The Detail - What makes Sri Lanka's bombings different

From The Detail, 5:00 am on 30 April 2019

Sri Lanka has a war-stricken history.

It’s been colonised three times: by the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British. There was a fight for independence and a move towards nationalism. The new constitution made Sinhalese the national language and Buddhism the cornerstone religion.

The next three decades of racial war between militant group The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the state lead to both sides burying tens of thousands.

Clergymen carry coffins for burial during a funeral service for Easter Sunday bomb blast victims at St. Sebastian Church in Negombo, Sri Lanka, Tuesday, April 23, 2019.

Photo: The Associated Press

The Detail associate producer Kethaki Masilamani is a Sri Lankan New Zealander.

The Detail's associate producer Kethaki Masilamani.

The Detail's associate producer Kethaki Masilamani. Photo: Newsroom

In this episode she speaks to her aunt; her father’s classmate, Godfrey Yogarajah, chief executive of the Zion Evangelical Group in Sri Lanka; and Sharika Thiranagama of Stanford University, who has studied the years of ethnic violence.

They all share the same sentiment over the Easter attacks that killed hundreds - shock.

While there have been nationalist efforts in the past to stamp out minority religions, until now there had been no conflict between two persecuted groups.

There was no warning before the attacks.

“We have, up to now, never experienced something so large scale, happening at the same time,” Mr Yogarajah said.

The community was reeling from the loss of loved ones, he said.

 “It really tore our hearts.”

The country has seen every type of violence: suicide bombings, presidential assassinations, localised bombings, and riots - but never one this coordinated.

Stanford University's Dr. Sharika Thiranagama.

Stanford University's Dr. Sharika Thiranagama. Photo: Stanford University

Dr Thiranagama said the attacks stunned her.

“We’ve never had simultaneous attacks in different parts of the country.”

She, like many Sri Lankans, is tired of carrying around decades of trauma.

She echoes her own mother, Rajini Thiranagama, who was assassinated in the civil war in 1989. She had diaried: “One needs enormous energies to restart, lose, restart, lose, restart, lose.”

More than 24 hours after the attack Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for the devastation. The government said local radicals were responsible for all the attacks. It said it knew of the locals' involvement IS, but being part of an international terrorist group was not illegal in Sri Lanka.

More than 500 Muslims in Sri Lanka - infants, parents, siblings - have fled their homes for refugee camps, fearing retaliation. They have been warned not to attend local masjid for prayers, they been told to remove their niqab, hijab and burqa.

Dr Thiranagama said it "looks like we’ve been brought into a larger story that isn’t local".

Photo: RNZ