Churches in two of the cities in Sri Lanka targeted by the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL)-linked attack that killed and wounded hundreds of Christians on Easter opened their doors to worshippers this Sunday under tight security measures, more than 20 days after the rampage.
Citing the situation at the first Sunday Mass since the attack held at Colombo’s St. Theresa’s Church, local news outlet Ada Derana noted that worshippers faced “body searches by soldiers wary of explosives,” adding that the church’s sprawling car park was kept empty as part of high-level security precautions.
Thousands reportedly attended mass on Sunday in Colombo alone.
The Guardian reported:
Catholics in the Sri Lankan cities of Colombo and Negombo, where churches were targeted by suicide bombers on Easter Sunday, have held their first Sunday morning masses since the attacks that killed more than 250 people.
Police stood guard at every entrance to St Lucia’s cathedral in Colombo, one of the country’s largest churches, which was full of worshippers, including many who lost relatives in the bombings on 21 April claimed by Islamic State.
Those attending underwent full-body searches and were banned from bringing bags, and the road outside was barricaded and guarded by soldiers. Troops wearing masks and camouflage clothing patrolled the surrounding area on motorbikes.
Outside Colombo and Negombo, churches resumed services last week while guarded by police.
The Guardian noted:
The masses in the two cities – services elsewhere in the country had restarted earlier – were small steps towards the resumption of normal life after the attacks that ended a decade of relative peace following the government’s brutal victory in the country’s 27-year civil war against Tamil militants.
On April 21, a wave of jihadi suicide bombings targeted churches and hotels, killing more than 250 and injuring about 500 others. Many of those who perished succumbed to their injuries days after the barbaric act, claimed by ISIS.
In the wake of the attack, the Sri Lankan government deployed “nearly 10,000 soldiers” across the Indian Ocean island nation “to carry out searches and provide security for religious centers,” including churches, Reuters reported.
Referring to one of the churches that reopened in Colombo, local News 1st pointed out:
Although construction activities are still underway at the St. Anthony’s Shrine in Kochchikade, which was a target of one of the terror attacks, devotees were seen praying for their loved ones who lost their lives. Sunday Mass was seen held in churches across the island under tight security.
Although Sri Lanka is a Buddhist majority nation, it also houses a significant Hindu, Christian, and Muslim minority.
Ada Derana learned from Christian officials that church-run schools might reopen on Tuesday amid strict security measures.
According to Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena, the vast majority of the 150 jihadis linked to the Easter Sunday attacks have died or are in custody.
The presence of police and soldiers is reportedly still heavy in major cities and villages as security forces continue the hunt of individuals involved in the attack.