Bernard Gagnon / Wikimedia Commons

St. Sebastian's Church in Negombo, Sri Lanka, the site of bombings on Easter Sunday.

April 21, 2019

Easter Sunday Attacks In Sri Lanka Stun World, Cornellians Alike

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This article has been updated.

Bombings roiled Sri Lanka early Sunday morning, leaving a wake of casualty and eliciting feelings of shock, fear and confusion from people around the world and Cornellians alike.

The bombings began around 8:45 a.m. IST, first hitting St. Anthony’s Shrine in the capital city of Colombo where many were celebrating Easter Sunday, The New York Times reported. The attacks continued over the next few hours, striking two other Roman Catholic churches in Negombo and Batticaloa, and four luxury hotels in the capitol.

As of late Sunday, at least 290 had been confirmed dead and 500 others injured by eight attacks, Al Jazeera reported.

While Sri Lanka’s civil war subsided nearly ten years ago, Sunday’s attacks revived the still-fresh echoes of violence. Ishini Gammanpila ’22, who is from Colombo, where the first bomb exploded, told The Sun how “since the day I was born … I’ve known how it feels like to live in fear, anticipating what happens next.”

Cornellians with roots in Sri Lanka described difficulties in reaching loved ones. Piragash Swargaloganathan ’19 was only able to contact his family briefly to confirm they were safe.

“The [social media] is cut off…We don’t know anything,” Swargaloganathan told The Sun. The Sri Lankan government announced a 12-hour social media blackout from 6 p.m. IST Sunday.

“As much as this attack came to us as shocking—” Swargaloganathan paused. “At the same time, this is not something out of the ordinary.”

The magnitude of the devastation still felt raw for many.

“I’m so far away from home,” said Gammanpila. “It just feels so wrong for me to not be by [my family’s] side at this time.”

“It’s still jarring. It’s just so distant,” said Vanathi Ganesan ’20, whose parents immigrated from Sri Lanka. “Everyone is in shock.”

On Sunday afternoon, President Martha Pollack emailed a brief statement to the Cornell community.

“As we all try to grasp yet another atrocity in the world targeting people based solely on their religious affiliation, let us reach out to those around us to stand in solidarity against violence and in support of love and compassion,” the statement read.

Coordinated and organized in nature, the bombings were unlike anything many authorities had ever seen.

Rajiva Wijesinha, a former member of the Sri Lankan parliament, told Al Jazeera that “the range of these attacks and the concentration on the Christian churches and then the hotels as well suggest we are dealing with something really quite horrible.”

The Sri Lankan government has so far shown reluctance to blame or identify a particular group as responsible — a likely intentional move, Prof. Daniel Bass, Asian studies, explained.

“It would not be fair to even speculate or even name responsibility … because it can inflame tensions in the history of violence recently,” Bass told The Sun. “The ban on social media that the government did was partly to try and minimize further violence.”

Bass provided some insight, saying that “there have not been any significant recent attacks that would make it appear that some group is planning or trying something like this.”

Al Jazeera reported Monday that twenty-four people had been arrested in connection to the bombings. No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attacks, though a Sri Lankan health minister blamed local group National Thowheeth Jama’ath during a news conference on Monday, The New York Times reported.