The Sri Lanka Easter Bombings

What happened in Sri Lanka? 30 dead and 283 wounded in ...The Sri Lanka Easter Bombings killed at least 359 people and wounded over 500 on Easter Sunday, 2019. Suicide bombers coordinated seven attacks in churches and hotels across Sri Lanka’s capital of Colombo and three other cities. Sri Lankan authorities claim an Islamic State-affiliated group were behind the attacks, which specifically targeted tourists, businessmen and Christians.

Seven bombs were detonated over the day. They targeted:

  • St Antony’s Shrine, Colombo. 8.45 am. 100+ dead.
  • St Sebastian’s church, Negombo. 8.45 am
  • Shangri-La hotel, Colombo. 8.45 am
  • The Kingsbury hotel, Colombo. 8.45 am
  • Zion church, Batticaloa 9.05 am
  • The Cinnamon Grand Hotel, Colombo. 8.50 am
  • Tropical Inn guesthouse, Colombo. 1.45 am

Most victims were Sri Lankan nationals. At least 38 foreigners and 45 children died, most of whom were attending Sunday school at Zion church.

Denver man among victims in Easter bombings in Sri Lanka ...Sri Lanka declared a state of emergency in response. An immediate curfew and a social media lockdown were imposed to prevent further coordination and the spread of rumours. Police found over 80 detonators and a van filled with explosives throughout Colombo later that day. When they raided a bomber’s home, his pregnant wife detonated her suicide vest, killing herself and three officers. Police have arrested 76 suspects so far.

In a press release, Islamic State (IS) shared a photo of the seven suicide bombers and claimed responsibility. Their stated aim was to kill citizens of the US and the anti-IS coalition, despite the fact Sri Lanka was never involved in Iraq or Syria and most of those killed were Sri Lankan. 32 Sri Lankans had joined IS as of 2016.

Islamic State Claims Responsibility For Terror Attack ...National Thoweed Jamaath (NTJ), a little known Sri Lankan terror cell, are said to be behind the attack. Previously known only for desecrating Buddhist statues, the NTJ swore allegiance to IS in 2016. Their leader, an extremist Wahhabi cleric named Zahran Hashim (pictured), is believed to have masterminded the Easter bombing. Although all suspects are Sri Lankan nationals, officials suspect the attack was coordinated and funded with foreign support – the NTJ being ‘outsourced’ by IS. The identified suicide bombers were affluent and well educated, one of whom studied in Australia. Two brothers, Ilham and Inshaf Ibrahim, were sons of Colombo’s biggest spice exporter.

70% of Sri Lanka’s 22 million people are Buddhist, 12%, Hindu, 10% Muslim and 7% Christian, mainly Roman Catholic. Though Sri Lanka has suffered terrorism and political violence before, mainly at the hands of the separatist Tamil Tigers, this is the first act of Islamist extremism and the first terrorist attack to target churches. Sri Lanka’s 25 year long civil war, which claimed 100,000 lives, ended in 2009.

Sri Lanka’s leading Muslim organisations issued a joint statement which denounced the bombings and urged ‘maximum punishment for everyone involved in these dastardly attacks.’ Sri Lankan Muslims fear the incident will empower anti-Muslim hardliners in their country. Only last year a state of emergency was declared when Buddhist and Muslim mobs clashed in two cities.

Defense Minister Wije Wijerwardene claimed the attacks were revenge for the New Zealand mosque shooting on March 15th, which took 50 lives. NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern disagrees, however, stating the Sri Lanka bombings were too sophisticated to be organised in such a short period of time.

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena said he would oversee a 'complete restructure' of police and security forces in 'coming weeks' [File: M.A. Pushpa Kumara/EPA]According to Reuters, the Indian foreign ministry warned Sri Lankan officials about a possible terror incident on April 4th, and about an impending one two hours before it happened. Why they failed to act is unknown, but President Maithripala Sirisina (pictured) has promised to make ’complete restructure’ of police and security forces over the coming weeks’.

Sources: Al Jazeera, Associated Press, BBC, Foreign Policy, The Guardian, Gulf News, The New York Times, Reuters, The Telegraph, Washington Post

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Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei

How rich is the Sultan of Brunei? The richest monarch in ...

Hassanal Bolkiah (1946-) is the Sultan of Brunei Darusallam and the only absolute monarch in Southeast Asia. He is the former richest man in the world and, enthroned since 1967, the second longest reigning monarch after Queen Elizabeth II. Famous in the past for his excess, Bolkiah has recently made headlines over his implementation of  sharia law in Brunei.

Brunei's Economy 2016 - Facts and Figures – The Savey FoxBrunei is a nation the size of Delaware on the island of Borneo, Southeast Asia with a population of 400,000. Like the Persian Gulf states it is Muslim, conservative and rich in oil. Brunei was a British protectorate from 1888 – 1984, where its sultans controlled internal affairs but bowed to the British Empire. Independence came under Hassanal Bolkiah and he has maintained close ties with the British monarchy since.

According to Forbes, Brunei is the fourth richest country in the world. Since its discovery in 1957, Brunei’s gas and petroleum reserves have powered its industrialisation and the Sultan’s wealth, constituting 90% of the country’s GDP. So lucrative is its oil, Brunei has free education, free healthcare and zero income tax. The population are wealthy but tightly controlled.

