Thousands attend mass in Colombo for first time after Easter terror

Top: Worshippers at mass yesterday at St Theresa's Church in Colombo as Catholic churches in the capital held their first Sunday service after the Easter attacks. Above: Security personnel conducting checks at the entrance of All Saints' Church in Co
Worshippers at mass yesterday at St Theresa's Church in Colombo as Catholic churches in the capital held their first Sunday service after the Easter attacks. PHOTO: REUTERS, EPA-EFE
Top: Worshippers at mass yesterday at St Theresa's Church in Colombo as Catholic churches in the capital held their first Sunday service after the Easter attacks. Above: Security personnel conducting checks at the entrance of All Saints' Church in Co
Security personnel conducting checks at the entrance of All Saints' Church in Colombo yesterday. Catholic private schools will reopen tomorrow, church officials said.PHOTO: REUTERS, EPA-EFE

COLOMBO • Thousands of Catholics attended mass in Sri Lanka's capital Colombo yesterday for the first time since the Easter bomb attacks that killed 258 people.

Soldiers armed with automatic assault rifles guarded St Theresa's Church in Colombo's Thimbirigasyaya residential quarter, while members of the congregation were searched for explosives.

The sprawling church carpark was empty as the authorities did not allow any vehicles into the compound as part of high-level security.

The government has blamed local militants for the deadly April 21 bombings, which targeted three Christian churches and three luxury hotels.

Regular services were cancelled across all churches soon after the deadly suicide attacks.

The archbishop of Colombo, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, had in the past two weeks conducted private Sunday services, which were broadcast live on national television. Most churches outside Colombo had resumed regular services from last week under tight security.

Catholic private schools, which remained closed after the Easter holidays, will reopen tomorrow, church officials said.

The archbishop of Colombo, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, had in the past two weeks conducted private Sunday services, which were broadcast live on national television. Most churches outside Colombo had resumed regular services from last week under tight security.

All state-run schools resumed classes last week after police and security forces deployed armed guards. The government has blamed a local group, the National Thowheeth Jama'ath (NTJ), for the bombings. The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group claimed responsibility and the NTJ bombers filmed themselves making a pledge of allegiance to the elusive leader of ISIS before the attacks.

President Maithripala Sirisena has vowed to eliminate the NTJ militants and restore normality in the country which is still emerging from a 37-year Tamil separatist war that ended almost a decade ago.

There have been renewed religious tensions in the wake of the attacks. Troops in the northern Catholic-majority town of Chilaw fired shots into the air and police imposed a curfew yesterday after mobs attacked a mosque.

The violence erupted after a resident misunderstood a Facebook post as a threat against Christians. The curfew is set to be lifted at dawn today.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 13, 2019, with the headline 'Thousands attend mass in Colombo for first time after Easter terror'. Print Edition | Subscribe