Eight blasts at churches, hotels across Sri Lanka kill at least 207; 13 arrested | Live updates

Sri Lankan Special Task Force personnel climb a ladder outside a house during a raid — after a suicide blast had killed police searching the property — in the Orugodawatta area of the capital Colombo on April 21, 2019, following a series of blasts in churches and hotels.   | Photo Credit: AFP

Sri Lanka has been rocked by a series of deadly blasts that killed more than 200 people and injured hundreds more. Powerful explosions struck in quick succession at three hotels in the capital Colombo. The Cinnamon Grand was hit at around 8.30 a.m. IST, and the high-end Shangri-La soon after at 9.05 a.m. Three churches were also targeted in that wave of blasts: Colombo's historic St. Anthony's Shrine, the St. Sebastian's church in the town of Negombo — north of the capital — and the Zion Church in the east coast town of Batticaloa. Hours later, there were two more blasts — one of them at another Colombo hotel. At least two of the eight were carried out by suicide bombers, according to police sources and a hotel official.

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There was no immediate claim of responsibility, and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe declined to identify any suspected perpetrators. A police spokesman says 13 suspects have been arrested in connection with the attacks.

Blood stains are seen on the wall and on a Jesus Christ statue at the St. Sebastian’s Church after blast in Negombo, north of Colombo, Sri Lanka on April 21, 2019.

Blood stains are seen on the wall and on a Jesus Christ statue at the St. Sebastian’s Church after blast in Negombo, north of Colombo, Sri Lanka on April 21, 2019.   | Photo Credit: AP

 

Here are live updates:

11 pm

 

13 suspects arrested, says police spokesman

A police spokesman says 13 suspects have been arrested in connection with the attacks in Sri Lanka. In a statement, Ruwan Gunasekara also says police have a vehicle they suspect was used to transport the suspects into Colombo. Police have also found a safe house used by the attackers.

10.15 pm

 

OIC secretary-general condemns Sri Lanka attacks

The secretary-general of the world’s largest organisation of Muslim nations has condemned the attacks in Sri Lanka.

The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation’s chief Yousef al-Othaimeen described them as “cowardly attacks” that targeted innocent worshippers and civilians. Some 57 nations are part of the OIC, which is headquartered in Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea city of Jiddah.

Saudi Arabia also denounced the attacks in Sri Lanka and described them as “terrorist explosions,” saying the kingdom extends its condolences to the families of the victims and the people of Sri Lanka.

Earlier Sunday, other Arab Gulf nations issued similar statements condemning the attack.

10 pm

Several Americans killed in Sri Lanka blasts: Pompeo

Several Americans were among the more than 200 people killed in a series of bombings of hotels and churches in Sri Lanka, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said.

"While many details of the attacks are still emerging, we can confirm that several U.S. citizens were among those killed," he said in a statement. 

"The U.S. Embassy is working tirelessly to provide all possible assistance to the American citizens affected by the attacks and their families."

 

9.30 pm

Five Britons among victims

Three Britons and two individuals holding joint United States and British citizenship were among the more than 200 people killed in the Easter Sunday attacks in Sri Lanka, the Press Association reported, citing the Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry.

9.15 pm

Eight people have been arrested in connection with a string of deadly blasts that killed more than 200 people in Sri Lanka on Sunday, the Prime Minister said.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said "so far the names that have come up are local," but that investigators would look into whether the attackers had any "overseas links".

7.10 pm

Sri Lanka blocks Facebook and Instagram to curb false news reports

Sri Lankan government on Sunday blocked social media platforms like the Facebook and Instagram to prevent the spread of false news reports after a series of blasts killed 207 people.

The Presidential Secretariat said in a statement that the decision to block social media was taken in reaction to false news reports spreading on social media.

The statement said the security forces were conducting comprehensive investigations into the explosions, and that the social media block would continue until investigations were concluded.

“President @MaithripalaS appealed to the nation to act with utmost restraint and patience, and not to be misled by baseless rumors and false stories,” President Sirisena’s office tweeted.

Meanwhile, Facebook has activated its Crisis Response tool for the blasts, CNN reported.

The feature provides a repository for news about the incident, and allows people to mark themselves safe and search for friends who may have been affected.

