Seven people were arrested and three officers were killed during a raid on a house in Colombo on Sunday as police sought those behind a rash of bombings at churches and hotels in Sri Lanka that killed more than 200 people, police and local media said.
“Altogether we have information of 207 dead from all hospitals. According to the information, as of now we have 450 injured people admitted to hospitals,” police spokesperson Ruwan Gunasekera told reporters in Colombo.
Those killed included more than 30 foreigners, following the near simultaneous and co-ordinated explosions that struck three churches and three luxury hotels, in one of the deadliest blasts in the country’s history, government officials said.
The eight explosions, some of which officials said were suicide bomb attacks, led to an immediate clampdown, with the government declaring a curfew from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. local time and blocking access to major social media and messaging sites, including Facebook and WhatsApp.
SriLankan Airlines is telling passengers booked on flights out of the country that they will be able to fly despite the curfew.
A relative of a victim of the explosion at St. Anthony’s Shrine, Kochchikade church, reacts at the police mortuary in Colombo. (Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters)
Three of the blasts targeted St. Anthony’s Church in Colombo, S.t Sebastian’s Church in the western coastal town of Negombo and another, the Zion church in the eastern town of Batticaloa around 8.45 a.m. local time as the Easter Sunday mass was in progress, a police spokesperson said.
Three other explosions were reported from the five-star hotels — the Shangri-La, the Cinnamon Grand and the Kingsbury in Colombo. Foreigners and locals who were injured in hotel blasts were admitted to the Colombo General Hospital.
Two more explosions were reported hours later on the outskirts of Colombo.
The foreign minister said the three police officers were killed during an operation to capture suspects from a safehouse in Dematagoda, outside the capital, where the eighth blast occurred.
Further details of the raid on the house in the Sri Lankan capital were not immediately available.
This image made from video provided by Hiru TV shows damage inside a church after a blast in Colombo. (Hiru TV via AP)
Harsha de Silva, Sri Lanka’s Minister of Economic Reforms and Public Distribution, said there were foreigners among the dead, with nine bodies, including American and British citizens, among those taken to a Colombo hospital.
No claim of responsibility
There were no immediate claims of responsibility for the attacks in a country which was at war for decades with Tamil separatists until 2009, a time when bomb blasts in the capital were common.
Local Christian groups have said they faced increasing intimidation from some extremist Buddhist monks in recent years. Last year, there were clashes between the majority Sinhalese Buddhist community and minority Muslims, with some hardline Buddhist groups accusing Muslims of forcing people to convert to Islam.
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. The Tamil movement collapsed in 2009 after the Sri Lankan Army killed its supreme leader Velupillai Prabhakaran.
The Archbishop of Colombo is calling for those responsible for the Easter Sunday blasts in Sri Lanka to be punished “mercilessly.”
Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith called on Sri Lanka’s government to launch a “very impartial strong inquiry” and to punish those found responsible “mercilessly because only animals can behave like that.”
Almost two million people from Sri Lanka’s population of about 22 million are Christian.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was meeting top military officials and tweeted earlier Sunday that “the government is taking immediate steps to contain the situation.”
He described the attacks as “cowardly” and called on the country to remain “united and strong.”
“Absolutely horrific news from Sri Lanka,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted. “Canada strongly condemns the heinous attacks on Christians at churches and hotels. Our hearts & thoughts are with the families & loved ones of those killed and all those injured.”
The Canadian government updated its travel advisory for Sri Lanka to urge its citizens in the country to “exercise a high degree of caution.”
Police stand amid the damage left by a blast in the restaurant area of the luxury Shangri-La Hotel in Colombo. (Ishara S. Kodikara/AFP/Getty Images)
Pope Francis denounced the “cruel violence” of the Easter Sunday attacks in Sri Lanka and called for prayers for all those who are suffering from the bloodshed.
Francis added an appeal at the end of his traditional Easter Sunday blessing to address the massacre.
Speaking from the loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica, Francis said: “I want to express my loving closeness to the Christian community, targeted while they were gathered in prayer, and all the victims of such cruel violence.”
He added: “I entrust to the Lord all those who were tragically killed and pray for the injured and all those who are suffering as a result of this dramatic event.”
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