Security personnel stand guard in front of St Anthony's Shrine, days after a string of suicide bomb attacks across the island on Easter Sunday, in Colombo, Sri Lanka


by LAUREN CODLING

BRITISH SRI LANKANS have spoken of their concerns for the safety of their island country after the devastating Easter Sunday terrorist attacks which left more than 250 people dead.

B Muraleetharan, the co-owner of M Wine Merchant in Tooting, south London, revealed that her husband was in Colombo at the time of the bombings.

As she was working in the convenience store on Easter Sunday, Muraleetharan was not aware of the atrocity until her husband called to tell her about the attacks.

“He said there was a lot of tension in the city and people were scared,” she told Eastern Eye, adding that he was due to return to the UK on Thursday (2).

Describing the tragedy as “unbelievable,” Muraleetharan said her husband seemed afraid when
he contacted the family.

“We were panicking (when my husband called us),” she said. “But thankfully, he is OK.”

People carry a casket during a mass for victims, two days after a string of suicide bomb attacks on Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka

Iswara Kirishna is the owner of Niru Convenience Store in Tooting. Some of Kirishna’s immediate family still live in Colombo where most of the attacks took place.

Although they were not directly affected by the bombings, Kirishna said his family remained worried about any future strikes. He said the “shocking” attacks in busy public areas such as churches and hotels had frightened locals back home. According to the shop owner, many people in the capital were still staying indoors.

As Eastern Eye went to press on Tuesday, the country was still on high alert, with schools remaining closed and all political parties cancelling May Day rallies due to security concerns.

“Nobody goes on the roads,” Krishna told Eastern Eye. “I spoke to my family and they said they were scared to leave their home.”

According to reports, the attacks were blamed on local jihadist group National Thowheeth
Jama’ath (NTJ) whose leader was among the suicide bombers.

Kirishna added that people were confused by the atrocity as it was different from the troubles Sri Lanka had endured in the past.

Iswara Kirishna’s shop in Tooting

The civil war, fought by Tamil separatists in the Indian Ocean island ended almost 10 years ago.

Many of the Sri Lankan diaspora in the UK emigrated in the early 1980s, as the armed conflict caused mass devastation.

“Nobody expected it [bombings] – it was completely different to the troubles during the civil
war,” Kirishna said. “It is a completely different scenario.”

Muraleetharan shared similar concerns – as the motive behind the attacks still seemed unclear, she admitted that many were worried it could happen again.

“We came to the UK because we couldn’t live in Sri Lanka because of the problems (with the
civil war),” she said. “When it ended, we were happy we could return to Sri Lanka when we liked.

“But now, my husband returned, and this is what happened.”

Stephen Timms MP (centre) at a memorial vigil for victims of the bombings with the Bishop of Barking Peter Hill (left) and Lyn Brown MP

It is estimated that the current population of British Sri Lankan Tamils in the UK stands between 100,000 to 200,000.

Kirishna said his local Hindu temple in Mitcham, south London, had dedicated prayers for
those who were affected.

Labour MP for Tooting, Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, had also asked the community to hold a minute’s silence last weekend to mark a week since the attacks.

She urged members of the Sri Lankan population in the area to approach her if they felt affected by the tragedy.

“The Sri Lankan population in Tooting is integral to our community,” Allin-Khan said. “Tooting will not accept any form of religious intolerance. Together, Tooting will stand strong. Together, we stand in peace.”

Meanwhile, East Ham MP Stephen Timms joined a memorial vigil for victims of the bombings
last Saturday morning (27). Timms, along with the mayor of Newham, Rokhsana Fiaz, also
attended events at the East Ham Town Hall and St Michael’s Catholic Church.