Sri Lankan law enforcement have urged the public to stay indoors following the blasts. They asked that bystanders not gather at the explosion sites or outside the hospitals where the injured are being brought, according to government official news portal News.LK.

It also reported that passengers departing from Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) will need to be present at the airport at least four hours prior to their departure time, to account for extra security processes.

Sri Lankan Airlines, which is the ground handling agent for all airlines, added that only passengers will be allowed inside the airport terminal.

The airport is located to the north of the capital Colombo, on the outskirts of the city of Negombo, which was the site of at least one bombing today.

7.10 pm

Two Chinese killed in Sri Lanka blasts

At least two Chinese nationals were killed in the multiple blasts that struck churches and luxury hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, the Chinese Embassy in Colombo said.

The embassy is verifying the number of Chinese injured in the attacks.

Earlier, the embassy said that four Chinese nationals were injured in the multiple explosions that ripped through the island nation.

The Chinese mission activated emergency response mechanism immediately after the blasts, and embassy officials have visited the injured who were in hospital for treatment, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

The Chinese Embassy has reminded Chinese citizens and businesses in Sri Lanka to watch out for safety, it added.

7 pm

Two Turks among those killed in Sri Lanka bomb blasts

Two Turkish citizens were among the more than 200 killed in bomb blasts in Sri Lanka on Sunday, according to Turkey's state media Anadolu. Anadolu said the Turks were engineers working on a project in Sri Lanka.

 

7 pm

 

‘Bomber came up to the top of the queue and set off the blast’

The suicide bomber waited patiently in a queue for the Easter Sunday breakfast buffet at Sri Lanka's Cinnamon Grand hotel before setting off explosives strapped to his back.

Carrying a plate, the man, who had registered at the hotel the night before as Mohamed Azzam Mohamed, was just about to be served when he set off his devastating strike in the packed restaurant, a manager at the Sri Lankan hotel said.

“There was utter chaos,” said the manager, who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity as he is not allowed to speak for the company.

The Taprobane restaurant at the hotel was having one of its busiest days of the year for the Easter holiday weekend.

“It was 8:30 am and it was busy. It was families,” the manager told AFP.

“He came up to the top of the queue and set off the blast,” he added.

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6.50 pm

TDP leader, 5 others from Anantapur injured in Sri Lanka blasts

A prominent businessman S.R. Constructions Managing Director Alimineni Surendrababu and five of his friends, who had gone to Sri Lanka on a holiday trip, narrowly escaped from a blast in Shangri-La Hotel, in Colombo on Sunday.

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6:30 pm

Indian woman killed in Shangri-La Hotel blast

Razeena (58), wife of Abdul Khader Kukkady, a native of Mangaluru who works as an executive in a firm in Dubai, has been killed in the multiple bomb blasts in Sri Lanka on Sunday, according to Mr. Kukkady’s family sources.

Sources said that Mr. Kukkady and Ms. Razeena, who hails from Kerala, had been to Sri Lanka a week ago on a vacation to meet her brother and her other relatives who are in Colombo. The couple were staying in the Shangri-La Hotel in Colombo.

They said that Ms. Razeena stayed back in the hotel while Mr. Kukkady left to the airport on Sunday morning to catch a flight to Dubai. He landed in Dubai only to hear the news of the bomb blasts. Immediately he boarded a flight back to Colombo.

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6:15 pm

Seven arrested, say police

Seven people have been arrested and three police officers are killed during a raid on a house in Colombo as the death toll rise past 200, police and local media reports.

Further details of the raid on the house in the Sri Lankan capital were not immediately available.

- Reuters

6:05 pm

Bomber queued at Cinnamon Grand hotel buffet then unleashed devastation

The suicide bomber waited patiently in a queue for breakfast buffet at the Cinnamon Grand hotel before setting off explosives strapped to his back.

Carrying a plate, the man, who had registered at the hotel the night before as Mohamed Azzam Mohamed, was just about to be served when he set off his devastating strike in the packed restaurant, a manager at the Sri Lankan hotel told AFP. “There was utter chaos,” said the manager, who spoke on condition of anonymity as he is not allowed to speak for the company.

The bomber also died. Parts of his body were found intact by police and taken away. Other hotel officials told how the bomber, a Sri Lankan, checked in giving an address that turned out to be false, saying he was in the city for business.

