More than 200 have been killed and hundreds injured by a series of explosions inside churches and hotels in Sri Lanka, as Christians gathered for services to celebrate Easter. In a statement, UN chief António Guterres said he was "outraged by the terror attacks" and called for the perpetrators to be "swiftly brought to justice".
According to news reports, three churches were targeted, in the cities of Batticaloa, Negombo, and the capital, Colombo. The Shangri-La, Kingsbury, Cinnamon Grand and another hotel, all in the capital, were also hit.
So far, no group has claimed responsibility for carrying out the likely suicide bombings, but police have reportedly arrested seven people in connection with the attacks.
The Secretary-General said in a statement that on what was "a sacred day for Christians around the world", he recalled "the sanctity of all places of worship".
The statement issued by his Spokesperson said the UN chief "expresses his deepest condolences to the families of the victims, the people and Government of Sri Lanka, and wishes a speedy recovery to the injured".
Guterres commends Sri Lankan leadership, and 'unity of the people'
He also commended "the leadership demonstrated by the authorities and unity of the people in Sri Lanka in the wake of the attacks"
As our hearts bleed for #SriLanka 🇱🇰 let our generation show the world that there is no space for violence and hatred in our country anymore.— UN Youth Envoy (@UNYouthEnvoy) April 21, 2019
No matter how many times our resilience is tested we will never give up on peace!!
We will get through this. Together as one. pic.twitter.com/jLipzh9kwk
In a tweet, the UN’s Resident Coordinator for the Indian Ocean island, Hanaa Singer, said the UN "strongly condemns the horrific attacks carried out against civilians and worshippers...Heartfelt condolences to the families, victims, Government and people”. She also urged Sri Lankans to stand united” in the face of the carnage.
The President of the UN General Assembly, Maria Fernanda Espinosa, also expressed her “deep sadness” in a tweet, saying that her thoughts were with the people of Sri Lanka, “affected by yet another act of senseless violence”.
“We must unite in our common humanity to condemn these heinous acts and stop targetting innocent people, practicing their faith in peace”, she added.
Sir Lanka’s bloody 26-year civil war waged between Government forces and Tamil separatists in the north, ended in 2009 with the defeat of the rebels, and in the years since, there has been sporadic violence, some targeting religious minorities.
The island is home to around 1.5 million Christians, the vast majority Roman Catholic. The Singhalese majority are Buddhist – around 70 per cent of the population - with sizeable Hindu and Muslim minorites also.
In response to Sunday’s attacks, a national curfew has been put in place, and social media networks have reportedly been blocked.
Eye witness reports from St. Sebastian’s church in Negombo describe a scene of carnage, with dozens killed. There were also heavy casualties at St. Anthony’s in the Kochckicade district of Colombo, where the first blast detonated.
Pope Francis, in his Easter Address outside St. Peter’s in Rome, reportedly expressed his “affectionate closeness” for the Christian community in Sri Lanka which had been struck while gathering for one of its biggest celebrations of the year, and his thoughts to “all the victims of such cruel violence”
UN chief Guterres, concluded his statement reiterating the "support and solidarity of the United Nations, with the people and the Government of Sri Lanka, in this difficult moment for the nation."
Top UN official on safeguarding religious sites, condemns 'barbaric attacks'
Miguel Moratinos, the High Representative for the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) condemned "in the strongest terms" the multiple terrorists attacks on Sunday, reiterating that "such heinous terrorist attacks that knows no religion, country or ethnicity are unjustifiable regardless of whomever and wherever they are being perpetrated."
He stressed they should not dissuade everyone from taking a "collective stand against terrorism in all its forms and to continue to work to promote tolerance and respect of the other."
Mr. Moratinos pledged to continue development of a concrete Plan of Action for safeguarding religious sites across the world, as requested by UN chief Guterres, "to guarantee that worshippers can observe their rituals in a spirit of peace and compassion."