At least 207 people were killed and hundreds more were wounded in eight bomb blasts that rocked churches and luxury hotels in or near Sri Lanka’s capital of Colombo on Easter Sunday — the deadliest violence the South Asian island country has seen since a bloody civil war ended a decade ago.
Anne Lankin, a Canadian travelling in Colombo, arrived in the country the day before the attacks.
“There’s a massive feeling of shock and disbelief, especially as the day’s gone on and the magnitude of the attacks has been understood, ”she told CTV News Channel.
“People are now quite nervous of potential attacks that may happen later tonight and I guess a bit relieved that there’s a curfew now so people will stay indoors.”
A curfew was imposed by authorities Sunday evening, alongside a social media ban of sites including Facebook and WhatsApp.
Lankin said she was concerned about the possibility of further attacks.
“We’re next to a Hilton and you can very much see the presence of security and military around, so I think there definitely is concern,” she told CTV News Channel.
The three bombed hotels and one of the churches, St. Anthony’s Shrine, are frequented by foreign tourists, and Sri Lanka’s foreign secretary said the bodies of at least 27 foreigners were recovered.
The dead included people from the U.K., the U.S., India, Portugal and Turkey. China’s Communist Party newspaper said two Chinese nationals were killed.
Global Affairs Canada said in an email Sunday afternoon that there are no reports of any Canadians affected by the blasts.
Defence Minister Ruwan Wijewardena described the bombings as a terrorist attack by religious extremists and said 13 suspects had been arrested, though there was no immediate claim of responsibility.
Wijewardena said most of the blasts were believed to have been suicide attacks.
Riyaz Rauf, vice-president of the Canada Sri Lankan Association of Toronto, said he found out about the bombings via text messages just after midnight.
In an interview with The Canadian Press, Rauf described the attacks as a “loss of humanity.”
Rauf, who moved to Canada nine years ago, said he’s at a loss to explain the reasons behind the violence.
“There’s absolutely no reason — no cause, nothing — for something like this to be happening in this beautiful country,” he said.
“Sri Lanka as a nation has come through the worst period that it could ever come out of. We had a civil war for 25 years. We are a bunch of resilient people who can overcome adversity.”
Canadian permanent resident Kanch De Silva arrived in Sri Lanka from Toronto two days ago to visit his parents, who live about 15 kms from Colombo.
He told CTVNews.ca that a female friend in her 30s and her mother, a celebrity chef in Sri Lanka, were killed in the blast at the Sangri-La hotel.
“It’s really shocking. They were at a buffet in a hotel and took a selfie 10 minutes before the blast,” De Silva told CTVNews.ca
“I started hearing stuff about 8:45 in the morning and then the news started coming through. We all heard about six blasts and in the evening there was two more.”
De Silva, who works as an immigration consultant, has lived in Toronto with his wife since 2015.
Amarnath Amarasingam, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Waterloo who has authored several books and papers on Sri Lanka, said even in a country “brimming” with ethnic and religious conflict, no one expected an attack of this scale.
“It’s just multiple kind of layers of complexity in terms of ethnic and religious relations, which this attack kind of really throws up in the air,” Amarasingam said in an interview with The Canadian Press.
“Things could get ugly pretty fast from here, I think, if we’re not careful.”
Canada is home to roughly 150,000 people of Sri Lankan or mixed Sri Lankan descent, according to 2016 figures from Statistics Canada.
Rauf, who is Muslim, believes the community will also come together to support each other in this time of tragedy.
“One thing good about the Sri Lankan community that has migrated to Canada is that when they migrated from Sri Lanka, few people brought their baggages, their way of thinking from back home,” said Rauf.
“The new generations — the second generation and the third generation that have got used to living here — adopted the Canadian culture, understood the ethnic harmony here. They’re all united,” he said.
“For us, religion comes second — it’s humanity first, the person who is first.”