A British lawyer has revealed how his wife and two children were blown up at a breakfast table in Sri Lanka and said they had ‘mercifully’ died instantly.
Ben Nicholson, 43, was seen wandering the streets of Colombo in a blood-soaked T-shirt in a desperate search for news amid the Easter Sunday massacre which killed at least 290 people.
His wife Anita, 42, son Alex, 14, and daughter Annabel 11, were killed in the restaurant bombing at the Shangri-La Hotel in Colombo when two suicide bombers walked in and blew themselves up at breakfast.
Tonight the high-flying British lawyer paid tribute to his ‘amazing, intelligent and talented’ family and said they ‘brought joy to the lives of everyone’.
Mr Nicholson said they had ‘mercifully died instantly and with no pain or suffering’, in the Table One cafe on the second floor of the hotel, where they were staying on a family holiday.
As details of the scores of victims emerged today, ex-firefighter Billy Harrop – who was celebrated for his heroism during an IRA bombing in 1996 – was named as another of the British victims along with his wife Sally.
In Sri Lanka, suspicion has fallen on a little-known Islamist group called National Thowheed Jamaath (NTJ) and its radical cleric founder Zahran Hashim.
Ben, Anita Nicholson with their children Alex and Annabel. All but father Ben were killed during the blast at the Shangri La hotel in Colombo on Easter Sunday
British lawyer Mr Nicholson with his wife Anita (left) and children Alex and Annabel (right), who were killed ‘instantly’ in the Sri Lanka terror attack on Easter Sunday
CCTV footage captured the moment one of the suicide bombers (circled) walked into St Sebastian’s Church just moments before detonating a device, Indian media claimed today
Zahran Hashim is suspected of being the mastermind behind the suicide bomb attack at Shangri La Hotel in Colombo, according to local media reports
Sri Lankan soldiers rushed through the streets around the capital after the explosion today. Authorities in the country have blamed the attacks on an Islamist group
Relatives light candles after burial of three victims of the same family, who died at Easter Sunday bomb blast at St. Sebastian Church in Negombo
A devastated Mr Nicholson said in a statement tonight: ‘I am deeply distressed at the loss of my wife and children. Anita was a wonderful, perfect wife and a brilliant, loving and inspirational mother to our two wonderful children.
‘The holiday we had just enjoyed was a testament to Anita’s enjoyment of travel and providing a rich and colourful life for our family, and especially our children.
Pushpa Zoysa who is in charge of the emergency triage at the National Hospital in Colombo and described to MailOnline seeing Mr Nicholson searching for his family
‘Alex and Annabel were the most amazing, intelligent, talented and thoughtful children and Anita and I were immensely proud of them both and looking forward to seeing them develop into adulthood.
‘They shared with their mother the priceless ability to light up any room they entered and bring joy to the lives of all they came into contact with.
‘I would like to give my sincere thanks for the medical teams at General Hospital, Colombo, for treating Anita, Alex and Annabel with great dignity and me with kindness and sympathy.
‘I would also like to thank the teams at the British High Commission and Adhvan Tours who have looked after me since Sunday morning and the Sri Lankan people I have encountered in Colombo following this catastrophe.
‘Anita, Alex and Annabel leave behind a large extended family and many close and cherished friends who are now grieving this tragic loss.
‘We shall all miss them dearly. We are all grateful for the many expressions of support and good wishes. We would ask that the media now respect our privacy and allow us to grieve together.’
Earlier, a medic at the hospital had described how she saw Mr Nicholson searching desperately for his relatives.
Speaking to MailOnline, Pushpa Zoysa, in charge of the emergency triage at the National Hospital in Colombo, said: ‘I saw him covered in blood like this, walking up and down just there.
Social media ban enters second day in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka’s social media ban has entered a second day as officials try to stop ‘mischievous attempts to spread rumours’ about the Easter Sunday massacre.
Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, YouTube, Viber, Snapchat and Facebook Messenger were all shut down in Sri Lanka after Sunday’s co-ordinated attacks.
The country’s UN ambassador also urged Sri Lankan expats to ‘use social media responsibly’ in the wake of the bombings which killed at least 290 people.
A curfew was also imposed on Sunday night and armed security forces patrolled the streets of Colombo as authorities try to restore order.
The ambassador, Amrith Rohan Perera, said the sites were being blocked temporarily to ‘prevent speculative and mischievous attempts to spread rumors until investigations are concluded.’
He told Sri Lankans abroad to use social platforms to support one another but to ‘prevent inadvertently spread panic and mistrust.’
