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April 22, 2019

208 killed in attacks on Lankan churches, hotels

Top Story

April 22, 2019

COLOMBO: At least 208 people were killed and over 450 injured as a wave of suspected suicide bombings tore through churches and five-star hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter on Sunday. No group claimed responsibility for the attacks — the worst violence in Sri Lanka since the end of the civil war a decade ago.

Thirteen people have been arrested, police said, and three police officers were killed in a raid on a house as they attempted to interrogate an individual. Six coordinated morning blasts targeted foreign and local families in three hotels in the capital, Colombo, and Christians worshipping in three high-profile churches across the country.

Two further blasts occurred hours later at a smaller Colombo hotel and in a residential area where seven arrests were made in connection with the worst violence on the South Asia island since the end of its decades-long civil war in 2009. At least 66 people were killed in Colombo and 104 in the nearby town of Negombo, officials said. Twenty-eight people were killed in the eastern city of Batticaloa.

Three police officers werekilled in a scuffle at a house in the Dematagoda area of Colombo, police said. They had gone to the house to interrogate an individual.

At least 11 of the dead at National Hospital in Colombo were foreigners, including two who held US and British citizenship, according to the foreign ministry. The authorities imposed a 12-hour curfew on the Indian Ocean island.

Speaking to reporters, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said the suspects’ names had been “local” but he added that investigators were probing whether the attackers had any “overseas links.”

Ruwan Wijewardene, Sri Lanka’s defense minister, said the attacks were carried out by suicide bombers. He termed the bombings a terrorist attack by religious extremists and said seven suspects had been arrested, though there was no immediate claim of responsibility.

The explosions at the churches and hotels occurred between 8:45 and 9:30 am. The Shangri-La, Kingsbury and Cinnamon Grand hotels, popular with foreign tourists, were targeted as guests sat down to enjoy their Sunday breakfast.

In a chilling detail, a manager at the Cinnamon Grand said the attacker waiting patiently in a queue for the Easter Sunday breakfast buffet at the Taprobane restaurant before setting off explosives strapped to his back.

The man, who had checked in the night before, was carrying a plate and was about to be served when he unleashed his devastating bomb. "There was utter chaos," the manager told AFP. “It was 8:30 am and it was busy. It was families," he said. "One of our managers who was welcoming guests was among those killed instantly."

Most of several dozen foreign victims, including Dutch, Portuguese, Chinese, Indian, Chinese and Turkish, were believed to have been killed at the hotels. The Sri Lankan foreign ministry said 25 unidentified people believed to be foreigners had been brought to the Colombo judicial medical officer’s mortuary and that 19 foreign nationals had been hospitalised.

James Dauris, Britain’s High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, confirmed that British citizens were caught up in the blast but he did not release further details. “I've been speaking this afternoon with Brits in hospital who have been affected by today's senseless attacks. My team's and my thoughts go out to all those people who are suffering as a result of the deplorable violence Sri Lanka has witnessed this Easter Sunday,” he said.

The government ordered a social media blackout in Sri Lanka to prevent public panic from false rumours, but it also hampered efforts by friends and family to make contact with loved ones.

Before the blackout, harrowing images had emerged from the aftermath of powerful bombs that blasted through the packed pews of St Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo, the Zion Church in the eastern city of Batticaloa, and St Sebastian’s in Negombo, a city about 20 miles north of the capital.

The explosions were so powerful that they blew out roof tiles, splintered wood and smashed altars and religious icons. Photos posted to social media in an appeal for help showed lifeless bodies strewn across the rubble. At St Anthony’s, where at least 160 parishioners were injured, eyewitnesses described a “river of blood” among the debris.

The authorities have launched a massive security operation and schools will remain closed for two days. Prime Minister Wickremesinghe acknowledged during a late-night press conference that “information was there” about possible attacks.

“While this goes on we must also look into why adequate precautions were not taken,” he said, but stressed that the government’s first priority would be to “apprehend the terrorists.” “First and foremost we have to ensure that terrorism does not lift its head in Sri Lanka,” he said.