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5.55 pm

At least 207 killed, says police

The toll in a series of eight blasts in Sri Lanka on Sunday has risen to at least 207, with over 450 people injured, police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera has said.

Speaking at a press conference, he said three people had been arrested in connection with the attacks that mostly targeted high-end hotels in the capital and churches where worshippers were attending Easter services. Mr. Gunasekera said the police were investigating whether suicide bombers were involved in all of the blasts.

-AFP

5:30 pm

Indefinite curfew has been imposed

A shoe of a victim is seen in front of the St. Anthony's Shrine, Kochchikade church in Colombo after an explosion.

A shoe of a victim is seen in front of the St. Anthony's Shrine, Kochchikade church in Colombo after an explosion.  

 

Sri Lanka's Minister of Defence and Mass Media, Ruwan Wijewardene, in a press statement has said:

"First of all my deepest sympathy to all. We have taken all the necessary measures to keep the country safe. We have decided to impose an indefinite curfew to ensure things settle down. We shall not allow any extremist group operating in the country to do what they have been doing. Actions will be taken. Investigation is underway and all the culprits responsible for the deaths will be soon under custody." 

5:15 pm

Sri Lanka attackers must be 'punished mercilessly', says cardinal

Sri Lanka's most senior Catholic figure has called on the government to find the attackers behind the deadly blasts and “punish them mercilessly”.

“I would also like to ask the government to hold a very impartial strong inquiry and find out who is responsible behind this act and also to punish them mercilessly, because only animals can behave like that,” Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the archbishop of Colombo, told the reporters.

-AFP

4:00 pm

Police say eighth Sri Lanka blast was suicide bomb

The eighth blast, carried out by a suicide bomber, claims lives of three police officers, a police source said.

The source, speaking on condition of anonymity, has said that the suicide bomber detonated his explosives when police entered a house in a northern suburb of the capital to carry out a search. The upper floor of the house collapsed in the blast, killing the police officers.

- AFP

3:45 pm

Prime Minister Narendra Modi holds telephonic conversation with Sri Lankan President, says sources.

- PTI

3:35 pm

Sri Lanka government shuts down access to major social media sites

Sri Lankan military officials stand guard in front of the St. Anthony's Shrine, Kochchikade church after an explosion in Colombo

Sri Lankan military officials stand guard in front of the St. Anthony's Shrine, Kochchikade church after an explosion in Colombo  

 

The Sri Lankan government has declared a curfew with immediate effect, junior defence minister Ruwan Wijewardene has said, following the eighth explosion.

“A curfew will be imposed until things settle down,” he told the reporters in Colombo.

Government officials also has said major social media networks and messaging apps, including Facebook and WhatsApp, have been blocked inside the country to prevent misinformation and rumours.

- Reuters

3:10 pm

Eighth blast hits Colombo

A new blast is reported to have hit Colombo, police says. This is the eighth explosion in a single day.

According to police the blast hit the suburb of Orugodawatta in the north of the capital, but there are no further details on what was targeted.

- AFP

3:00 pm

From our Colombo Correspondent Meera Srinivisan:

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena declares an island-wide curfew from 6 p.m. Sunday to 6 a.m. Monday, an official at the President's office just confirmed.

2:55 pm

Helpline numbers from Indian Mission in Sri Lanka

A statue of Virgin Mary broken in two parts is seen in front of the St. Anthony's Shrine, Kochchikade church after an explosion in Colombo, Sri Lanka April 21, 2019.

A statue of Virgin Mary broken in two parts is seen in front of the St. Anthony's Shrine, Kochchikade church after an explosion in Colombo, Sri Lanka April 21, 2019.   | Photo Credit: REUTERS

India has said that it was closely monitoring the situation in Sri Lanka.

“Explosions have been reported in Colombo and Batticaloa today. 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 Indian High Commission in Colombo 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,” the High Commission also tweeted.

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2:45 pm

India strongly condemns serial blasts in Sri Lanka: MEA

MEA in an official statement condemned the blasts and has released a statement.

The statement reads: "We strongly condemn the serial blasts on multiple locations in Sri Lanka today morning in which many people have been killed and injured. We extend our deepest condolences to the families of the victims and to the people and Government of Sri Lanka. We wish speedy recovery to those injured in the attacks. India has always opposed and rejected terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, and has urged concerted action by the international community against terrorism, including cross-border terrorism. There can be no justification whatsoever for any act of terror. We call for perpetrators of such ghastly and heinous act and those who provide them support to be brought to justice expeditiously. We stand together with the people and Government of Sri Lanka in this hour of grief."

