Sri Lanka Easter bombings: Mass casualties in churches and hotels

April 21, 2019

Three Sri Lankan churches and three hotels hit by near simultaneous explosions, killing at least 205 people, police say.

A series of bombings has hit luxury hotels and churches in Sri Lanka, killing at least 205 people and wounding about 450 as worshippers were attending Easter Sunday services.

Three of the explosions took place in Catholic churches while three other explosions were reported in luxury hotels - the Cinnamon Grand, Kingsbury and Shangri-La - located in the heart of Colombo.

The first explosion was reported in a church located in the capital. The other blasts followed within half an hour.

One of the churches targeted was St Anthony's Shrine in Colombo. The other two were St Sebastian's in Negombo, about 30km from the capital and another in Batticaloa, 250km east of the capital.

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

An official at the Batticaloa hospital told AFP news agency more than 300 people had been admitted with injuries following the blast there.

Police spokesperson Ruwan Gunasekera said that the injured were being evacuated while security forces have cordoned off the areas and search operations are underway.

Photos circulating on social media showed the roof of one church had been blown almost entirely off in the blast.

The floor was littered with a mixture of roof tiles, splintered wood and blood.

Several people could be seen covered in blood, some trying to help those with more serious injuries.

Reports said at least 35 foreigners are among the dead.

There were no immediate claims of responsibility.

Sri Lanka's police chief issued a nationwide alert 10 days before Sunday's attacks that suicide bombers planned to hit "prominent churches", according to the warning seen by AFP.

Police chief Pujuth Jayasundara sent an intelligence warning to top officers on April 11, setting out the threat.

"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," said the alert.

The NTJ is a Muslim group in Sri Lanka that came to notice last year when it was linked to the vandalisation of Buddhist statues.

Government response

"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 and 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.

Only around six percent 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.

Al Jazeera's Minelle Fernandez, reporting from Colombo, said the crisis was still unfolding.

"We're hearing that Colombo national hospital is still receiving casualties brought in from the multiple locations.

"In terms of law enforcement, we've been hearing that all festivities have been canceled, that security in and around the city has been tightened," Fernandez reported.

"It's still very open-ended … it's too early [to speculate who is behind the attack] but security in the capital and the airport has been stepped up following the attacks," she added.

Coordinated attacks

Rajiva Wijesinha, a former member of the Sri Lankan parliament, told Al Jazeera the coordinated nature of the attacks has shocked the country.

"It's actually extremely chilling. We've never had anything of this sort before. Sri Lanka had a terrible time under Tamil Tiger terrorism for about 25 years and then there was a great sense of relief, which I'm afraid the West has been fighting with us about, when we got rid of the tiger terrorists," Rajiva said.

"But the tiger terrorists were never as well organised never and never quite as brilliant in synchronisation and this is obviously something on a much larger scale which is frankly quite terrifying and you know the reactions I've heard suggest people are moving into panic mode again," he said. 

"And that is understandable because of the range of these attacks and the concentration on the Christian churches and then the hotels as well suggest we are dealing with something really quite horrible," Rajiva added.

Speaking to Al Jazeera from Colombo, Ashwin Hemmathagama, a reporter with the Daily FT, said the attacks were a blow to the country's tourism sector.

"At the moment, police have cordoned off the areas and cautioned the public to remain vigilant. They have asked the public to stay indoors and avoid hasty decisions because investigations are under way."

"After the civil war ended, almost a decade ago, the tourism industry was picking up. Basically, everything was back to its current perspective, but unfortunately this kind of attack will definitely cripple the tourism sector."

(Source: Aljazeera)

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