Monday, 20 May 2019

Death toll from Easter Sunday blasts in Sri Lanka rises to 207

AFP

COLOMBO: The death toll from a devastating series of eight bomb blasts that ripped through high-end hotels and churches holding Easter services in Sri Lanka on Sunday has risen to 207, police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera said. At least 450 people were injured in the attacks.

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.

Another suicide bomber killed three police officers as they raided a house in a northern suburb of the city.

Gunasekera said the police were investigating whether suicide bombers were involved in all of the blasts.

The government said eight people had been arrested and investigators would look into whether the attackers had “overseas links.”

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”, and said the government was working to “contain the situation”.

There were no immediate claims of responsibility for the attacks in a country which was at war for decades with Tamil separatists until 2009 during which bomb blasts in the capital were common.

Christian groups say they have faced increasing intimidation from some extremist Buddhist monks in recent years. And last year, there were clashes between the majority Sinhalese Buddhist community and minority Muslims.

Three churches – one each in Colombo, Negombo and Batticaloa – and three Colombo hotels were targeted in the initial series of blasts. Another hotel and an unspecified location in Colombo were struck by two more blasts two hours later.

The death toll included worshippers and hotel guests. The injured flooded into local hospitals, where officials reported hundreds of wounded were being admitted.

Hospital sources said British, Dutch and American citizens are among the dead, with Britons and Japanese also injured. A Portuguese man also died, the country’s LUSA news agency reported. Four Pakistanis were among the injured, according to the Foreign Ministry.

After the eighth explosion, the government declared a curfew with immediate effect and said it would last “until further notice”. A social media ban was also imposed across the country. Government officials said major social media networks and messaging apps, including Facebook and WhatsApp, have been blocked to prevent misinformation and rumours.

The nature of the blasts was not immediately clear, but an official speaking on condition of anonymity said police suspects the initial blasts at the churches in Colombo and Batticaloa were carried out by suicide bombers.

The first explosions were reported at St Anthony’s Church in Colombo and St Sebastian’s Church in the town of Negombo just outside the capital.

Shortly after those blasts were reported, police confirmed three hotels in the capital had also been hit, along with a church in the town of Batticalao, in the east of the country. Police immediately sealed off the attack sites. Sri Lankan security officials are investigating the attacks.

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