Update: UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office advises against all but essential travel

Update: UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office advises against all but essential travel

REPORT • Apr 2019

25 April the FCO officially changed its advice for Sri Lanka advising against all but essential travel. According to the Foreign Office, terrorists are very likely to carry out indiscriminate attacks, including in places visited by foreigners.

Updates

  • On 25 April the FCO officially changed its advice for Sri Lanka advising against all but essential travel. According to the Foreign Office, terrorists are very likely to carry out indiscriminate attacks, including in places visited by foreigners.
  • Sri Lankan President has requested the resignation of the Chief of Police and the Defence Minister, who left his position but will continue to serve until a suitable replacement will be appointed.
  • The authorities revealed that one of the suicide bombers was previously arrested by the police and then released. The father of one of the perpetrators, a spice trader, was also arrested and is held under the suspicion of aiding the attackers.
  • As many as 700 people belonging to Muslim minorities are in hiding after fleeing their homes in response to a spike in communal and sectarian violence, which is taking place in retaliation to the Easter Sunday terror attack.
Update: UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office advises against all but essential travel

SITUATION SUMMARY

A series of coordinated bombings targeting three churches and three luxury hotels took place on 21 April, Easter Sunday, in the cities of Colombo, Negombo and Batticaloa. The first 6 blasts, exploding around 8:45 am local time, were aimed at maximising casualties, targeting people gathering for Easter mass and breakfast in the hotel restaurants. Two more bombs exploded later in the afternoon in Colombo, in a tragedy that increasingly looked like a large-scale jihadist terror attack. It was the deadliest strike suffered by Sri Lanka since the end of 26-year-long civil war against Tamil separatists, marking the end of a decade of relative peace and hope for a future of security, democracy and rule of law. The attack comes in the context of a state weaken by massive foreign debt, great political instability and a delicate transitional period.

According to the Ministry of Defence Ruwan Wijewarde the death toll as of Tuesday 23 April, officially the national day of mourning, is of 321, of which 38 foreigners, including British, U.S., Australian, Turkish, Indian, Chinese, Danish, Dutch and Portuguese nationals. Over 500 people have been wounded.

Security has been heightened across the islands, with the affected areas been closed off and subject to permanent military presence, while the security operations and investigations continue. At the time of writing, the police have detained approximately 40 people, which are currently under interrogation, mostly from Sri Lanka but also including one Syrian national.

In the aftermath of the attack, the government declared a state of emergency and instated a curfew from 8pm to 4am. It also initiated a social media shutdown until the end of the investigations, reportedly due their role in spreading misinformation regarding the attacks, as well as security operations that currently ongoing. The government also fears a resurgence of communal sectarian violence across the country and sees social media as a potentially radicalising platform.

The terrorist threat appeared to remain active during the day after the attack, as the police forces continued to discover and disarm explosives or suspected devices in several locations in Colombo. A vehicle was destroyed in a controlled detonation by the EOD unit just outside St. Andrews Church, which also intervened in Kollupitiya railway stations in Colombo for an unattended package found on a train.

Security Advice

High Terrorism Risk

  • Consider minimising movement this evening until the situation has stabilised and adhere to all police instructions.
  • Expect additional security throughout the city and the wider country, especially around mosques and other potential targets; adhere to all instructions given.
  • Avoid large gatherings or religious events in the upcoming days, as they are most likely to be targeted by follow-up attack.
  • Avoid affected areas and high-value landmarks, such as religious, military and government buildings, as well as luxury hotels and main transport hubs, as they could be targeted by follow up attacks.
  • A state of emergency is currently in place in Sri Lanka: heightened security measures, such as controls and check points, are likely to be implemented. Visitors should exercise care and follow instructions by law enforcement.
  • There is a curfew in place from 8pm to 4am. All travellers in country should follow the restriction. If travelling to and from the airport, make sure to carry all identity documents.
  • Visitors should be aware of the ongoing social media blackout until the investigation is concluded and should arrange alternative methods of communication.
  • Areas in the proximity of the attack sites will be closed off and additional security measures implemented.
  • While air travel has not been limited, additional checks are to be expected at airports and major transport hubs.
  • Monitor media and police sources for any additional information.
  • Employ additional security around religious sites and other possible targets globally due to the possible risk of reprisal or copy-cat attacks.

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