However, the move has also shut down Facebook’s ‘safety check’ feature which allows users to tell friends and family that they are unharmed.
Digital rights group NetBlocks warned the shutdown in Sri Lanka may prove counterproductive by taking down sources of authentic information.
‘Nationwide internet restrictions accelerate the spread of disinformation during a crisis because sources of authentic information are left offline,’ NetBlocks said in a tweet.
‘He spoke to me twice, asking about his family. He had blood all over him but he was not injured, apart from a small cut to his ear.
‘He was not running or crying, he was shocked. We wondered whether he was confused but he seemed in control. He just kept asking about his family members.
‘He was walking around completely alone and I feel sorry for him but there were so many dead and dying people here, I didn’t have time to speak to him more. Eventually he left.’
Ms Zoysa went on to describe the scenes of carnage that the hospital dealt with in the aftermath of the multiple atrocities.
She said: ‘It felt like a bomb had gone off right here. Vehicles were arriving full of body parts and with badly injured people.
‘We sent 22 bodies to the police mortuary and kept 11 here. Eight of those were dead when they arrived and the other three died in the emergency room.
‘They has no chance. They had multiple injuries and they looked dead. We tried to resuscitate them but there was no hope.’ The foreign patients at the hospital discharged themselves against medical advice, she said.
‘All day we have had people coming here I ask about missing people,’ she added. ‘I’m not surprised because there were vehicles coming in full of body parts.’
The Nicholsons worked as lawyers based in Singapore, according to their online profiles.
Mrs Nicholson, a former legal adviser to HM Treasury, moved to Singapore to work for oil firm BP in April 2012. According to her LinkedIn profile her current employer was Anglo American, a mining company.
Mr Nicholson was a partner in the Singapore office of Kennedys Legal Solutions and advised clients on insurance law.
A map showing where the eight blasts went off yesterday, six of them in very quick succession on Easter Sunday morning
A Sri Lankan couple mourn as they leave from a mortuary after identifying the body of their relative killed in a blast in Colombo on Easter Sunday
Alex (left) and Anita (second left) were killed in the blast. Ben Nicholson (right) is reported to be in ‘complete shock’ having received minor injuries
Alex Nicholson, 11, left, was killed with his mother Anita, 42, right. His younger sister Annabel was also killed. Manisha Gunasekera, the Sri Lankan High Commissioner to the UK, has said eight British nationals were killed in the attacks
People who live near the church that was bombed yesterday, leave their houses as the military try to defuse a suspected van before it exploded in Colombo
Relatives place flowers after the burial of three victims of the same family, who died at Easter Sunday bomb blast at St. Sebastian Church in Negombo
Sri Lankan police clear the area while Special Task Force Bomb Squad officers inspect the site of an exploded van near a church that was attacked yesterday in Colombo
White bunting being in front of St Anthony’s Church as the city prepares for the funerals of the blast victims in Kochchikade, Colombo
Former firefighter Billy Harrop (pictured) was named as another of the victims of the disaster along with his wife Sally
Another two victims were named as former firefighter Billy Harrop and his wife Sally, who were on holiday in Sri Lanka after he had retired and emigrated to Australia.
He was officially commended for his heroism during an IRA bombing in Manchester in 1996, when he and his colleagues were first on the scene.
Mr Harrop worked as borough commander for Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service, and took on senior management roles in Sale, Stockport and Manchester.
Tributes poured in for Mr Harrop from his former colleagues and fire service officials.
Gary Keary, Fire Brigade Union brigade secretary, said: ‘The FBU is shocked and saddened to hear of the loss of former firefighter Billy Harrop and his wife in the tragic events in Sri Lanka.
‘The FBU sends its deepest condolences to his family and friends.’
Kev Brown, former Fire Brigades Union secretary, said: ‘Billy was a former pupil of Sale Grammar School, was well known in the brigade, and was a real character.
‘He led the Philips Park team in response to the IRA bomb in Manchester in 1996 and received a commendation for his actions in the incident.’
A suspicious vehicle parked near St Anthony’s shrine is seen before it exploded in Colombo today. The same church was targeted yesterday
In Sri Lanka, suspicion has fallen on Islamic cleric Zahran Hashim as officials blamed a group called National Thowheed Jamaath (NTJ) for the attacks.
Sources in Sri Lanka described Hashim, reported by local media to be a radical cleric known for posting incendiary YouTube videos, as the founder of NTJ.
Who are the National Thowheed Jamaath, the radical Islamist group blamed for the Sri Lanka Easter terror attacks?
