• Sri Lankan security personnel walk through debris following an explosion in St Sebastian's Church in Negombo, north of the capital Colombo, on April 21, 2019. - AFP
  • Sri Lankan security personnel walk past dead bodies covered with blankets amid blast debris at St. Anthony's Shrine following an explosion in the church in Kochchikade in Colombo on April 21, 2019. -AFP
  • Sri Lankan security personnel walk past debris outside Zion Church following an explosion in Batticaloa in eastern Sri Lanka on April 21, 2019. AFP

Easter carnage in Sri Lanka

ASEAN+ April 22, 2019 01:00

By Aagence France Presse
Colombo

3,073 Viewed

Over 200 killed as hotels, churches targeted; police had intelligence on suicide attacks



A STRING OF blasts ripped through high-end hotels and churches holding Easter services in Sri Lanka yesterday, killing over 200 people, including 35 foreigners.

Curfew has been imposed immediately “until further notice”, police said.

Earlier, Sri Lanka’s defence ministry ordered a night-time curfew after the eight blasts. The curfew began last night at 6pm local time (7.30pm Thailand time) and runs until 6am local time (7.30am Thailand time), the ministry said.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe condemned the attacks as “cowardly” and said the government was working to “contain the situation”.

The powerful blasts – six in quick succession and then two more hours later – wrought devastation, including at the capital’s well-known St Anthony’s Shrine, a historic Catholic Church. Police confirmed the eighth blast – which hit the suburb of Orugodawatta in the north of the capital – was a suicide bomb.

Hospital sources said British, Dutch and American citizens were among the 158 dead overall, with Britons and Japanese also injured. A Portuguese man also died, the country’s LUSA news agency reported.

The government said it is imposing a “temporary” social media ban.

“The government has decided to block all social media platforms in order to prevent incorrect and wrong information being spread. This is only a temporary measure,” Udaya R Seneviratne, secretary to the president, said in a statement.

Images circulating on social media and local news stations showed extensive damage at one of three churches targeted in the near simultaneous blasts yesterday morning.

Much of the church roof was blown out in the explosion, with roof tiles and splintered wood littering the floor and pools of blood in between wounded worshippers. The injured flooded into local hospitals, where officials reported hundreds of wounded were being admitted.

Documents seen by AFP show that Sri Lanka’s police chief Pujuth Jayasundara issued an intelligence alert to top officers 10 days ago, warning that suicide bombers planned to hit “prominent churches”.

“A foreign intelligence agency has reported that the NTJ (National Thowheeth Jama’ath) is planning to carry out suicide attacks targeting prominent churches as well as the Indian high commission in Colombo,” the alert said. The NTJ is a radical Muslim group in Sri Lanka that was linked last year to the vandalisation of Buddhist statues.

The first blast was reported at St Anthony’s Shrine, a well-known Catholic church in the capital Colombo. A second deadly explosion was then confirmed at St Sebastian’s, a church in the town of Negombo, north of 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 church’s Facebook page.

Soon after, police confirmed that a third church in the town of Batticaloa had been hit, along with three high-end hotels in the capital.

Hospital sources said British, Dutch and American citizens were among the dead, with Britons and Japanese among those injured in the attacks.

President Maithripala Sirisena said in an address that he was shocked by the explosions and appealed for calm, and the prime minister was expected to speak to the media shortly.

On Twitter, Wickremesinghe wrote: “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. Please avoid propagating unverified reports and speculation. The government is taking immediate steps to contain this situation.”

The hotels targeted in the attack are all popular destinations for tourists, among them the Cinnamon Grand, which is near the prime minister’s official residence in Colombo.

An official at the hotel said the blast there had hit the restaurant, and reported at least one person had been killed.

At the Shangri-La hotel, a photographer saw extensive damage on the second floor restaurant, with windows blown out and electrical wires hanging from the ceiling.

“Emergency meeting called in a few minutes. Rescue operations underway,” Sri Lanka’s Minister of Economic Reforms and Public Distribution, Harsha de Silva, said in a tweet on his verified account. He said he had been to two of the attacked hotels and was at the scene at St Anthony’s Shrine, where he described “horrible scenes”.

“I saw many body parts strewn all over,” he tweeted, adding that there were “many casualties including foreigners”.

“Please stay calm and indoors,” he added.

Embassies in Colombo warned their citizens to shelter in place, and Sri Lankan Airlines told customers to arrive at the airport four hours ahead of flights because of ramped-up security in the wake of the attacks.

Only around six per cent of mainly Buddhist Sri Lanka is Catholic, but the religion is seen as a unifying force because it includes people from both the Tamil and majority Sinhalese ethnic groups. There have been no attacks in Sri Lanka linked to foreign Islamist groups, despite local media reports that a 37-year-old Sri Lankan was killed in Syria in 2016 while fighting for the Islamic State group.

In January, Sri Lankan police seized a haul of explosives and detonators stashed near a wildlife sanctuary following the arrest of four men from a newly formed radical Muslim group.

 

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