Sunday school children prayed and sung together in a Sri Lankan church moments before 14 of them were killed by the suicide bomber.
Shocking footage, seen by
Suicide bomber Mohammed Nasar Mohammed Azar detonated his device outside the church after he was stopped by church officials.
Shocking footage shows children praying and singing together at Zion church moments before 14 of them were killed in the suicide bomber attack
Dozens of children are shown kneeling in a circle at Sunday School before they are allowed to go outside for a break ahead of the main mass at 9am
Photo of children enjoying mass at the Zion Church Sunday School. Minutes later many of them were killed
In shocking footage the children are shown laughing as they enjoy the Sunday school before some head out for a break in preparation for the main mass at 9am.
Further footage shows Azar approaching the church from a nearby alleyway at 8.51am.
When he arrived at the gates he was refused entry by church officials Ramesh Raju and Rasalingam Sasikumar, reports CNN.
‘Ramesh and Sashee were both trying to stop him from entering the church,’ said the church’s 38-year-old sound technician Rajeevkaran Vimalaretnam.
‘I saw a man standing there with two bags wearing a cap and a t-shirt. His dress code – cap, the bag – all of this looked out of place.
‘No one comes to church like that. He looked like he was going to a sporting event.’
Shocking CCTV footage captured suicide bomber Mohammed Nasar Mohammed Azar walking to the church at 8.51am from a nearby alleyway
He was denied entry to the church by two officials before detonating his device outside
Shocking images also captured him walking past a gate on his way to the church
As many as 29 people were killed when the bomb exploded outside the church, including the two men that stopped him who have been hailed as heroes.
Sri Lankan Catholics celebrated Sunday Mass in their homes for a second week as churches remain closed after reports of possible fresh attacks by Islamic extremists.
Cardinal Malcom Ranjith, the archbishop of Colombo, offered a televised Mass from his residence that was attended mostly by priests and nuns.
A letter from Pope Francis addressed to him was read out at the end of the service in which the pontiff said he prayed that ‘hearts hardened by hatred may yield to His will for peace and reconciliation among all his children’.
At St Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo, one of the sites targeted by Easter suicide bombings that killed 257 people, a Mass was celebrated for a small group of children and youth as a means for inner healing.
Almost all churches remained closed with armed soldiers and police guarding them.
Authorities cancelled Sunday services after reports emerged that a Catholic church and lay institution could be targeted this weekend.
Catholic schools have also been closed until further notice.
However, all government schools are to reopen Monday for grade six and up.
Police have announced they will search the premises of all schools on Sunday
Islamic State claims Sri Lanka suicide bombings
The Islamic State group on Tuesday claimed responsibility for a devastating series of suicide attacks against churches and hotels in Sri Lanka that killed more than 320 people.
The claim, accompanied by a photo and video of the men the group said had unleashed the carnage, emerged more than two days after the near-simultaneous blasts ripped through three high-end hotels popular with foreigners and three churches packed with Christians celebrating Easter.
Sri Lanka’s government had said initial investigations suggested the attack had been carried out as ‘retaliation’ for shootings at two mosques in New Zealand last month that killed 50 people.
The Islamic State group published a picture of eight men it said were behind the attacks in Sri Lanka
Authorities in Colombo had already pointed the finger at a little-known local Islamic extremist group called National Thowheeth Jama’ath (NTJ), but said they were investigating whether they had international support.
‘Those that carried out the attack that targeted members of the US-led coalition and Christians in Sri Lanka the day before yesterday are Islamic State group fighters,’ IS propaganda agency Amaq said in a statement.
The group later gave the noms de guerre of seven people it said were behind the ‘blessed attack’ that targeted Christians during their ‘blasphemous holiday’.
Amaq also released a photo of eight men it said were behind the blasts. Seven of them had their faces covered and three of them held knives.
Maps of Sri Lanka and its capital Colombo, marking the locations of a series of suicide bombings on April 21, 2019
The authenticity of the image and video could not be independently verified, and the reason for the discrepancy in the reported number of attackers was not immediately clear.
Sri Lankan police sources told AFP that two Muslim brothers, sons of a wealthy Colombo spice trader, blew themselves up at the Shangri-La and the Cinnamon Grand hotels.
The Kingsbury hotel in the capital was the last one hit.
A fourth attack against a hotel on Sunday failed, sources also told AFP, though it was not immediately clear if the bomber’s explosives had malfunctioned or he had chosen not to detonate them.
He later blew himself up when police tracked him to a lodging in the capital.
Police have detained at least 40 people as they investigate the worst act of violence in the South Asian island nation since a civil war ended a decade ago.
Grief has overtaken many in Sri Lanka in the wake of the deadly attacks, which have killed more than 320 people
But Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said police were hunting for more suspects at large, including some armed with explosives, and that further attacks were possible.
‘We are trying to apprehend them,’ he said.
The government has imposed a state of emergency, giving police and the military special powers, including the ability to arrest suspects without a court order.
The country observed a national day of mourning Tuesday, beginning with a three-minute silence, as the bereaved began to bury their dead.
Flags were lowered to half-mast on government buildings, and liquor shops were ordered closed for the day.
More than 1,000 people gathered at St Sebastian’s Church in Negombo, north of the capital, which was among those devastated in the blasts, to pay tribute to the dead.
An elderly man wept uncontrollably by the coffin bearing the body of his wife, while relatives of other victims stood aghast and silent.
Coffins were carried into the church grounds one by one for services, and then to a newly-established cemetery on church land.
The first memorial services for the victims were being held as Sri Lanka observed a three-minute silence and flags were lowered to half-mast
‘It’s very hard to bear,’ said Father Suranga Warnakulasuriya, who had come from another parish to help conduct funerals.
The attacks were the worst ever against the country’s small Christian minority, who make up just seven percent of the 21 million population.
Officials are investigating why more precautions were not taken after an April 11 warning from Sri Lanka’s police that a ‘foreign intelligence agency’ had reported the NTJ was planning suicide attacks on churches.
Government spokesman Rajitha Senaratne said the warning was not passed on to Wickremesinghe or other top ministers.
The attacks were also the worst ever against the country’s small Christian minority, who make up just seven percent of its population of 21 million
CNN reported that Indian intelligence services had passed on ‘unusually specific’ information in the weeks before the attacks, and that at least some of it came from an IS suspect in their custody.
President Maithripala Sirisena, who is also defence and law and order minister, said he will carry out a complete reorganisation of the security forces and the police in the wake of the attacks.
‘I hope to make major changes in the leadership of the security forces in the next 24 hours,’ Sirisena said in a nationwide address.
Work was continuing to identify foreign victims in the blasts.
Security remained tight at the churches targeted in Sri Lanka
A Danish billionaire lost three of his children in the attacks, a spokesman for his company said.
Eight Britons, 10 Indians, four Americans and nationals from Turkey, Australia, Japan and Portugal, were also reported killed.
The United Nations said at least 45 children, Sri Lankans and foreigners, were among those who lost their lives.
Of the three churches targeted, two are in the Colombo region and one is in the eastern city of Batticaloa.
Ethnic and religious violence has plagued Sri Lanka for decades. A 37-year conflict with Tamil rebels was followed by a more recent upswing in clashes between the Buddhist majority and Muslims.
The attacks have sparked local and international outrage, and have been condemned by Sri Lankan Muslim groups.