Blasts at Sri Lanka churches and hotels kill more than 200

  • British, American and Dutch citizens are among those dead
- AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, COLOMBO

Apr 22, 2019-

A series of eight devastating bomb blasts ripped through high-end hotels and churches holding Easter services in Sri Lanka on Sunday, killing at least 207 people, including dozens of foreigners.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe condemned the attacks—the worst act of violence since the end of Sri Lanka’s civil war a decade ago—as “cowardly”, as the government imposed an immediate and indefinite curfew across the entire country of 21 million people.

The powerful blasts—six in quick succession and then two more hours later— left hundreds injured and wrought devastation, including at the capital’s well-known St Anthony’s Shrine, a historic Catholic Church.

At least two of the explosions were carried out by suicide bombers, according to police sources and a hotel official.

Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera said the death toll had risen to at least 207, with over 450 people wounded and that three people had been arrested.

Ravinatha Aryasinha, secretary to the foreign ministry, told reporters there were 27 bodies of suspected foreign nationals in the Colombo National Hospital.

A police official said earlier that 35 foreigners were among the dead and hospital sources said British, Dutch and American citizens had been killed, with Britons and Japanese also injured. A Portuguese man and two Chinese citizens were among the dead, news agencies in their countries reported. Much of the church roof was blown out in the explosion, with roof tiles, glass and splintered wood littering the floor along with pools of blood.

NA Sumanapala was at his shop near the church when the blast happened.

“I ran inside to help. The priest came out and he was covered in blood,” he told AFP. “It was a river of blood.”

The blasts gutted restaurants at the Shangri-La and Cinnamon Grand hotel, and devastated the St Sebastian’s Church in Negombo, north of the capital.

Sri Lanka’s Minister of Economic Reforms and Public Distribution, Harsha de Silva, said he had been to two of the attacked hotels and was at the scene at St Anthony’s, where he described “horrible scenes”.

There were no immediate claims of responsibility for the blasts, but documents seen by AFP show that Sri Lanka’s police chief Pujuth Jayasundara issued an intelligence alert to top officers 10 days ago, warning that suicide bombers planned to hit “prominent churches”.

“A foreign intelligence agency has reported that the NTJ (National Thowheeth Jama’ath) is planning to carry out suicide attacks targeting prominent churches as well as the Indian high commission in Colombo,” the alert said.

The NTJ is a radical Muslim group in Sri Lanka that was linked last year to the vandalisation of Buddhist statues.

The government ordered an immediate nationwide curfew “until further notice”, and a “temporary” social media ban “in order to prevent incorrect and wrong information being spread”.

The first blast was reported at St Anthony’s, followed by a second deadly explosion at St Sebastian’s in Negombo.

Soon after, police confirmed that a third church in the east-coast town of Batticaloa had been hit, along with three high-end hotels in the capital—the Cinnamon Grand, the Shangri-La and the Kingsbury.

A manager at the Cinnamon Grand, near the prime minister’s official residence in Colombo, said a suicide bomber blew himself up at the hotel’s restaurant.

“He came up to the top of the queue and set off the blast,” he told AFP.

Later in the afternoon, two died in a strike at a hotel in the south of Colombo, while a police source said a suicide bomber killed three officers in the suburb of Orugodawatta in the north of the capital.

President Maithripala Sirisena said in an address that he was shocked by the explosions and appealed for calm.

On Twitter, Wickremesinghe wrote: “I strongly condemn the cowardly attacks on our people today.

“I call upon all Sri Lankans during this tragic time to remain united and strong.”

The Archbishop of Colombo, Malcolm Ranjith, described those behind the attacks as “animals” and called on the authorities to “punish them mercilessly”.

US President Donald Trump tweeted his condolences on the “horrible terrorist attacks”, and Pope Francis in his Easter address at the Vatican spoke of his “affectionate closeness with the Christian community, attacked while it was at prayer”.

Embassies in Colombo warned their citizens to shelter in place.

Published: 22-04-2019 10:13

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