Meanwhile, world leaders Sunday expressed shock and condemnation over the deadly blasts in churches and hotels in Sri Lanka killing over 200 people and wounding hundreds of others.

Dozens of foreign nationals were among the dead in the near simultaneous blasts, which targeted Catholic Church worshippers on Easter Sunday as well as luxury hotels in the heart of Colombo.

American, Indian, British, Chinese, Turkish and Dutch citizens were among those killed in the blasts. Here is how political leaders around the world reacted to Sunday's bloodshed. United Nations: The United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres said he was "outraged by the terrorist attacks" in Sri Lanka.

A statement by the spokesman for Antonio Guterres noted the "sanctity of all places of worship" adding he hoped the perpetrators will be quickly brought to justice. United States: President Donald Trump condemned the "horrible terrorist attacks" and said the US offered "heartfelt condolences" to the Sri Lankan people and stood ready to help.

India: India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi condemned the "horrific blasts" and said his country stands with the people of Sri Lanka. "Strongly condemn the horrific blasts in Sri Lanka. There is no place for such barbarism in our region. India stands in solidarity with the people of Sri Lanka. My thoughts are with the bereaved families and prayers with the injured," Modi said on Twitter.

Pakistan: Pakistan also condemned the attacks. Prime Minister Imran Khan said Pakistan "stands in complete solidarity" with Sri Lanka. Germany: German Chancellor Angel Merkel said: "Terrorism, religious hatred and intolerance cannot be allowed to win."

"We're horrified by the news that Christians in Sri Lanka were attacked and killed during Easter services," wrote Merkel's spokesperson on Twitter. "We mourn them and pray for the injured and their family members."

United Kingdom: British Prime Minister Theresa May also decried the attacks.

"The acts of violence against churches and hotels in Sri Lanka are truly appalling, and my deepest sympathies go out to all of those affected at this tragic time," May said on Twitter. "We must stand together to make sure that no one should ever have to practise their faith in fear."

Turkey: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called the attacks "an assault on all of humanity". The Turkish foreign minister also condemned the deadly attacks, which broke a nearly 10-year lull in major attacks since the end of the civil war on the South Asian island nation.

European Union: EU commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker expressed his "horror and sadness" after the deadly Easter Sunday attacks ripped through Sri Lanka. "It was with horror and sadness that I heard of the bombings in Sri Lanka costing the lives of so many people," Juncker said on Twitter, adding the European Union stood ready to help.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the attacks marked "a truly sad day for the country and for the world". New Zealand: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern condemned the "devastating" attacks.

In a statement, Ardern referred to the March 15 shootings at two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch in which 50 died.

"New Zealand condemns all acts of terrorism and our resolve has only been strengthened by the attack on our soil," Ardern said.

Russia: Russian President Vladimir Putin also denounced the attacks as "cruel and cynical."

In a telegram of condolences sent to his Sri Lankan counterpart, the Russian leader said Moscow remains a "reliable partner of Sri Lanka in the fight against international terrorism".

Pope Francis: "I learned with sadness and pain of the news of the grave attacks, that precisely today, Easter, brought mourning and pain to churches and other places where people were gathered in Sri Lanka," Pope Francis told tens of thousands of people in St. Peter's Square to hear his Easter Sunday message.

"I wish to express my affectionate closeness to the Christian community, hit while it was gathered in prayer, and to all the victims of such cruel violence."

Iran: Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif shared condolences. "Terribly saddened by terrorist attacks on Sri Lankan worshippers during Easter. Condolences to friendly govt & people of Sri Lanka," Zarif said on Twitter.

GCC countries: Three Gulf nations condemned the Easter Sunday bombings - Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates - all of whom issued statements via their foreign ministries over the attack.

Qatar said it wanted to stress its "firm stance on rejecting violence and terrorism". The UAE called upon "the international community to close ranks and uproot the scourge of terrorism in order to ensure international peace and security."

Israel: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expressing "deep shock" over the deadly attacks. Netanyahu issued a statement saying "Israel stands ready to assist the authorities in Sri Lanka at this difficult time".

The prime minister said "the entire world must unite in the battle against the scourge of terrorism".

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