At least 45 children killed in Sri Lanka Easter Day attacks

At least 45 children killed in Sri Lanka Easter Day attacks
The UN said at least 45 children were killed in the devastating Sri Lanka attack, reports confirmed on Tuesday, as the total death toll rose to 321.
4 min read
23 April, 2019
At least 45 children were killed in the attacks [file photo-Getty]

At least 45 children were among more than 320 people killed in coordinated suicide bomb attacks in Sri Lanka, the United Nations said on Tuesday. 

"The total now is 45 children who died," UNICEF spokesman Christophe Boulierac told reporters in Geneva.

He added that the toll from the Sunday attacks could rise as many other minors "are wounded and are now fighting for their lives in intensive care units across the country". 

UNICEF has confirmed that 27 children were killed and another ten injured in the attack at St Sebastian's Church in Negombo.

In the eastern city of Batticaloa, 13 children were killed, including an 18-month-old baby, UNICEF said. 

Those 40 children who lost their lives in the two cities were Sri Lankan nationals, while UNICEF has confirmed that another five children of foreign nationality were also killed. 

Boulierac was not immediately able to provide details on where the non-Sri Lankan children died. 

Danish billionaire Anders Holch Povlsen, who was on vacation in Sri Lanka with his family at the weekend, lost three of his four children in the attack, a spokesman for his clothing retail group Bestseller has said.

Twenty children have also been admitted to hospital following the attack in Colombo, including four who were in intensive care. 

On Monday, authorities confirmed the death toll increased to 321, as emergency law giving police extensive powers to detain and interrogate suspects without court orders was imposed on Monday.

The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for Sunday's devastating attacks in Sri Lanka, although it is not clear if they directly organised the bombings.

The militant group claimed its "soldiers" had carried out the bombings in order to target Christians and citizens of countries involved in the US-led coalition which has been engaged in a war on IS over the past few years, according to its propaganda agency, Amaq.

In a message similar to others published by IS when it has claimed attacks thought to have been carried out by perpetrators inspired by the extremist group but not members of it.

Amaq said a "security source" had informed the propaganda outlet that "soldiers of the Islamic State" had carried out the attacks on hotels and churches where worshippers had been attending mass for Easter Sunday.

The Sri Lankan government said on Monday that it believed the National Thowheeth Jama'ath (NTJ), a local jihadi group, carried out the series of deadly suicide attacks, but that it had done so with "international support".

Little is known about JMI, other than reports it was established last year and is affiliated to a similarly named group in Bangladesh.

"We don't see that only a small organisation in this country can do all that," government spokesman Rajitha Senaratne said.

"We are now investigating the international support for them, and their other links, how they produced the suicide bombers here, and how they produced bombs like this."

Footage that was seen for the first time showed one of the bombers entering the Gothic-style St. Sebastian Church wearing a heavy backpack. Eerily, the man patted a child on the head before entering the church and killing dozens in the attack.

Documents seen by AFP show Sri Lanka's police chief issued a warning on 11 April, saying that a "foreign intelligence agency" had reported NTJ was planning attacks on churches and the Indian high commission.

Sri Lankan State Minister of Defence Ruwan Wijewardene later said the country believed that attacks had been carried out in "retaliation" for last month's Christchurch attacks in New Zealand.

Fifty people were killed when a right-wing extremist entered two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch on 15 March, shooting worshippers as they took part in the weekly Friday prayers.

A spokesperson for New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern later responded that the country had "not yet seen" intelligence reports linking Sunday's suicide bombings to last month's Christchurch attacks, according to AFP.

"We understand the Sri Lankan investigation into the attack is in its early stages," the spokesperson said. "New Zealand has not yet seen any intelligence upon which such an assessment might be based."

Top Muslim leaders in Sri Lanka demanded "maximum punishment" for the perpetrators of suicide bomb attacks on Christian churches and luxury hotels .

The National Shoora Council, a group of 18 Muslim organisations also expressed condolences and said the government must not "leave any stone unturned in its efforts to apprehend the culprits whoever they may be and to whatever part of the populace they may belong to".

Ethnic and religious violence has plagued Sri Lanka for decades, with a 37-year conflict with Tamil rebels followed by an upswing in recent years in clashes between the Buddhist majority and Muslims.

Meanwhile, foreign agents including the FBI and British counter-terrorism officials were being sent to Sri Lanka to assist in the ongoing investigation into the deadliest violence since the end of the country's long-running civil war a decade ago.

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