April 24, 2019
Eight nearly-coordinated explosions that ripped through churches and hotels in Sri Lanka last Easter Sunday left a toll of over 320 deaths and hundreds of injured people. At Zion Church in Batticaloa, half of the deceased were kids that had just finished their Sunday class an hour earlier.
As Sri Lanka and the world continue to condemn what has been titled as a terrorist attack, new photos and videos of the Easter Sunday services at one of the targeted churches surfaced online.
Among the pics, there are several that show a group of kids with their arms in the air and smiling wide as they enjoyed their Sunday class at Zion Church in Batticaloa. The photos were taken just an hour before a bomb exploded in the churchyard, killing 28 people, 12 children among them.
Father Thiru Kumaran, the church’s pastor, said minutes after the class ended, he met a man he believes was the suicide bomber outside of the church.
“I found a man standing outside our church. He was not part of our usual congregation,” Kumaran recalled. “He was about 35 years old, and he told me his name was Omar, that he was from the nearby town of Oddamavadi and had come to visit our church.”
The man asked when the Easter mass would start, and Kumaran invited him into the church, but “Omar” refused.
“He had a rucksack with him and was carrying another bag in his hand. He was not willing to come inside. After he refused, I went inside and began the service and commenced the prayer,” said the pastor.
A few minutes later, he heard an explosion, and when he turned around, he found a terrifying scene.
“There were small children playing in our churchyard... When the man refused to come in with me and continued to act suspiciously, the other members of the church took him aside and escorted him to the yard. I do not know whether they argued or not, but shortly after this the blast happened.”
Kumaran believes the attacker was waiting for the mass to start so he could hurt more people.
Arasatnam Verl’s 13-year-old son, V Jackson, was playing in front of the church when the explosion took place. He was killed instantly. Verl also lost his older sister, and his two younger sisters and brother-in-law are in critical condition.
Auhorities inspect St. Sebastian's Church in Negombo, North of Colombo, in Sri Lanka | Photo: Getty Images
He lost his friend Ramesh too.
“Ramesh had questioned the bomber, asking his name, address and then pushed the man outside the church door,” Verl recalled. Shortly after, the man blew himself up.
On Tuesday, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the bombings, the group’s Amaq news agency has said. They did not show proof but released a photo with eight men believed to be the suicide bombers.
Sri Lankan officials inspect St. Sebastian's Church in Negombo, north of Colombo. | Photo: GettyImages
Sri Lankan authorities have been under scrutiny of the international media after several reports revealed that they had received repeated warnings from Indian intelligence services about a potential suicide attack against churches.
The Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, said he wasn't informed about the threats.
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