2:40 pm

Seventh blast reported at a hotel

Police reports seventh explosion, the fourth at a hotel, following six reported at hotels and churches earlier in the day. The latest explosion is said to be at a hotel near the national zoo, which is in an area near the State capital Colombo.

“There was an explosion in a hotel in Dehiwela near the zoo,” a police official told Reuters adding that there were no further details available.

An eyewitness on local TV said he saw some body parts including a severed head lying on the ground near the hotel. Zoo officials declared the zoo closed after the blast.

 

2:30 pm

 

Sri Lankan army soldiers secure the area around St. Anthony's Shrine after a blast in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Sunday, April 21, 2019.

Sri Lankan army soldiers secure the area around St. Anthony's Shrine after a blast in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Sunday, April 21, 2019.   | Photo Credit: AP

 

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. 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.

 

2: 15 pm

Heavy security at Bandaranaike International Airport

Heavy security has been deployed at the Bandaranaike International Airport after the multiple explosions in the country. The riot police and the Special Task Force, extra police security has been deployed around the airport, state-run Daily Times reported.

Leave of all police personnel has been cancelled in the wake of blasts.

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.

2 pm

Scenes of carnage

Minister of Economic Reforms Harsha de Silva, who visited a few of the attack sites, described the carnage.

“Horrible scenes. I saw many body parts strewn all over. Emergency crews are at all locations in full force. (...) We took multiple casualties to hospital. Hopefully saved many lives,” Efe news quoted the Minister as saying.

Images circulated in local media showed the magnitude of the explosion in at least one of the churches, where the ceiling had been partially destroyed, and corpses were strewn around among the rubble, Efe reported.

12: 50 pm

Prime Minister Narendra Modi condemns attack

Prime Minister Narendra Modi condemned the attack in Sri Lanka, tweeting, "There is no place for such barbarism in our region. India stands in solidarity with the people of Sri Lanka. My thoughts are with the bereaved families and prayers with the injured."

 

12: 40 pm

Remain united and strong: Sri Lanka PM

Sri Lanka's Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has condemned the attack. "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 tweeted.

From our Colombo Correspondent Meera Srinivisan:

A high-level meeting convened by Mr. Wickremesinghe has commenced. He is likely to address the media soon after, according to sources at the Prime Minister's Office.

12: 20 pm

Sri Lanka police chief had warned of suicide attack threat

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 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 - AFP

11: 30 am

 

Our Colombo correspondent Meera Srinivasan reports

Following the blasts, the Army has deployed 200 troops in Sri Lanka. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has convened an emergency meeting.

There has been no official comment yet on suspected perpetrators of the blasts. No one has claimed responsibility so far.

Sri Lankan Army soldiers secure the area around St. Anthony's Shrine after a blast in Colombo, Sri Lanka on Sunday.

Sri Lankan Army soldiers secure the area around St. Anthony's Shrine after a blast in Colombo, Sri Lanka on Sunday.  

 

11:15 am

At least 42 reported dead

According to police and local media, at least 42 people have been confirmed dead in the blasts.

At least one of the victims was killed in Colombo's Cinnamon Grand Hotel, near the prime minister's official residence, where the blast ripped through a restaurant, a hotel official told AFP.

11 am

 

Keeping a close watch on the situation: Sushma Swaraj

Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj has tweeted that she is monitoring the situation in Sri Lanka. The details of those injured are yet to be declared.

Meanwhile, the High Commission of India in Colombo has opened up its helpline for those in need of assistance. 

Indian citizens in need of assistance or help and for seeking clarification may call the following numbers : +94777903082 +94112422788 +94112422789

10: 30 am

Blasts hit two churches in Sri Lanka on Sunday, injuring at least 80 people as worshippers attended Easter services, police and health officials said.

“Eighty people have already been admitted, and more are still coming in,” an official at the Colombo National Hospital told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Police said the blasts hit churches in the north of the capital and in the town of Negombo, just outside Colombo.

The nature of the explosions was not immediately clear.

“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 at Katuwapitiya in Negombo.

 

 

This is a developing story. More details are awaited.

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