Toll in Sri Lanka blasts rises to 215; seven people arrested

Eight explosions rattled various suburbs in Sri Lankan cities of Colombo, Negombo, Kochchikade and Batticaloa as the Christian community celebrated Easter Sunday.

By Author  |  Published: 21st Apr 2019  6:32 pmUpdated: 22nd Apr 2019  1:24 am
Sri Lanka
Dead bodies of victims lie inside St. Sebastian's Church damaged in blast in Negombo, north of Colombo, Sri Lanka, Sunday, April 21, 2019. More than hundred were killed and hundreds more hospitalized with injuries from eight blasts that rocked churches and hotels in and just outside of Sri Lanka's capital on Easter Sunday, officials said, the worst violence to hit the South Asian country since its civil war ended a decade ago.

Colombo: A string of eight devastating blasts, including suicide attacks, struck churches and luxury hotels frequented by foreigners in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, killing 215 people, including three Indians, and shattering a decade of peace in the island nation since the end of the brutal civil war with the LTTE. The blasts — one of the deadliest attacks in the country’s history — targeted St Anthony’s Church in Colombo, St Sebastian’s Church in the western coastal town of Negombo and Zion Church in the eastern town of Batticaloa around 8.45 am (local time) as the Easter Sunday mass were in progress, police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera said.

Explosions were reported from three five-star hotels — the Shangri-La, the Cinnamon Grand and the Kingsbury in Colombo. Gunasekera confirmed 207 deaths. However, the News 1st channel said that 215 people have died in the blasts. Chairman of Sri Lanka Tourism Kishu Gomes said 33 foreign nationals have been killed in the coordinated attacks believed to be carried out by a single group. Director of the National Hospital Dr Anil Jasinghe identified 12 of the 33 foreign nationals, which include three Indians, two Chinese and one each from Poland, Denmark, Japan, Pakistan, America, Morocco and Bangladesh.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, in a series of tweets, identified the three Indians as Lakshmi, Narayan Chandrashekhar and Ramesh. “Indian High Commission in Colombo has conveyed that National Hospital has informed them about the death of three Indian nationals,” she said in a tweet. Around 500 people, including Indians, were injured in the attacks. No group has claimed responsibility for Sunday’s attacks. However, most of the deadly attacks in the past in Sri Lanka were carried out by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) which ran a military campaign for a separate Tamil homeland in the northern and eastern provinces of the island nation for nearly 30 years before its collapse in 2009 after the Sri Lankan Army killed its supreme leader Velupillai Prabhakaran. Briefing reporters, Gunasekera said the police was not able to confirm at the moment if they were all suicide attacks. He, however, said that one of the blasts at the Katuwapitiya (Negombo) church has signs of being what looked like a suicide attack.

An unnamed official said a suicide bomber blew himself up at the restaurant of the Cinnamon Grand hotel. Gunasekara said that 66 bodies were kept at the National Hospital while 260 injured were receiving treatment there and 104 bodies were placed at the Negombo Hospital and 100 injured were receiving treatment at the Hospital. Later in the day, a powerful blast in the capital’s southern suburb near the Colombo Zoo killed two persons, Gunasekera said. When a police team entered a house in the Colombo north suburb of Orugodawatta to conduct a search, a suicide bomber blew himself up causing a concrete floor of a two-storey building to crash on them, killing three policemen in the eighth blast, police said. Soon after the eighth blast, the government imposed curfew with immediate effect. The curfew will be in force indefinitely until further notice, officials said.

State Minister of Defence Ruwan Wijewardene said seven persons had been arrested in connection with the blasts. “We believe these were coordinated attacks, and one group was behind them,” he said. President Maithripala Sirisena has appealed for calm. “I have been shocked by this totally unexpected incidents. The security forces haven been asked to take all action necessary,” Sirisena said. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe termed the blasts as “cowardly attacks” and said his government was working to “contain the situation.” “I call upon all Sri Lankans during this tragic time to remain united and strong… The government is taking immediate steps to contain this situation,” he tweeted.

Security has been intensified around the religious places across the capital. The government has temporarily blocked all social media platforms. “Horrible scenes. I saw many body parts strewn all over,” said Harsha de Silva, Sri Lanka’s Minister of Economic Reforms and Public Distribution. The Indian High Commission in Colombo said that it was closely monitoring the situation in Sri Lanka. “We are closely monitoring the situation. Indian citizens in need of assistance or help and for seeking clarification may call the following numbers : +94777903082 +94112422788 +94112422789,” the High Commission tweeted. “In addition to the numbers given, Indian citizens in need of assistance or help and for seeking clarification may also call the following numbers +94777902082 +94772234176,” it said.

The first blasts were reported at St Anthony’s church in Colombo and St Sebastian’s Church in Negombo just outside the capital. “A bomb attack to our church, please come and help if your family members are there,” read a post in English on the Facebook page of the St Sebastian’s Church. Images circulated on social media showed severely damaged St Sebastian’s church, with a shattered ceiling and blood on the pews.

The riot police and the Special Task Force, extra police security has been deployed around the Bandaranaike International Airport, State-run Daily News reported. All State Universities have been closed until further notice. Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith said all Easter masses in the Colombo District have been cancelled. Former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, under whose leadership the Lankan Army crushed the LTTE, termed the attack as “barbaric”.

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