At least 207 people have been killed and 450 have been injured after a series of bombs rocked Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, in attacks that targeted multiple churches and tourist-friendly hotels.
Eight explosions hit Catholic worshippers attending Easter mass services and guests at high-end hotels in several different locations across the southeast Asian nation.
St. Anthony’s Shrine in the capital city of Colombo, St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo and Zion Church in Batticaloa were all attacked, as were the hotels Shangri-La, the Cinnamon Grand and the Kingsbur in Colombo, where the bomber lined up at the restaurant buffet before detonating the deadly device, according to the Hindustan Times.
“He came up to the top of the queue and set off the blast,” said a witness quoted in that report. “One of our managers who was welcoming guests was among those killed instantly.”
The seventh explosion occurred at the New Tropical Inn hotel in the Colombo suburb of Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia, near a popular zoo. The eighth and, as of now, final blast took place at a house in Dematagoda, Colombo. According to the Associated Press, this last bomb exploded while authorities attempted to search a suspected safe house. Three officers died in this blast.
“It was a river of blood,” N. A. Sumanapala, a shopkeeper near St. Anthony’s said, according toThe New York Times. “The priest came out and he was covered in blood.”
Sri Lanka’s junior defense minister Ruwan Wijewardene announced a curfew with immediate effect, according to Reuters. “A curfew will be imposed until things settle down,” he told reporters. Government officials also announced that social media apps such as WhatsApp and Facebook were blocked to prevent the spread of inaccurate information.
“Please avoid propagating unverified reports and speculation,” Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said in a Twitter post. “The government is taking immediate steps to contain this situation.”
Late Sunday evening, Sri Lankan news outlet NewsFirst reported that an un-detonated improvised explosive device (IED) had been discovered by authorities near Bandaranaike International Airport — more commonly referred to as Katunayake Airport — near Colombo. The device as succesfully defused, according to an Air Force spokesperson.
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. Please avoid propagating unverified reports and speculation. The government is taking immediate steps to contain this situation.
— Ranil Wickremesinghe (@RW_UNP) April 21, 2019
The government has stated it believes that most of the blasts were carried out by suicide bombers and appear to have been a coordinated attack. Initial reports claimed that at least seven people had been detained in connection to the blasts, according to Defense Minister Ruwan Wijewardene. However, subsequent reports from Sri Lanka stated that only three or four individuals had been arrested, while some people were merely questioned by authorities.
Sunday evening brought multiple reports that police had located a temporary hideout in the town of Panadura, about 15 miles south of Colombo, and that 13 individuals had been arrested. It was unclear if that meant 13 people total, or in addition to those detained hours earlier. Police in Colombo had also seized a van they believed to be used to transport attackers, according to NewsFirst.
Wijewardene called on the media earlier in the day to not identify any of the attackers involved by name. “Don’t give extremists a voice. Don’t help to make them martyrs,” he said, per a New York Times reporter in Sri Lanka.
Sunday evening, Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe reportedly said that the government may have received advance warning of an attack, but that he was not made aware, according to a local BBC reporter.
“We must look into why adequate precautions were not taken. Neither I nor the Ministers were kept informed,” quotes Wickremesinghe in another local report on Twitter.
Dr. Samiddhi Samarakoon, a deputy director of the National Hospital of Sri Lanka, told The Timesthat at least 11 foreigners were among the dead.
“The bombings are not the doings of a fanatical individual. It’s obviously a highly coordinated attempt to create murder, mayhem and anarchy in the country,” Mangala Samaraweera, the country’s finance minister, warned, according to The Guardian. Sri Lanka went through a brutal civil war between 1983 and 2009, a conflict that was fought between Tamil militants and government forces. The majority of the country’s population are Sinhalese while a minority are Tamil, although Tamils are largely Hindu and and Sinhalese are largely Buddhist, both groups have significant populations of Christians as well.
World leaders were quick to offer their condolences and vows of support. President Donald Trump wrote : “138 people have been killed in Sri Lanka, with more that 600 badly injured, in a terrorist attack on churches and hotels [sic]. The United States offers heartfelt condolences to the great people of Sri Lanka. We stand ready to help!” It is unclear where Trump got the casualty information that he cited in his tweet, but authorities in the country have since announced different numbers.
“Strongly condemn the horrific blasts in Sri Lanka. There is no place for such barbarism in our region,” India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrote on Twitter. “India stands in solidarity with the people of Sri Lanka. My thoughts are with the bereaved families and prayers with the injured,” he continued.
Pope Francis also voiced his solidarity with the people of Sri Lanka at the conclusion of his Easter’s address in St. Peter’s Square of The Vatican. “I wish to express my heartfelt closeness to the Christian community [of Sri Lanka], wounded as it was gathered in prayer, and to all the victims of such cruel violence,” he said.
The Sri Lankan government confirmed, via its official online news portal Sunday, reports that it had put a temporary block on social media use in the country.
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