The National Thowheed Jamaath (NTJ) are a relatively unknown radical Islamist group said to have formed in Kattankudy, a Muslim-dominated town in eastern Sri Lanka, in 2014. It has no history of mass fatality attacks.
Before yesterday’s bombings, their main claim to fame was being linked to vandalising of Buddhist statues.
Sources in the Muslim community in Sri Lanka claim the group has publicly supported Islamic State. They also say that Zahran Hashim, named in reports as one of the bombers, was its founder.
Authorities said 24 people have been arrested and that they were hunting for links between the group and foreign backers.
‘We don’t see that only a small organisation in this country can do all that,’ cabinet member Rajitha Senaratne said.
The Soufan Center, a New York based group that monitors global security threats, said the Sri Lanka bombings bore all the ‘hallmarks’ of ‘attacks by other Salafi-jihadist groups, particularly those where local groups receive foreign support’.
It highlighted the Christmas Eve bombings in Indonesia in 2000, where al-Qaeda worked with local group Jemmah Islamiyah, and the 2005 hotel bombings in Amman masterminded by an Al-Qaeda affiliate.
‘These attacks are designed to increase sectarian tensions and destabilise the governments of the countries where they take place,’ said a Soufan Center study.
A report released by the group in January said Al Qaeda and Islamic State wanted to recruit followers in South Asia and their propaganda ‘highlighted injustices against Muslims in Bangladesh, Myanmar, India, and Sri Lanka.’
NTJ secretary Abdul Razik has been arrested several times on charges of inciting religious unrest.
In January, Sri Lankan security forces discovered 100 kilogrammes of high explosives and 100 detonators near a remote wildlife park.
While no group was accused, authorities said four Muslim radicals had been detained.
Major questions are now being asked over whether Sri Lankan police did enough to head off fears of suicide attacks on churches.
Sri Lanka’s police chief issued a warning on April 11, saying a ‘foreign intelligence agency’ had reported NTJ was planning attacks on churches and the Indian high commission.
Hashim was said to be one of the suicide bombers, and had wanted to attack the Indian High Commission earlier this month but failed to do so, intelligence sources told CNN-News18.
No group has officially claimed responsibility for the blasts, but Sri Lankan police say NTJ were the subject of an intelligence warning ten days before.
The terror group is thought to have split off from another hardline Islamist organisation in the South Asian country, the Sri Lanka Thowheed Jamath (SLTJ).
Police sources said the terrorists who targeted the Shangri La hotel had ‘pamphlets and paraphernalia’ associated with extremist Islamic ideology in their hotel room.
Officials believe an ‘international’ terror group may have been involved, raising fears that al-Qaeda or ISIS may have been behind the attacks.
ISIS fanatics have already praised the atrocities as revenge for the Christchurch mosques shooting, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks extremist activity online.
Experts believe the six near-simultaneous attacks on three churches and three luxury hotels in and around Colombo were carried out by seven suicide bombers.
CCTV footage captured the moment one of the suspected suicide bombers walked into St Sebastian’s Church just moments before detonating a device.
Detectives told local media that the Shangri-La blast was a result of at least 55lbs of C-4 plastic explosives, though the conclusions await formal confirmation by a Government analyst.
Cabinet spokesman Rajitha Senaratne said: ‘We do not believe these attacks were carried out by a group of people who were confined to this country. There was an international network without which these attacks could not have succeeded.’
Interpol is deploying a team of investigators, including experts in disaster victim identification, to Sri Lanka to help local authorities in the aftermath of the blasts.
In Colombo, three hotels – the Cinnamon Grand, Shangri-La and Kingsbury – were targeted in the first wave of explosions along with St Anthony’s Shrine, all popular tourist sites.
Other blasts hit St Sebastian’s Church in Negombo, a majority Catholic town north of Colombo, and at Zion Church in the eastern town of Batticaloa.
Later in the afternoon, two died in a strike at a hotel near a zoo in the south of Colombo, before a suspected suicide bomber killed police officers in the suburb of Orugodawatta in the north of the capital, as police moved in on the suspected terrorist safe house. In all 24 suspects were arrested.
A six-foot pipe bomb was later found by air force personal on a routine patrol at the country’s main airport Bandaranaike International, also known as Katunayake Airport or Colombo International.
Today a fresh explosion went off in a van near one of the churches in Colombo attacked as bomb squad officials attempted to defuse it.
Sri Lankan police also found 87 bomb detonators at the main bus station in the capital city today.
