More than 200 people, including 37 foreigners, were killed and 450 others injured in Sri Lanka in a series of explosions targeting three Catholic churches, four luxury hotels and a home on Easter Sunday, news reports say.
While no group has claimed responsibility for the blasts, security forces have arrested seven people linked to the incidents, Defence Minister Ruwan Wijewardene said.
The minister said the coordinated attacks involved suicide bombers and one group was behind them. He did not name the group.
The government held an emergency meeting soon after the explosions to discuss the security situation in the island nation.
A 12-hour nationwide curfew was imposed from 6 pm on Sunday. Security has been tightened at the Bandaranaike International Airport. Internet services have been temporarily blocked in most zones of Colombo. All schools will remain closed for two days.
According to local media, police chief Pujuth Jayasundara had issued an intelligence alert to top officers 10 days ago based on a tip-off from a foreign intelligence agency. It said the National Thowheeth Jama’ath, a local radical Muslim group, was planning suicide attacks on prominent churches as well as the Indian high commission in Colombo.
Sunday’s bombings seem to have been meticulously planned to create a communal divide in this Buddhist nation with 6% Catholic population.
President Maithripala Sirisena condemned the “heinous acts” of crime and appealed for calm. An investigation has been launched into the serial blasts, Sirisena said.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, in his tweet, condemned the cowardly attacks on the nation. He appealed to people to remain united and strong in this hour of grief and desist from propagating unverified reports.
Prime Minister of neighbouring India, Narendra Modi, condemned the blasts. There is no place for such barbarism in the region and India stands in solidarity with the people of Sri Lanka, he wrote in his tweet.
The first explosion took place around 8.45 am in St Anthony’s church, above (Credit: St Anthony’s church ), in Colombo, followed by more blasts within minutes at St Sebastian church in Negombo, just outside the capital, and another church in far-off Batticaloa.
Of the four luxury hotels targeted, three — Cinnamon Grand, Kingsbury and Shangri-La — were located in Colombo. Explosions were also reported at Tropical Inn, a three-star hotel near the Zoological Garden in Dehiwala, and a house in Dematagoda, both in Colombo’s suburbs.
Police said the injured have been taken to various hospitals and search operations are under way.
Minister of Economic Reforms and Public Distribution, Harsha de Silva, tweeted from St Anthony’s church that he saw body parts strewn all over.
The church, which draws people of all faiths, posted pictures on its Facebook page showing blood on pews and the floor.
Photos circulating on social media showed the roof of one church almost blown off in the blast.