Political and clerical leaders across South and Southeast Asia deplored the terrorist bombings that targeted churches and hotels in Sri Lanka, killing nearly 300 people, as Colombo cast blame Monday on an Islamic extremist group.
Officials from Muslim-majority nations in the region and the predominantly Catholic Philippines – countries that have all dealt with terror threats from religious extremists and Islamic State-linked groups in recent years – spoke out against the coordinated suicide attacks that struck the capital Colombo and other cities in the Buddhist-majority island-nation.
“The bombings in Sri Lanka are a humanitarian tragedy, as the bomb blasts took place at a time when Christians were celebrating their religious holidays. The several bombings across Sri Lanka will remain a stark page in the history of human life,” Zainut Tauhid Saadi, deputy chairman of the Indonesian Ulema Council, the top Islamic clerical body in the world’s most populous Muslim nation, said Monday.
“Inhuman acts are not justified by religious teachings,” he added, according to the state-run Antara news service.
Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo joined other world leaders in condemning the attacks in Sri Lanka.
“On behalf of the Indonesian people, I wish to convey our deepest condolences and sympathies to the people and government of Sri Lanka and all families of the victims,” Jokowi said in a message posted on Twitter a day earlier.
Sunday’s attacks were the deadliest in Sri Lanka since the end of a civil war a decade ago triggered by demands by the Tamil Tigers, a rebel group from the ethnic Tamil minority, for independence from the Buddhist-majority country. The Tamils are Hindu, Christian and Muslim.
The Easter Sunday attacks took place less than a month before Sri Lankans were to mark the 10th anniversary of the defeat of the Tamil Tigers after a war that lasted 26 years. The island has since largely been peaceful except in more recent years when intercommunal tensions flared between Sinhala-Buddhists and minority Muslims, according to reports.
On Monday, top Malaysian politician Anwar Ibrahim expressed sadness that the April 21 attacks “were done during the most important date for the Christians worldwide – Easter Sunday.”
“We have to make a stand that any attacks or invasion on any worship houses, be it a mosque, temple, [or] church, has to be condemned by peace-loving people,” Anwar, a prime minister in waiting in multi-ethnic and multi-religious Malaysia, said in a statement.
“After what happened in Christchurch, New Zealand, I would like to call on all Muslims to take a lesson from the tragedy and together echo the peace solidarity with the Christians in Sri Lanka,” he added, referring to mass shootings by a suspected Australian white supremacist that killed 50 people at mosques in New Zealand’s third largest city last month.
At least 290 were confirmed dead and 500 injured in the weekend violence in Sri Lanka, also the deadliest terror attack to take place in South or Southeast Asia in years.
It eclipsed the 2008 Mumbai attacks in India’s financial capital that left 166 people dead, and the 2002 Bali attacks that killed 202 people in Indonesia’s deadliest terror act. Both attacks were carried out by Muslim extremist groups, according to local authorities.
More than 30 foreigners were killed in Sunday’s carnage, including Zayan Chowdhury, an 8-year-old boy related to Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, according to Bangladesh’s envoy to Colombo and other officials.
Zayan was the grandson of Sheikh Selim, a top leader of Bangladesh’s ruling Awami League who is Hasina’s cousin. Zayan was killed and his father, Mashiul Haque Chowdhury, injured in a bomb explosion at the Shangri-La Hotel in Colombo, one of several hotels in the Sri Lankan capital that were attacked Sunday, officials said. The family was vacationing in Sri Lanka when they were caught up in the explosions.
“One Bangladeshi (Zayan) was killed and another was injured in the attacks. We have no more information about casualties of any other Bangladeshi people in the attacks,” Bangladesh Ambassador M. Riaz Hamidullah told Benar by phone on Monday.
Zayan’s father was hospitalized and the boy’s body was scheduled to be flown back to Bangladesh on Tuesday morning, Bangladeshi officials said. On Sunday, Hasina condemned the attack but, as of late Monday, she had yet to issue a statement reacting to Zayan’s death.
In Dhaka, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal said the country’s security services and police were ready to ward off any terrorist threats in the wake of the Sri Lanka attacks.
“We are very much alert. We don’t have any information of any possible attack in Bangladesh,” the minister told journalists.
In July 2016, at least 29 people were killed during an overnight terrorist siege mounted by Islamic State-aligned gunmen at a café in the Bangladeshi capital. However, the home minister and other officials have since denied allegations that IS has a presence in the country.
Other than Bangladesh, there were no reports of citizens from Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand being wounded in the blasts, officials from those countries said.
The Indonesian embassy in Colombo said there were 374 Indonesian expatriates living in Sri Lanka.
“The government calls on Indonesian citizens in Sri Lanka to remain vigilant and cautious and to follow directions from local security authorities,” the embassy said in a statement.
On Monday, Sri Lankan Health Minister and government spokesman Rajitha Senaratne identified a local group that calls itself the National Thowfeek Jamaath as being responsible for the attacks, adding that all seven suicide bombers involved in the raids were Sri Lankan citizens, according to the Associated Press.
Meanwhile, reports emerged that the Sri Lankan government had received warnings weeks earlier from neighboring India that churches in Sri Lanka were the targets of terrorist plots, according to media accounts.
On Monday, Anwar’s wife, Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, condemned the attacks as an “act of barbarism.”
Malaysia’s King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah also deplored Sunday’s violence as an “inhuman and uncivilized act that targeted … innocent lives during the Easter celebration.”
Like Indonesia, Malaysia is mainly Muslim but both countries have small Christian minorities. Last May, Christian churches in the Indonesian city of Surabaya were targeted in deadly bombings by IS-linked extremists that killed 13 civilians.
“Christians in Malaysia are filled with horror, shock and dismay that, on this most Holy Day, such despicable acts of destruction can be contemplated and carried out upon innocent citizens of Sri Lanka and foreign nationals,” the Christian Federation of Malaysia said in a statement Monday.
Christian leaders in Indonesia and the mainly Roman Catholic Philippines issued similar statements.
The governments of Thailand, another Buddhist majority country, and the Philippines also condemned the slaughter in Sri Lanka.
“Our nation, together with the rest of the world, is outraged by these latest senseless acts of terror and violence,” Philippine Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said.
“As we recall our recent commitment to boost ties with Sri Lanka and the warm relations between the leaders our of countries, we express our sincere solidarity and offer our heartfelt prayers to the citizens of Sri Lanka as well as to the other people who have been affected by this horrific attack.”
The restive and predominantly Muslim Philippine south was where IS-linked militants took over the city of Marawi in 2017, in a siege that lasted five months and unleashed a vicious battle with government forces.
In late January 2019, twin suicide bombings killed 23 people at a church on southern Jolo island, in an attack blamed on IS-aligned militants.