Bombs kill more than 200 in Sri Lankan churches, hotels on Easter Sunda (UPDATED)

Bombs kill more than 200 in Sri Lankan churches, hotels on Easter Sunda (UPDATED)

Over 200 people were killed and at least 450 injured in bomb blasts that ripped through churches and luxury hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, the first major attack on the Indian Ocean island since the end of a civil war 10 years ago, Trend reported citing Reuters.

Seven people were arrested and three police officers were killed during a security forces raid on a house in the Sri Lankan capital several hours after the rash of attacks, some of which officials said were suicide bombs.

The government declared a curfew in Colombo and blocked access to social media and messaging sites, including Facebook and WhatsApp. It was unclear when the curfew would be lifted.

“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 spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera told reporters.

Three churches in various parts of the country and four hotels in Colombo were hit. At least 27 of the dead were foreigners, including people from Turkey, China, India and Holland, officials and media reports said.

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.

Dozens were killed in one of the blasts at St. Sebastian’s Gothic-style Catholic church in Katuwapitiya, north of Colombo. Gunasekera said the police suspected a suicide attack there. Pictures from the site showed bodies on the ground, blood on the church pews and a destroyed roof.

Local media reported 25 people were also killed in an attack on an evangelical church in Batticaloa in Eastern Province.

The hotels hit in Colombo were the Shangri-La, the Kingsbury, the Cinnamon Grand and the Tropical Inn near the national zoo. There was no word on casualties in the hotels, but a witness told local TV he saw some body parts, including a severed head, lying on the ground beside the Tropical Inn.

The first six explosions were all reported within a short period in the morning just as church services were starting.

One of the explosions was at St. Anthony’s Shrine, a Catholic church in Kochcikade, Colombo, a tourist landmark.

The explosion at the Tropical Inn happened later and there was an eighth explosion at a house in Colombo. Police and media said that three officers were killed and seven people detained during a raid on this location.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe called a national security council meeting at his home for later in the day.

“I strongly condemn the cowardly attacks on our people today. I call upon all Sri Lankans during this tragic time to remain united and strong,” he said in a Tweet.

“Please avoid propagating unverified reports and speculation. The government is taking immediate steps to contain this situation.”

President Maithripala Sirisena said he had ordered the police special task force and military to investigate who was behind the attacks and their agenda.

The military was deployed, a military spokesman said, and security stepped up at Colombo’s international airport.

14:10 (GMT+4) Sri Lankan authorities said on Sunday that the death toll from the explosions which shook the Sri Lankan capital earlier in the day had risen to 185 while 469 others were injured, Trend reported citing Xinhua.

Local media quoting police and hospital sources said that nine foreigners were among those killed and 13 others were injured.

Police spokesperson Ruwan Gunasekara told Xinhua that a seventh explosion was reported from opposite the Dehiwala Zoo in Colombo on Sunday afternoon.

10:57 (GMT+4) Easter Day bomb blasts at three Sri Lankan churches and three luxury hotels killed 138 people and wounded more than 400, hospital and police officials said, following a lull in major attacks since the end of the civil war 10 years ago, Trend reported citing Reuters.

In just one church, St. Sebastian’s in Katuwapitiya, north of Colombo, more than 50 people had been killed, a police official told Reuters, with pictures showing bodies on the ground, blood on the pews and a destroyed roof.

Media reported 25 people were also killed in an attack on a church in Batticaloa in Eastern Province.

The three hotels hit were the Shangri-La Colombo, Kingsbury Hotel and Cinnamon Grand Colombo. It was unclear whether there were any casualties in the hotels.

Nine foreigners were among the dead, the officials said.

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.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe called a national security council meeting at his home for later in the day.

One of the explosions was at St Anthony’s Church in Kochcikade, Colombo.

“Our people are engaged in evacuating the casualties,” a source with the bomb squad said.

St. Sebastian’s church posted pictures of destruction inside the church on its Facebook page, showing blood on pews and the floor, and requested help from the public.

Last year, there were 86 verified incidents of discrimination, threats and violence against Christians, according to the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (NCEASL), which represents more than 200 churches and other Christian organizations.

This year, the 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 March 25.

Out of Sri Lanka’s total population of around 22 million, 70 percent are Buddhist, 12.6 percent Hindu, 9.7 percent Muslim, and 7.6 percent Christian, according to the country’s 2012 census.

In its 2018 report on Sri Lanka’s human rights, the U.S. State Department noted that some Christian groups and churches reported they had been pressured to end worship activities after authorities classified them as “unauthorized gatherings.”

The report also said Buddhist monks regularly tried to close down Christian and Muslim places of worship, citing unidentified sources.

10:06 (GMT+4) At least 20 people were killed and another 280 were wounded in a series of six explosions that hit Sri Lanka during Easter celebrations, Trend reported citing Tass.

AFP reported citing police that the blasts targeted three luxury hotels and a church in Colombo, and also two churches in a suburb of Negombo.

No extremist group has claimed responsibility for the attacks.

09:19 (GMT+4) Two Sri Lankan churches and two hotels were hit by explosions on Easter Sunday, wounding several people, police sources said, Trend reported citing Reuters.

The hotels and one of the churches are in the nation’s capital Colombo. The other church is in Negombo, north of Colombo.

A source in the police bomb squad said that one of the explosions was at St Anthony’s Church in Kochcikade, Colombo. “Our people are engaged in evacuating the casualties,” the source said.

Sources from two leading tourist hotels in Colombo also confirmed the explosions but did not give any details.

Colombo National hospital said several wounded had been brought in for treatment.

St. Sebastian’s church at Katuwapitiya in Negombo posted pictures of destruction inside the church on its Facebook page, showing blood on pews and the floor, and requested help from the public.

There were no immediate claims of responsibility.

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