The world's most outrageous limousines revealed | Daily ...

The Sultan of Brunei leads an extravagant lifestyle. Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah is worth a net of 20 billion dollars and during the 1980s was the richest man in the world. His palace is the world’s largest private residence, with 1,788 rooms, 257 bathrooms and a great hall that can house 5,000 guests. His private automobile collection of 7,000 models includes a Rolls Royce plated in 24k gold. The Sultan eats with golden utensils, flies in a private Boeing 747  and owns mansions across London, California and Las Vegas.

In 1996 he commissioned Michael Jackson for a 17 million dollar private concert. 5,000 attended, including the British royals.jefri bolkiah.jpg

Bolkiah’s younger brother, Prince Jefri surpasses his decadence. During Jefri’s tenure as finance minister from 1986 – 1997, beauties from around the world flocked to his private harem. The prince squandered over 14 billion state dollars on private investments which included a free amusement park and properties around the world. Hassanal’s case against his brother, which seized his assets, was the biggest in British legal history.

At home the Sultan’s power is absolute. Since the anti-monarchist revolt of 1962, martial law rules in Brunei. In 2006 the Sultan amended the constitution to vest legislative and executive authority in himself. The only democratic concessions were the creation of President and Prime Minister positions, of which the Sultan fills both.

Prince Charles and Duchess Camilla in Asia: The royal tour ...

Despite his lavish lifestyle, Hassanal Bolkiah has recently enacted ultra conservative social laws at home. In 2013, the Sultan legislated sharia law in Brunei, a strict code based on Islamic tradition, but refrained from full implementation. In April 2019 he went through: thievery is now punishable by amputation and adultery and homosexual sex is subject to death by stoning (if witnessed by at least five people). International outcry followed – the UN condemned the legislation and George Clooney proposed a boycott of the Sultan’s international hotel chain, which includes LA’s Hotel Bel-Air and the Beverly Hills Hotel. The Sultan has refused to back down.

Sources: AP Images, The Economist, Forbes, Getty Images, The Guardian, Reuters

Update 5/5/19: Sultan Bolkiah rescinds the death penalty for homosexuality after international condemnation. 

Larry Gonick – The Cartoon History of the Universe

The Cartoon History of the Universe is a three part, 19 volume book series by American cartoonist Larry Gonick about the history of mankind up to 1492.  It presents detailed and well researched material in a humorous and accessible black and white comic style. Cartoon History was originally serialised as a comic book series from 1978-1990, when the first book was published.

  • Cartoon History of the Universe I: From the Big Bang to Alexander the Great (1990)
  • Cartoon History of the Universe II: From the Springtime of China to the Fall of Rome (1994)
  • Cartoon History of the Universe III: From the Rise of Arabia to the Rennaisance (2002)

A smaller two part series, Cartoon History of the Modern World takes off where it leaves, but is shorter and slightly more Eurocentric.

In Cartoon History, Gonick’s avatar – a frizzy haired Einstein-esque professor explains the historical narrative while the cartoon panels provide visual representation and gags. The often raunchy and irreverent humour ranges from absurdism to parody, anachronisms and dramatic irony. Running gags, like Byzantines’ penchant for eye gouging and Central Asian nomad’s adversity to vegetables, play a big part. Sometimes the events are funny in their own right. Who would know, for example, that (pre-Islamic) Meccan spies triggered war with Ethiopia by pooping in a church?

August | 2009 | Brad's words (and more than words!)

Despite its accessible style, content is factual and dense. Gonick explores the lives of history’s big personalities and ordinary men and women with an eye for economic trends and cause and effect. Interesting trivia and gory details accompany the main narrative, often as footnotes. Cartoon History’s topical weight and adult appeal distinguish it from less serious kids’ books like Horrible Histories.

Book One surveys the Big Bang, dinosaurs, and human origins in the first third before moving to the ancient Mediterranean civilisations, with a particular focus on Israel and Greece.

Book Two alternates between the great civilisations of Rome, India and China, including the origins of Hinduism, Buddhism, Chinese philosophies and Christianity. Jesus is portrayed in historical terms as a wondering Jewish preacher called Jeshua Ben Joesph. Gonick has received criticism for his skeptical attitude.

The Cartoon HIstory of the Universe III by Larry Gonick ...

Book Three covers, amongst many, the rise of Islam, Ethiopia, North Africa, the Turks, Byzantine Empire, Crusades, Mongols, Black Death and the Renaissance. Having owned the book for many years I am biased, but do believe this is the best. Gonick’s artwork and humour are better developed, content is more varied and the time period is most interesting. The first volume ‘No Pictures Please’ is especially pertinent, giving an accurate explanation of the life and times of Muhammad and the origins of the Sunni/Shia split, all without idolatry. Larry Gonick: Books, Biography, Blog ...Larry Gonick (1946-) was born in San Francisco and studied Mathematics at Harvard.  From 1977 onwards he wrote a series of ‘cartoon guides’ on a variety of subjects including algebra, physics, computer science and tax reform.  The Cartoon History of the Universe, which he serialised from 1977, was his most successful work, and named one of the top 100 comics of the 20th century by Comic Journal. Jackie Kennedy was an early fan and helped get it published. Carl Sagan described it as “a better way to learn history than 90% of school textbooks”.