Colombo, April 23 (IANS): Sri Lanka said on Tuesday that the horrific Easter Sunday bombings were meant to avenge the attacks on two mosques in New Zealand as the death toll in the island nation rose to 321 including 10 Indians.
The suicide bombings targeting luxury hotels and churches in three Sri Lankan cities were a response to the mass shooting at two mosques in Christchurch in March, Sri Lanka’s Minister of State for Defence Ruwan Wijewardene told Parliament.
He said that investigations had shown “this attack was carried out in retaliation for the attack against Muslims in Christchurch”.
Wijewardene also said that the death toll had climbed to 321, including 38 foreigners, and reiterated that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and other key officials were never told about the possibility of an impending attack.
Another 30 foreigners were hospitalized, Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority Chairman Kishu Gomes told Efe news. Over 500 people were injured in the attacks in Colombo, Negombo and Batticaloa – a former Tamil Tiger stronghold – on Sunday.
As an official mass funeral ceremony for the victims was held on Tuesday, a day of national mourning, the Indian High Commission here put the death toll for Indians at 10.
“Regret to confirm the deaths of two more Indian nationals, A. Maregowda and H. Puttaraju, in the blasts in Sri Lanka, taking the total number of Indian deaths in the tragedy to 10 as of now,” the mission tweeted.
There was fresh panic in Colombo – the city remains on the edge – as police found a suspicious abandoned parcel at the Kollupetiya railway station in the city.
Health authorities said that autopsies were in their final stages.
Twenty-four people have been arrested in connection with the bombings, police spokesman Ruwan Gunaeskara said.
The government has blamed a local Islamist outfit, National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ), although it did not rule out links to foreign groups. No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks.
The US Embassy in Colombo released a travel advisory warning that terror groups may be planning further attacks in the country.
It identified tourist spaces, transport centres, markets, shopping malls, government facilities, hotels, clubs, restaurants, places of worship, parks, sporting and cultural events along with educational institutions and airports as potential target areas.
Sunday was the deadliest day in the country since the end of a civil war between Tamil Tigers and government forces which began in 1983 and ended in 2009.
There have been a number of attacks against religious minorities on the island in the past.
In 2018, the government declared a state of emergency after violence erupted between Muslims and the majority Sinhalese Buddhists leading to two deaths and dozens of arrests.
Christians make up around 7 per cent of the Sri Lankan population, with Buddhists accounting for approximately 70 per cent. Twelve per cent are Hindus and almost 10 per cent Muslims.