jama’ath (NTJ) group, which has been blamed for the Easter bombings.