Rediff.com  » News » 215 killed as blasts rock Sri Lanka on Easter

215 killed as blasts rock Sri Lanka on Easter

Last updated on: April 21, 2019 20:07 IST

Seven persons had been arrested in connection with the blasts.

IMAGE: The blasts have been described as one of the deadliest attacks in the country's history. Photograph: Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters

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 and shattering a decade of peace in the island nation since the end of the brutal civil war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

 

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.

IMAGE: Foreign relatives of a victim of the explosion react at the police mortuary in Colombo. Photograph: Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters

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.

Director of the National Hospital Dr Anil Jasinghe identified 11 of the 27 foreign nationals killed in the coordinated attacks believed to be carried out by a single group.

An Indian, two Chinese and one each from Poland, Denmark, Japan, Pakistan, America, Morocco and Bangladesh are among the dead at the National Hospital.

IMAGE: A police officer inspects the explosion area at Shangri-La hotel in Colombo. Photograph: Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters

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 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.

IMAGE: Sri Lankan military officials stand guard in front of the St Anthony's Shrine, Kochchikade church after an explosion in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Photograph: Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters

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.

IMAGE: The Colombo National Hospital spokesperson, Dr Samindi Samarakoon, said more than 300 people have been admitted with injuries. Photograph: Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters

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," Wijewardene said.

Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena has appealed for calm. "I have been shocked by this totally unexpected incidents. The security forces have been asked to take all action necessary," Sirisena said.

IMAGE: Relatives of a victim of the explosion at St Anthony's Shrine, Kochchikade church react at the police mortuary in Colombo. Photograph: Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters

Lanka’s 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.

IMAGE: A shoe of a victim is seen in front of the St Anthony's Shrine, Kochchikade church after an explosion in Colombo. Photograph: Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters

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.

IMAGE: The Indian high commission in Colombo said that it was closely monitoring the situation in Sri Lanka. Photograph: Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters

"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.

Heavy security has been deployed at the Bandaranaike International Airport. The riot police and the Special Task Force, extra police security has been deployed around the airport, state-run Daily News reported.

IMAGE: Priests are seen inside the St Anthony's Shrine, Kochchikade church after an explosion in Colombo. Photograph: Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters

Leave of all police personnel has been cancelled in the wake of blasts.

Doctors, nurses and health officials who were on leave have been asked to report to work, Health Ministry sources said.

All state Universities have been closed until further notice.

IMAGE: Leave of all police personnel has been cancelled in the wake of blasts. Photograph: Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith said all Easter masses in the Colombo District have been cancelled.

IMAGE: A statue of Virgin Mary broken in two parts is seen in front of the St. Anthony's Shrine, Kochchikade church after an explosion in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Photograph: Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters

Former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, under whose leadership the Lankan Army crushed the LTTE, termed the attack as "barbaric".

"We will not tolerate such violence, such acts of terrorism, of cowardice within our borders once again," he said.

Reactions to deadly Sri Lanka blasts

"Heartfelt condolences from the people of the United States to the people of Sri Lanka on the
horrible terrorist attacks on churches and hotels... We stand ready to help!"
-- US President Donald Trump

"The acts of violence against churches and hotels in Sri Lanka are truly appalling, and my deepest sympathies go out to all of those affected at this tragic time. We must stand together to make sure that no one should ever have to practise their faith in fear."
-- British PM Theresa May

"To the beautiful people of Sri Lanka, Australia sends its heartfelt sympathies and our prayers and our support -- and our offer to do whatever we can to support you in this terrible time of need. At this time as Easter Sunday draws to a conclusion here in Australia, our heart goes out to those Christians and all of those other innocents who have been slaughtered today in this horrific terrorist attack."
-- Australian PM Scott Morrison

"New Zealand condemns all acts of terrorism, and our resolve has only been strengthened by the attack on our soil on the 15th of March. To see an attack in Sri Lanka while people were in churches and at hotels is devastating. New Zealand rejects all forms of extremism and stands for freedom of religion and the right to worship safely. Collectively we must find the will and the answers to end such violence."
-- New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern

"Extremely sad at the news of bombings in Sri Lanka. It's unfortunate that one is not able to see that violence is like a chain reaction. This has to stop!
-- Bollywood actor and former Miss Universe Sri Lanka Jacqueline Fernandez

"Sri Lanka, my heart is with you. I'm praying for everyone affected by this horrible tragedy. Stay strong."
-- American pop star Mariah Carey

"Deeply saddened and shocked to hear about the church bomb blasts in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday... My prayers for those who lost their lives and condolences to their families... We condemn the terror attack."
-- Actor-turned-politician Urmila Matondkar

© Copyright 2019 PTI. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of PTI content, including by framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent.
SHARE THIS STORY