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On a Day of Mourning in Sri Lanka, Religious Tension Builds On a Day of Mourning in Sri Lanka, Religious Tension Builds
(about 1 hour later)
NEGOMBO, Sri Lanka — The coffins came one by one, some heavy and others unusually light.NEGOMBO, Sri Lanka — The coffins came one by one, some heavy and others unusually light.
As bulldozers tore into the fresh earth, clearing an enormous burial ground, barefoot men dripping with sweat scooped shovelfuls of dirt. The sun beat down, and one family stood in the shade. They were here for the burial of an 11-year-old boy.As bulldozers tore into the fresh earth, clearing an enormous burial ground, barefoot men dripping with sweat scooped shovelfuls of dirt. The sun beat down, and one family stood in the shade. They were here for the burial of an 11-year-old boy.
“I don’t even know what to say,” said Lasanthi Anusha, whose son stood looking at the grave of his friend. “There were even smaller ones.”“I don’t even know what to say,” said Lasanthi Anusha, whose son stood looking at the grave of his friend. “There were even smaller ones.”
Mass burials of the victims of Sunday’s suicide attacks in Sri Lanka, which killed more than 300 people, including dozens of children, began on Tuesday.Mass burials of the victims of Sunday’s suicide attacks in Sri Lanka, which killed more than 300 people, including dozens of children, began on Tuesday.
The bombers, identified as Islamist extremists by the government, struck three churches during Easter Mass and three hotels. In Negombo, the site of the deadliest attack, armored personnel carriers lined the roads as funeral rites unfolded amid intense security and sadness.The bombers, identified as Islamist extremists by the government, struck three churches during Easter Mass and three hotels. In Negombo, the site of the deadliest attack, armored personnel carriers lined the roads as funeral rites unfolded amid intense security and sadness.
But the grief was beginning to harden into anger.But the grief was beginning to harden into anger.
Near the burial site, a scrum of men pounded their fists on a fence and spoke of revenge. Suresh Kumara, 35, a businessman, said it was clear who should pay.Near the burial site, a scrum of men pounded their fists on a fence and spoke of revenge. Suresh Kumara, 35, a businessman, said it was clear who should pay.
“I feel like going and killing those Muslims in a suicide attack,” he said. “My friends and relatives died at the church.”“I feel like going and killing those Muslims in a suicide attack,” he said. “My friends and relatives died at the church.”
The mood has been jittery. In different parts of Sri Lanka, Muslim-owned shops have been vandalized, and hundreds of Muslim families have begun to flee religiously mixed areas, fearing for their lives.The mood has been jittery. In different parts of Sri Lanka, Muslim-owned shops have been vandalized, and hundreds of Muslim families have begun to flee religiously mixed areas, fearing for their lives.
A couple of miles from St. Sebastian’s Church, where around 100 people were blown apart, flowers and a banner offering “deepest condolences” in two languages were draped from a gate outside the Negombo Grand Mosque.A couple of miles from St. Sebastian’s Church, where around 100 people were blown apart, flowers and a banner offering “deepest condolences” in two languages were draped from a gate outside the Negombo Grand Mosque.
Inside, a group of bearded men in skullcaps huddled around a large conference table, considering their next move.Inside, a group of bearded men in skullcaps huddled around a large conference table, considering their next move.
After the blasts, the congregation had given rice packets to a hospital. They had offered to pay for a freezer to transport bodies. They had offered blood. They had reached out to church leaders.After the blasts, the congregation had given rice packets to a hospital. They had offered to pay for a freezer to transport bodies. They had offered blood. They had reached out to church leaders.
Still, M.A.M. Rameez, the mosque’s chairman, said the outreach had been complicated. A priest told members of the mosque to stay away from funerals until the atmosphere softened, though no one knows when that will be. The mosque told people to avoid going outside. Stores were shut.Still, M.A.M. Rameez, the mosque’s chairman, said the outreach had been complicated. A priest told members of the mosque to stay away from funerals until the atmosphere softened, though no one knows when that will be. The mosque told people to avoid going outside. Stores were shut.
“We would do anything to help,” Mr. Rameez said. “We are so pained. We are saying the bombers should be punished severely for what they did. It’s an attack on humanity.”“We would do anything to help,” Mr. Rameez said. “We are so pained. We are saying the bombers should be punished severely for what they did. It’s an attack on humanity.”
At the burial ground, K.S. Manike, 56, a Buddhist who came with her teenage son to pray, started to cry. The air was thick.At the burial ground, K.S. Manike, 56, a Buddhist who came with her teenage son to pray, started to cry. The air was thick.
“When one bed bug bites, you want to kill all of them for it,” she said. “It’s like that in Sri Lanka right now.” “When one bedbug bites, you want to kill all of them for it,” she said. “It’s like that in Sri Lanka right now.”
