Over 200 killed, 500 injured as serial blasts rock Sri Lanka; 7 suspects held

Kashmir Times. Dated: 4/22/2019 2:05:01 PM

# Govt declares curfew, bans internet # Terror attack by religious extremists: Wijewardena # Sirisena appeals for calm

COLOMBO, Apr 21 (Agencies): At least 215 people, including around a dozen foreigners, were killed and hundreds more injured in eight blasts that rocked churches and hotels in and just outside Sri Lanka's capital on Easter Sunday, officials said, pitching the South Asian island nation into the worst chaos it has seen since a bloody civil war ended a decade ago.
Defense Minister Ruwan Wijewardena, who described the blasts as a terrorist attack by religious extremists, told reporters Sunday evening that seven suspects had been arrested, though no one immediately claimed responsibility for the blasts.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said he feared the violence could trigger instability in the country and its economy.
Seven people were arrested in a raid on a house in Colombo in connection with the blasts probe. Earlier police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera had confirmed the death of 207 people. “Altogether we have information of 207 dead from all hospitals. According to the information as of now, we have 450 injured people admitted to hospitals,” Gunasekera said in Colombo.
The eight explosions, some of which were reportedly suicide bomb attacks, led to an immediate clampdown in the country. The government has declared a curfew and blocked access to major social media and messaging sites, including Facebook and WhatsApp.
Six simultaneous blasts hit three churches and three hotels in Sri Lanka on Sunday morning. While the country was already on high alert, two more explosions were reported from around the capital city taking the total number of blasts during the day to eight.
The blasts in the churches occurred when people had gathered for prayers on Easter Sunday. The places that were targeted were frequented by tourists in Sri Lanka.
No one has taken responsibility for the attacks so far. This is the first major attack that has taken place after the end of the civil war 10 years ago.
Sri Lankan PM Ranil Wickremesinghe held a national security council meeting at his home. In a tweet he said, “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," he added.
The blasts targeted St Anthony's Church in Colombo, St Sebastian's Church in the western coastal town of Negombo and another 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. Three explosions were reported from the five-star hotels - the Shangri-La, the Cinnamon Grand and the Kingsbury in Colombo. Foreigners and locals who were injured in hotel blasts were admitted to the Colombo General Hospital. Harsha de Silva, Sri Lanka's Minister of Economic Reforms and Public Distribution, said that there have been “many casualties including foreigners.” “45 people died in Colombo where three hotels and a church were hit, while more than 90 were killed in Negombo and 27 in Batticaloa,” hospital sources said, adding that more than 450 people were injured in the blasts. Among the 45 bodies at the Colombo National Hospital there are nine foreigners, they said, adding that Americans and British citizens were among the dead.
The Colombo National Hospital spokesperson, Dr Samindi Samarakoon, said more than 300 people have been admitted with injuries. Dr Kalanidhi Ganeshalingam, the spokesperson for the Batticaloa hospital, said over 100 have been admitted with injuries from St Michael's Church explosion.
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.
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.
The Sri Lankan government has summoned an emergency meeting. All necessary emergency steps have been taken by the government, Harsha de Silva said. "Horrible scenes. I saw many body parts strewn all over. Emergency crews are at all locations in full force. We, at 1990 also have close to 20 units at the various locations. We took multiple casualties to hospital. Hopefully saved many lives,” he said. Doctors, nurses and health officials who were on leave have been asked to report to work, Health Ministry sources said. The government schools have been closed for Monday and Tuesday. Former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, under whose leadership the Lankan army crushed the LTTE, termed the attack as “absolutely barbaric.” “It is absolutely barbaric to see such violent attacks on such a holy day. Whoever is behind these attacks must be dealt with immediately. My thoughts and prayers are with the families that lost loved ones and all of Sri Lanka,” he said.
“We will not tolerate such violence, such acts of terrorism, of cowardice within our borders once again. We will stand together and rise up against it as one voice. We will stand united as a nation,” he said.
Reports suggested that Sri Lanka's police chief made a nationwide alert 10 days before Sunday's bomb attacks in the country that suicide bombers planned to hit "prominent churches", according to the warning seen by media.
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 radical Muslim group in Sri Lanka that came to notice last year when it was linked to the vandalization of Buddhist statues. At least 129 people were killed in six bomb attacks Sunday that included three churches.

 

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