A Sri Lankan soldier stands guard near a car explosion after the police tried to defuse a bomb near St Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo
Brit Alex Nicholson, 11, was killed with his mother Anita, 42, pictured together right, as they ate breakfast in the Shangri La in Colombo. Povlsen, 46, and Anne Storm Pedersen, pictured together left, met when Anne began working in sales for Bestseller
Just days before the devastating attacks, one of Povlsen’s children, Alma, shared a snap of her three siblings Astrid, Agnes and Alfred, next to a pool. It is not yet known which of Povlsen’s three children have died
Seven suicide bombers killed at least 290 people in coordinated attacks on five-star hotels and churches on Easter Sunday. Pictured: the interior of St Sebastian’s church in Negombo
A crime scene official inspects the site of a bomb blast inside a church in Negombo, Sri Lanka, which lost half its roof tiles with the force of the blast
A view of the damage at St. Sebastian Catholic Church, after bomb blasts ripped through churches and luxury hotels on Easter, in Negombo
An explosion went off in a van near one of the churches attacked as bomb squad officials attempted to defuse it on Monday
In total, 39 foreigners have been confirmed dead including two joint UK-US nationals and a number of Dutch, Turkish, Australian and Portuguese citizens.
Metropolitan Police said ‘at least eight’ Britons had been killed.
They included three children of billionaire ASOS owner Anders Holch Povlsen, Denmark’s richest man and the largest landowner in Scotland.
The businessman had been on holiday with his family for the Easter holidays but he, his partner, and one of his children survived.
Timeline: how the Sri Lanka attacks unfolded
10.10am local time (05.40 BST): Reports from witnesses suggest that two churches in Sri Lanka have been hit by explosions as worshippers gather on Easter Sunday. The historic St Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo and St Sebastian’s Church in Negombo are among those reported to have been hit.
10.50am: An unnamed security official suggests there have been six closely-timed attacks at three churches and three hotels and that suicide bombers may have been involved in at least two of the blasts.
12.20pm: It is reported 129 people are dead and more than 500 have been taken to hospital after blasts at six sites, according to a Sri Lanka state-run newspaper.
1.50pm: Sri Lanka’s top military officials are brought together for an emergency meeting of the National Security Council. The meeting is called by prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who has tweeted that ‘the government is taking immediate steps to contain the situation’.
3.45pm: Two more explosions take place, the first hitting a guesthouse in Dehiwala, in which at least two people died, and a second in the district of Dematagoda on Colombo’s outskirts.
5.20pm: It is reported that two police officers were killed during a swoop on suspects in Dematagoda.
5.25pm: A 6pm to 6am national curfew is imposed by Sri Lanka’s government. Sri Lankan Airlines tells passengers booked on flights out of the country that they will be able to fly despite the curfew. the government also locked down social media sites and messaging apps to avoid the spread of misinformation or incitements to violence.
6.10pm: The number of victims from the blasts now stands at 207 people killed and 450 wounded, Sri Lankan police say.
Officials say that seven suspects have been arrested.
8.10pm (3.40pm British Summer Time) Five Britons including two people holding joint US and British citizenship were among those killed in the attacks, the country’s foreign ministry said.
9.30pm Police said 13 were arrested, all Sri Lankans.
Monday – 1.05pm Sri Lankan High Commissioner to the UK, Manisha Gunasekera, said eight British nationals were killed in the attacks.
2.15pm – Cabinet spokesperson says National Thowheed Jamaath (NTJ) are to blame for the attacks.
2.25pm – Officials said 24 suspects are in custody for questioning.
4.45pm – Sri Lanka’s minister of tourism says 39 foreign tourists were killed in the Easter Sunday attacks on churches and hotels, while another 28 were wounded.
The pair have 11 Scottish estates and a 221,000-acre castle, making him Scotland’s biggest private landowner.
He began building the property portfolio 12 years ago with the £7.9 million acquisition of Glenfeshie, a 42,000-acre patch of the Cairngorms National Park.
Povlsen and Anne are said to have a ‘200-year vision’ for their estates, which involves rewilding the land, reports the Times.
He and his wife live at Constantinsborg, a neo-classical former royal palace near Aarhus.
The first American victim named was Dieter Kowalski, from Denver, Colorado. He had not been heard from since he landed in Sri Lanka early Sunday morning. He was in the country for work.
‘It is with great sadness and deep regret that as Dieter’s brother that I confirm that Dieter was among the victims that passed away in Sri Lanka,’ his brother said on Facebook.
‘As we know that Dieter saw his friends as family, we would like to share our grief over this tragic incident. We have all lost a brother today.’
