Blasts target churches and hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday
Easter Sunday bombings kill nearly 300 in Sri Lanka – video report
Authorities in Sri Lanka have launched a massive security operation and imposed a curfew after a wave of bombs in churches and hotels in Sri Lanka killed at least 207 people and injured 450.
The eight blasts, some of which officials said were suicide bomb attacks, appeared timed to cause maximum casualties among worshippers attending Easter services.
In one church, St Sebastian’s in Negombo, north of the capital, Colombo, more than 50 people had been killed, a police official said. Much of the church roof was blown out in the explosion, with roof tiles and splintered wood littering the floor and pools of blood in between wounded worshippers.
Three churches and three luxury hotels were targeted. There were also explosions at a guest house near the zoo and in a residential area of Colombo.
Most of the targets were either in or close to the capital. Among the hotels targeted was the Cinnamon Grand, a luxury hotel in the centre of the city that is favoured by politicians.
Three hours after the bombings, security forces surrounded a house in the Dematagoda neighbourhood of Colombo, where they arrested seven people, of whom three were reported to have required immediate medical assistance. There was at least one explosion during the operation, which may have been caused by a suicide bomber.
Ruwan Wijewardena, the minister of defence, said investigations had established that suicide bombers were responsible for the majority of the morning’s bombings and that the wave of attacks was the work of a single group.
The foreign minister said at least 27 foreigners were among the dead. Three police officers were believed to have been killed during the operation in Dematagoda.
The attacks are the most significant in the small island nation for many years, and come a decade after the end of a bloody civil war.
One explosion occurred at a hotel near the national zoo, when attackers were reportedly cornered by security forces. Authorities imposed a curfew, though it was unclear if the ban on movement would start immediately or was overnight.
Hospitals were struggling to cope with the influx of casualties.
At least 160 people injured in a blast at St Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo had been admitted to the Colombo National hospital by mid-morning, one official said. The main hospital in the eastern port city of Batticaloa had received more than 300 people with injuries following a blast at the Zion church.
There were no immediate claims of responsibility for the attacks. The prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, convened Sri Lanka’s top military officials at an emergency meeting of the national security council.
“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,” Wickremesinghe said on Twitter.
Leaders around the world rushed to condemn the attacks. Theresa May, the UK prime minister, called the blasts “appalling” and Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury, said those affected would be in the prayers of millions marking Easter Sunday around the world.
“On this holy day, let us stand with the people of Sri Lanka in prayer, condolence and solidarity as we reject all violence, all hatred and all division,” he said.
The blasts marked the end of a lull in violence after the end of the civil war in 2009, during which bombings were common.
Harsha de Silva, Sri Lanka’s economic reforms minister, described distressing scenes at the sites of two attacks. “I saw many body parts strewn all over. Emergency crews are at all locations in full force,” he tweeted after visiting the Shangri-La hotel and St Anthony’s Shrine. “We took multiple casualties to hospital. Hopefully saved many lives.”
Colombo’s archbishop, Malcolm Ranjith, called on the public to rally in support of the victims, requesting all doctors to report to work despite the holiday and members of the public to donate blood.
The Muslim council of Sri Lanka issued a statement condemning the attack on the places of worship of “our Christian brothers and sisters on their holy day of Easter, as well as on the hotels in Colombo”. “We mourn the loss of innocent lives due to extremist and violent elements who wish to create divides between religious and ethnic groups to realise their agenda,” the statement said.
Out of Sri Lanka’s population of about 22 million, 70% are Buddhist, 12.6% Hindu, 9.7% Muslim, and 7.6% Christian, according to the country’s 2012 census.
There has been growing intercommunal tension in Sri Lanka for several years. Last year, there were 86 verified incidents of discrimination, threats and violence against Christians, according to organisations that represent more than 200 churches and other Christian organisations.
This year, the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (NCEASL), recorded 26 such incidents, including one in which Buddhist monks allegedly attempted to disrupt a Sunday worship service, with the last one reported on 25 March.