21:59 GMT +321 July 2019
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    Sri Lankan Army soldiers secure the area around St. Anthony Shrine after a blast in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Sunday, April 21, 2019.

    'Congregation Bravely Chose to Carry On Service': Sri Lankans Recall Bomb Horror

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    Multiple Deadly Explosions Hit Sri Lanka on Catholic Easter (76)
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    The death toll from the series of bombing attacks against three churches and five hotels across the south Asian island nation on Easter Sunday has risen to at least 215, with over 450 people injured in the violence.

    In wake of the attacks, Sputnik got in touch with Sri Lankans to get a sense of how the events were being taken in on the ground. 

    ‘Tragic This is Happening Again After Years of Peace’

    Asela Waidyalankara, a cybersecurity specialist who witnessed and filmed the hotel blast in the Colombo suburb of Dehiwala first-hand from the roof of his home and tweeted about it, shared his impressions.

    "[It's] tragic, we had 10 years of peace after a 30 year terror war, people ask why is this happening again", Waidyalankara said in an interview, referring to the 1983-2009 Sri Lankan Civil War between the government and the Tamil Tigers, which claimed the lives of over 100,000 people and maimed countless others.

    Bravery and Resilience

    Shamara Wettimuny, a doctoral student living in the UK who has the family members in Colombo, shared their accounts about how the events in Colombo unfolded.

    Family members told Wettimuny that they were in a local church when the blasts ripped through the city, with their congregation refusing to leave the building despite the explosions nearby.

    “They heard and felt the explosion from the Cinnamon Grand hotel next door, but the church and congregation bravely chose to continue their service and sang in resilience and a spirit of togetherness", the graduate student said.

    "People are naturally frightened and mourning for the loss of over 200 innocents. But there are heartening scenes of people courageously heading to blood banks to donate blood. Three police officers laid down their lives to apprehend suspects. We are grateful to these people and these are the stories of strength and resilience that we should hold on to in this darkest hour", Wettimuny stressed.

    Sri Lanka in Shock

    Ranga Sirilal, a Reuters' correspondent in Colombo, said that even as a journalist, he was "shocked" by the violence. 

    "Sri Lanka had a war for 30 years, and, as a reporter I had been covering the war for a long time. I had been reporting the death tolls daily. It used to be reported daily. But there was a lull for about 10 years, with no casualty figures reported. So this is first time after ten years that I have to report another series of explosions", the journalist lamented.

    The prevailing public mood is shock at the moment, Sirilal said. "Everybody is shocked. They can't believe what happened. Nobody thought that Sri Lanka will ever see explosions again. So people are shocked."

    The journalist added that the prevailing situation is one of calm, with no explosions reported after 2 pm local time, and police and military remaining on alert and continuing their search operations for possible suspects.

    Island-Wide Police Curfew

    Kavindu Dilshan, director at Lak Media Network Publishing, a local news portal, provided Sputnik with insight into the security situation on the ground, saying that eight individuals have been arrested, and that an "island-wide police curfew" has been put in place until further notice.

    "Colombo city is now under control of security forces and measures had to be taken to tighten security in the Colombo city area", Dilshan noted. This includes shutting down the city's train service and tighter security at the city's airport.

    "Measures were taken to tighten security at Bandaranaike International Airport, places of religious worship and public transportation locations, hostels and hospitals. Social media are banned now to stop the sharing of fake news, [including] Facebook, Viber, WhatsApp", Dilshan explained.

    The authorities' investigation is still underway, with no group taking responsibility for the violence. President Maithripala Sirisena promised that the island nation's security services would "take very stern action against the persons who are responsible for this conspiracy". According to AFP, Sri Lankan Police Chief Pujuth Jayasundara had alerted senior officers on 11 April that radical Islamists were planning to attack prominent churches across the country, with the information said to be shared by a foreign intelligence agency.

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    Multiple Deadly Explosions Hit Sri Lanka on Catholic Easter (76)

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