Reports have emerged confirming that St Mary’s Catholic Cathedral in Batticaloa town in Sri Lanka was the initial target of the suicide bomber who eventually blew himself up at the nearby Zion Church after realising that the Easter mass at St Mary’s had already ended.
According to a report in the Daily Mirror, the bomb blast that killed a total of 29 people, including 14 children, occurred around 9 am at the Zion Church on Central Road in the heart of the town, just when the mass was to begin. St Mary’s Cathedral is also located on the same road.
Locals and residents confirmed that a suspicious man had first entered the St Mary’s Catholic Cathedral half an hour earlier and the Catholic priest also confirmed that he had seen the same man lurking around the church the previous day as well.
Actually, what helped the St Mary’ church escape the bomb blast, was that the priest in charge had called the Easter Service at 7 am instead of the usual 7.30 am, half an hour earlier than the usual time. So, by 8.30 am when the suicide bomber arrived, most of the people who had congregated left. Therefore, he headed towards Zion Church where the bomb attack was eventually conducted.
The Zion Church was one of three churches and three luxury hotels which were targeted by suicide bombers, who carried out 8 coordinated dastardly bomb attacks in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday killing over 350 people and wounding hundreds.
Narrating his encounter with the suspect, Pastor Ganeshamoorthy Thirukumaran or Pastor Kumaran of Zion Church said, “I noticed a person standing near the pastor’s office, with a bag on his shoulder and clutching another bag to his chest.
“I asked him who he was, and why he was standing there. He replied that he had just come to observe what was happening at the church and asked me details about the church,” Pastor furthered.
The man identified himself as ‘Umar’ from the nearby Oddamaavadi Town, Pastor Kumaran reportedly said who also confirmed that the suspect was of medium height and looked in his 30s.
“I then invited him into the church as I thought he was like the many new people who come to our church. I didn’t have any doubts or suspicions about him,” confirmed Pastor Kumaran.
He recollected of asking a senior worshipper, Brother Stanley to speak to the visitor. The suspect’s demeanour and answers raised suspicion in the eyes of Brother Stanley who requested the bomber to leave the church premises.
The man, in turn, tried to force his way into the church. When his path was blocked, he reportedly detonated the bomb just outside the church, close to a group of children.
Unfortunately, Pastor Kumaran’s son was also among the children who died in the explosion.
According to Batticaloa Division Police Superintendent Nuwan Mendis, the head of the suspected bomber was found on the roof of a house near the church.
Mendis confirmed that investigators were trying to identify the killer through CCTV footage “and other methods”.