HOWEVER much we brace ourselves about the bleak brutality of terrorism, it is always more frightening when it visits the places you know and love. The death of author and journalist Lyra McKee has touched many, especially those who felt a deep affinity with her – writers, young women, and activists from the lesbian community foremost among them. I felt I twinge of sorrow, too, but in a more distant sense, the kind of grief you feel at a distance for someone that has been so callously killed. My old friend Suzanne Moore captured Lyra’s legacy so brilliantly: “She wasn’t just a fighter for Irish freedom – she was Irish freedom.”

And then the bombs went off.

I know Sri Lanka very well. I have family there, friends from across the myriad different communities and an apartment overlooking the urban Kinross Beach. If you look north from my apartment roof you can see all the hotels bombed in the outrage – the Kingsbury, the newly completed Shangri-La and the Cinnamon Grand, where Glasgow won the nomination to host the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

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The churches were further afield, one a few miles north, another in the tourist town of Negombo and the third in Batticaloa on the eastern coast. Within minutes of the bombs exploding on Easter Sunday, I was inundated with thoughtful texts, all of them looking out for me and my extended family. It was reassuring but as the day grimly unfolded, the ferocity of the attacks touched me in ways that no terrorist attack has done for decades.

I was taken back in time to the Harrods bomb in 1983, below, when I was stuck underground in the disrupted London transport system on the way to a soul club in Balham. When I emerged, I was confronted with the news that my cousin Philip Geddes, then a young journalist, was dead. He had been in the store to buy Christmas presents with his girlfriend. They had gone in different directions to buy each other a surprise gift; she walked away from the bomb, he walked towards it and to his death.

With that small second of Christmas shopping in 1983, I came to understand the randomness of atrocity. That shattering randomness was played out in all its brutal connivance in Sri Lanka. Those who went to the front of the church survived, and those who went to the font to take holy water at the back walked solemnly to their death. Those who were already sitting down with their breakfast and those who wandered to the buffet for another plate of fruit met different fates. Those who were on holiday and those who were at work. Dead but different.

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As the death toll rose, steeply and inevitably, I saw the first wave of social media speculation. Surely this was the work of the notorious Tamil Tigers who had fought a bloody secessionist war over decades?

I had my immediate doubts. The Liberation Tigers was a secular, political and Tamil nationalist group seeking to build an independent state in the north of the island and always more likely to attack military and economic targets and rarely, if ever, Christian churches.

The internecine religious schisms in Sri Lanka baffle outsiders even now but there are many thousands of Tamil Catholics, Tamil Hindus and Tamil-speaking Muslims. The attack on two Catholic churches told me from the outset that it was more likely to be another atrocity from the fanatical fringes of Islam.

The attack on the Zion Church in Batticaloa assured me it was not specifically Catholics who were being singled out either, but rather Christians and the mainstay of the modern Sri Lankan economy – tourism. The Cinnamon Grand, a five-star hotel which sits above one of Colombo’s biggest shopping malls, is coincidentally next door to the city’s only Church of Scotland Kirk, St Andrews, which was unaffected by the blasts, despite being in the epicentre of the attacks.

Sri Lanka derives much of its foreign currency wealth from tourism and it is a major source of job creation across the island. The country has hundreds of colleges dispensing degrees in tourism, training generations of young people from impoverished village backgrounds, to work in silver-service, fine dining and sommelier services.

Staff members died at all three of the hotels and as yet few of them have been named in full – seen as local and even lowly, they are not yet dignified in death. It is the hotel workers who are the unknown victims as wealthy Westerners yet again occupy the major news stories.

There should be no hierarchies in death but we know from painful experience that there always are. Four breakfast buffet staff died at the Shangri-La as they served wealthy foreigners and well-heeled local families drawn to the luxury hotel for Easter brunch with complementary access to its awesome rooftop swimming pool.

I have spoken to all my immediate friends and family. They have all been accounted for but I await the names of the hotel workers who have given up their lives in the name of smoked salmon and scrambled egg.

May they rest in peace. In everlasting peace.

Stuart Cosgrove is married to a Sri Lankan Tamil and has a home in Colombo