A local from Batticaloa says the Zion Church, one of the churches targeted in the Islamic terror attacks in Sri Lanka, “has been praying for Israel every week”.

A quote from Caroline Mahendran, a Sunday School teacher at the church, was shared by Hananya Naftali, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Social Media Deputy Advisor, on Sunday:

“Today was an Easter Sunday school at the Church and we asked the children how many of you willing to die for Christ? Everyone raised their hands. Minutes later, they came down to the main service and the blast happened. Half of the children died on the spot,” Mahendran said. A total of 29 people, including 14 children were killed at the blast at the church on Easter Sunday.

Zion Church, founded in the 1970s, was one of three churches along with three hotels targeted by Islamist suicide bombings that killed over 350 people – mostly Sri Lankan Christians but including 38 foreigners who were in the hotels – and injured hundreds more.

Targeting Christians on their holiest day

The wave of explosions in Sri Lanka on Resurrection Day morning was evidently targeting Sri Lankan Christians on the holiest day of the Christian year. Three were in churches, and three were in hotels where Christians would be likely to meet for Easter breakfast after a midnight service and vigil. Indeed, many congregations meet regularly in hotels in Sri Lanka.

“There is an Islamist Extremist war on Christians around the world,” Naftali concluded. “They are not going to stop there – we must unite against radicalism!”

Christians make up approximately 7 percent of the 21 million people of Sri Lanka, an island nation southeast of India that weathered decades of deadly ethnic strife. The Sunday attack was the worst toll on Christians in the nation’s history and was the worst terrorist incident since the end of the civil war in 2009. Muslims make up about 8 percent of Sri Lanka, which is mostly Buddhist.

“Whether you’re religious or not, this is horrific!” Naftali writes. “All peoples must be safe and enjoy freedom of worship.”

Relating 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.”

Upon further questioning, the man, who looked in his 30s and was of medium height, identified himself as ‘Umar’ from the nearby Oddamaavadi Town, Pastor Kumaran reportedly said.

“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.”

Pastor Kumaran told a senior worshipper, Brother Stanley, to speak to the visitor. The suspect’s questioning and demeanour resulted in Brother Stanley trying to lead him out of the church premises.

The man then tried to force his way into the church. When his path was blocked, he reportedly detonated the bomb just outside the church and close to a group of children.

Pastor Kumaran’s son was among the children who died in the explosion.

Residents said that if the man had entered the church building which had two floors and then had about 500 worshipers inside, the number of deaths would have been higher.

In addition to the attack on Zion Church, the Islamic terrorists targeted St. Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo, the capital, and St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo, in addition to hotels in Colombo, including the Shangri-La, the Cinnamon Grand, and the Kingsbury.

Later in the afternoon two further explosions were reported at a smaller hotel in Dehiwala and a house in Dematagoda, both suburbs of the capital, Colombo, when the police raided the latter premises looking for suspects. Other unexploded bombs and bomb-making equipment were found elsewhere.

Since the attacks, which officials say were carried out by seven suicide bombers, 60 people have been arrested and investigations continue to establish which group or groups were responsible.

Islamic State claimed responsibility in a statement that makes clear their main intention was to target Christians, whom they often call “Crusaders”, with a secondary interest in “nationals of the coalition”.

Christians United for Israel UK