Of the half-dozen sites attacked on Sunday, St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo was the hardest hit. A suicide bomber, who has been linked to a homegrown Sri Lankan Islamist group and the Islamic State, is seen in a CCTV video walking into the crowded church with a huge backpack. The explosion was so powerful that it knocked out much of the roof, raining heavy clay tiles down on people’s heads.Of the half-dozen sites attacked on Sunday, St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo was the hardest hit. A suicide bomber, who has been linked to a homegrown Sri Lankan Islamist group and the Islamic State, is seen in a CCTV video walking into the crowded church with a huge backpack. The explosion was so powerful that it knocked out much of the roof, raining heavy clay tiles down on people’s heads.
On Tuesday, priests wearing crisp white robes trimmed with black sashes held one funeral after another in a large tent just outside the church. The funerals went on all day, with several dozen bodies buried in Negombo alone.On Tuesday, priests wearing crisp white robes trimmed with black sashes held one funeral after another in a large tent just outside the church. The funerals went on all day, with several dozen bodies buried in Negombo alone.
The neighborhood around the church became an enormous fortified mourning ground with hundreds of soldiers deployed in every direction and small white flags fluttering in the wind.The neighborhood around the church became an enormous fortified mourning ground with hundreds of soldiers deployed in every direction and small white flags fluttering in the wind.
Banners for the dead lined the roads.Banners for the dead lined the roads.
There was Sanath and his wife Indira, killed together.There was Sanath and his wife Indira, killed together.
And Dinuya Matthew, a baby pictured in a snazzy vest and tiny necktie.And Dinuya Matthew, a baby pictured in a snazzy vest and tiny necktie.
And Mary Shanti, Helen Fernando, Rosen Vimana and so many others, their faces staring out from white posters and photocopied pages taped to lampposts.And Mary Shanti, Helen Fernando, Rosen Vimana and so many others, their faces staring out from white posters and photocopied pages taped to lampposts.
Among the crowd at the ever-expanding burial site stood around three dozen relatives of Mary Margaret Fernando, 69, who died in the blasts.Among the crowd at the ever-expanding burial site stood around three dozen relatives of Mary Margaret Fernando, 69, who died in the blasts.
All morning, the family had been getting ready at home.All morning, the family had been getting ready at home.
Ms. Fernando’s daughters cooked a plate of salt fish curry, rice and pumpkin, placing it on a carpet near a small shrine with their mother’s photograph. As an alm, “we offer food,” one daughter explained.Ms. Fernando’s daughters cooked a plate of salt fish curry, rice and pumpkin, placing it on a carpet near a small shrine with their mother’s photograph. As an alm, “we offer food,” one daughter explained.
Stories were traded about the mangoes Ms. Fernando used to steal from a neighbor. Her 17 grandchildren paced through the complex’s flowered courtyard and jumped on her bed. On the living room walls, one of them had scribbled, “I love u my grand ma.”Stories were traded about the mangoes Ms. Fernando used to steal from a neighbor. Her 17 grandchildren paced through the complex’s flowered courtyard and jumped on her bed. On the living room walls, one of them had scribbled, “I love u my grand ma.”
Anusha Nimali, one of Ms. Fernando’s daughters visiting from Kuwait, was livid. This was not a chance event, she said. For her, responsibility fell on Sri Lanka’s government and the police, who had been briefed in great detail in early April about a possible attack on Catholic churches.Anusha Nimali, one of Ms. Fernando’s daughters visiting from Kuwait, was livid. This was not a chance event, she said. For her, responsibility fell on Sri Lanka’s government and the police, who had been briefed in great detail in early April about a possible attack on Catholic churches.
“I want to talk with the president!” she yelled. “The government knew this was going to happen. I want to go on television saying this. They don’t care about us because we are poor people.”“I want to talk with the president!” she yelled. “The government knew this was going to happen. I want to go on television saying this. They don’t care about us because we are poor people.”
As the day turned hot, it was time to lay Ms. Fernando’s body to rest.As the day turned hot, it was time to lay Ms. Fernando’s body to rest.
Her family blessed the coffin. The sons-in-law filed out onto the road. Their wives stayed behind, planning a more intimate trip to the grave with candles for the next day.Her family blessed the coffin. The sons-in-law filed out onto the road. Their wives stayed behind, planning a more intimate trip to the grave with candles for the next day.
At the burial grounds, the men gathered next to a red coffin. A priest read the Lord’s Prayer. They bowed their heads.At the burial grounds, the men gathered next to a red coffin. A priest read the Lord’s Prayer. They bowed their heads.
They stood silently, watching as a wooden stake labeled “22” was pushed into the earth.Another two dozen stakes were placed a short distance away, ready for the next bodies to arrive.They stood silently, watching as a wooden stake labeled “22” was pushed into the earth.Another two dozen stakes were placed a short distance away, ready for the next bodies to arrive.