Kieran Shafritz de Zoysa, a fifth grader who attends the prestigious Sidwell Friends school in Washington DC, was also named as a victim on Monday.
Prime Minister Theresa May joined leaders across the world in condemning the atrocities while President Donald Trump vowed to ‘stand ready to help’.
President Maithripala Sirisena’s office said a state of emergency ‘limited to counter terrorism regulations only’ would be introduced from midnight on Monday.
A curfew was imposed on Sunday night and social media use was also restricted by authorities, which claimed the move was to prevent the spread of false information.
The magnitude of the violence recalls the bombings perpetrated by the separatist Tamil Tigers that targeted a bank, a shopping centre, a Buddhist temple and hotels popular with tourists a decade ago.
In 2009, Sri Lankan security forces defeated Tamil Tiger rebels who had fought to create an independent homeland for the country’s ethnic minority Tamils.
The rebels were eventually crushed but a religious divide has taken hold in recent years.
A Christian group said there had been 86 cases of discrimination, threats and violence against followers of Jesus last year, with another 26 so far this year.
The U.S. State Department warned in a 2018 report that Christians had been pressured to close places of worship after they were deemed ‘unauthorised gatherings’.
The report also said Buddhist monks regularly tried to close down Christian and Muslim places of worship.
There have also been attacks on Muslims, with the government forced to declare a state of emergency amid a spate of anti-Muslim rioting.
Hard-line Buddhist groups accuse Muslims of forcing people to convert and destroying sacred Buddhist sites.
One radical Muslim group, the NTJ, has been linked to the vandalisation of Buddhist statues and has also reportedly plotted to attack Christian churches.
Out of Sri Lanka’s total population of around 22million, 70 percent are Buddhist, 13 per cent Hindu, 10 per cent Muslim, and seven per cent Christian, according to the country’s 2012 census.
Sri Lankan soldiers secure the area around St Anthony’s Shrine after a blast in Colombo. A van exploded near where dozens of people died the previous day
Sri Lankan security forces stand at the site after a vehicle parked near the blast site, which went off just a day after a bomb killed worshippers on Easter Sunday
Sri Lankan Police officers inspects a blast spot at the Shangri-la hotel in Colombo a day after a bomb ripped through the building on Easter Sunday
A statue surrounded by shrapnel marks at St Sebastian’s Church in Negombo where a bomb blast killed dozens of worshippers at Easter Sunday mass
The benches and pews were scattered or reduced to splinters by the blast, one of eight which killed 207 people on Easter Sunday
Sri Lankan authorities also found 87 bomb detonators in the capital earlier today. Pictured: the moment the van exploded
Sri Lankan people run for safety as authorities announced an evacuation of the area after a van was found parked with a suspected explosive device near St Anthony’s Church in Kochchikade, Colombo
Blood stains are seen on the wall and on a Jesus Christ statue at the St. Sebastian’s Church after blast in Negombo, north of Colombo, Sri Lanka,after the bombing
Smoke rises after a vehicle parked near St Anthony’s shrine exploded a day after bombings ripped through churches and luxury hotels killing 290 people
A Sri Lankan woman living near St. Anthony’s shrine runs for safety with her infant after police found explosive devices in a parked van
Three men inspect damage from the roof of a restaurant at the Kingsbury Hotel in Colombo a day after the hotel was hit in series of bomb blasts targeting churches and luxury hotels
Relatives weep near the coffin with the remains of 12-year-old Sneha Savindi, who was a victim of Easter Sunday bombing at St Sebastian Church today
Dieter Kowalski, 40, a resident of Denver, Colorado, who was in Sri Lanka on business, was among those killed in the explosion at the Cinnamon Colombo hotel on Sunday, his family has confirmed
Sri Lankan police have responded in considerable numbers, blocking off the affected sites and sending in crime scene officials to scour for evidence
Sri Lankan military stand guard near the explosion site at a church in Batticaloa,with police tape keeping out bysanders
Sri Lankans carry a dead body at St Sebastian’s Church damaged in a blast in the seaside town of Negombo, north of Colombo
Pictured: The aftermath following an explosion at St Anthony’s Church in Kochchikade in Colombo, Sri Lanka, 21 April 2019
Sri Lankan soldiers secure the area around St. Anthony’s Shrine after a blast in Colombo on Easter Sunday
Sri Lankan soldiers secure the area around St Anthony Shrine after a blast in Colombo, today. Authorities blame the seven suicide bombers of a domestic militant group for the coordinated Easter bombings that have killed hundreds of people