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Sri Lanka blasts: Researcher points out country is 'ethno-religiously complex'; urges people to not believe some Indian media sources

Eight serial blasts left over 200 dead and 500 injured in Sri Lanka on Sunday, when the island nation was preparing to begin Easter celebrations. Amarnath Amarasingam, a research fellow who specialises in terrorism and radicalisation, described the country as "massively ethno-religiously complex", warning that in the light of this tragedy, reportage by news organisations may go wrong.

The blasts mostly targeted churches and luxury hotels which were frequented by foreigners. In a series of tweets, Amarasingam provided a snapshot of Sri Lanka:

Amarasingam, a senior research fellow at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, further explained that the country’s population comprises of 12.6 percent Sri Lankan Tamils and 5.6 percent Indian Tamils, most of whom are Hindus, and speak Tamil. The country’s Muslims have been in the crosshairs of many militant groups, he wrote. “The Muslims of Sri Lanka make up about seven percent of the population. They speak Tamil, but don’t see themselves as ethnically Tamil,” Amarasingam wrote, highlighting that the Sinhalese Buddhist community has often targeted Muslims even after the conflict between the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan government came to an end in 2009.

Sri Lankan security forces in 2009 defeated Tamil Tiger rebels who had fought to create an independent homeland for the country's ethnic minority Tamils. The UN initially estimated the death toll from 26 years of fighting to be about 1,00,000, but a UN experts' panel later said some 45,000 ethnic Tamils may have been killed in the last months of the fighting alone.

Government troops and the Tamil Tigers were both accused of grave human rights violations, which prompted local and international calls for investigations.

The serial blasts in Sri Lanka have been one of the worst attacks in the country ever since 2009. A curfew has now been imposed indefinitely. Leave of all police personnel has been cancelled and doctors, nurses and health officials who were on leave have been asked to report to work. The government schools have been closed for Monday and Tuesday. All state universities have been closed until further notice. Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith said all Easter masses in the Colombo District have been cancelled.

The blasts targeted St Anthony's Church in Colombo, St Sebastian's Church in the western coastal town of Negombo and a church in the eastern town of Batticaloa. Three five-star hotels - the Shangri-La, the Cinnamon Grand and the Kingsbury in Colombo – were also targeted.

No group has claimed responsibility of the attacks and Foreign Secretary Ravinatha Ariyasinghe said at least 27 foreigners – hailing mostly from India, Pakistan, US, Morocco and Bangladesh - were killed in the explosions.

President Maithripala Sirisena in an address said he was shocked by the explosions and appealed for calm.

Sri Lanka's Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe condemned the attack as "cowardly" and said the government was working to "contain the situation."

Documents seen by AFP show that Sri Lanka's police chief Pujuth Jayasundara issued an intelligence alert to top officers 10 days ago, warning that suicide bombers planned to hit "prominent churches". "A foreign intelligence agency has reported that the NTJ (National Thowheeth Jama'ath) is planning to carry out suicide attacks targeting prominent churches as well as the Indian High Commission in Colombo," the alert said.

The NTJ is a radical Muslim group in Sri Lanka that was linked last year to the vandalisation of Buddhist statues.

With inputs from agencies

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Updated Date: Apr 21, 2019 20:36:36 IST