215, including three Indians, killed as eight blasts rock Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, curfew imposed

New Delhi, News Nation Bureau | Updated : 22 April 2019, 06:39 AM
Serial blasts rock Sri Lanka
Serial blasts rock Sri Lanka

As many as eight devastating blasts, beginning with six near-consecutive explosions and majority of them being suicide attacks, struck three churches and luxury hotels in Sri Lanka, killing 215 people, including three Indians, and leaving over 500 injured.

The blasts – which shattered a decade of peace in the island nation since the end of the brutal civil war with the LTTE – 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 A.M. (local time) as the Easter Sunday mass were in progress, police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera said.

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.

Chairman of Sri Lanka Tourism Kishu Gomes said 33 foreign nationals have been killed in the coordinated attacks believed to be carried out by a single group. Director of the National Hospital Dr Anil Jasinghe identified 12 of the 33 foreign nationals, which include three Indians, two Chinese and one each from Poland, Denmark, Japan, Pakistan, America, Morocco and Bangladesh.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, in a series of tweets, identified the three Indians as Lakshmi, Narayan Chandrashekhar and Ramesh.

"Indian High Commission in Colombo has conveyed that National Hospital has informed them about the death of three Indian nationals," she said in a tweet.

News 18 quoted Gunasekara saying that 13 suspects have been arrested in connection with the attacks, of which ten have been handed over to the CID.

The report also quoted Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe confirming that the government had prior information about the attacks but, failed to take preventive steps.

Notably, police chief Pujuth Jayasundara had issued a nationwide alert ten days ago that suicide bombers were planning to hit "prominent churches".

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 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 before its collapse in 2009 after the Sri Lankan Army killed its supreme leader Velupillai Prabhakaran.

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.

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," he said.

President Maithripala Sirisena has appealed for calm.

"I have been shocked by this totally unexpected incidents. The security forces haven been asked to take all action necessary," Sirisena said.

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.

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.

"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.

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

All state Universities have been closed until further notice.

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

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

World leaders condemn bombings

Countries from across the globe, including India, the US, the UK, Russia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh expressed shock and condemnation over the deadly blasts.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi called up Sri Lankan president Maithripala Sirisena and prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and condemned the serial terrorist attacks in the strongest terms, perpetrated at sites including religious places and during a religious festival, according to a statement from the PM's Office. 

Describing the attacks as "cold-blooded and pre-planned barbaric acts", PM Modi said these attacks were another grim reminder of the most serious challenge posed to the entire humanity by terrorism in our region and the entire world. 

The Prime Minister renewed the offer of all possible help and assistance to Sri Lanka for ensuring its security against the challenges such as those posed by terrorism, the PMO statement said. 

US President Donald Trump on Sunday offered "heartfelt condolences" to the people of Sri Lanka.

"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!," Trump tweeted.

British Prime Minister Theresa May described the attacks as "truly appalling".

"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," she tweeted.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia was thinking of those killed in a "horrific terrorist attack".

"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," he said in a statement.

A month after dozens of Muslims were killed in a shooting at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern described the attack as "devastating".

"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".

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan also strongly condemned the barbaric attacks.

"Strongly condemn the horrific terrorist attack in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday resulting in precious lives lost & hundreds injured. My profound condolences go to our Sri Lankan brethren. Pakistan stands in complete solidarity with Sri Lanka in their hour of grief," he tweeted.

(With inputs from agencies)

First Published: Sunday, April 21, 2019 11:41 PM
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