Sri Lanka bombings: Death toll rises to 359 in hotel and church blasts, ISIS claims responsibility for attacks

Blasts rocked three churches and three hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, with two of the explosions suspected to have been carried out by suicide bombers


                            Sri Lanka bombings: Death toll rises to 359 in hotel and church blasts, ISIS claims responsibility for attacks

Update: The death toll from the Easter Sunday suicide bombing attacks has risen to 359. At least 45 children and 39 foreign nationals were among the dead.

Update 6:15 am ET: Sri Lanka Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne named National Thowfeek Jama'ath as the group behind the attacks. He said while the group is domestic, foreign links are suspected. There are currently 24 suspects in custody. All of the attackers were Sri Lankan, he said. 

Meanwhile, President Maithripala Sirisena has declared a nationwide emergency from midnight on Monday.
Sri Lankan police have found 87 bomb detonators at the main bus station in the capital, Colombo.

Update 3:35 am ET: Compensation announced

The Sri Lankan cabinet spokesperson Senaratne announced that the victims’ families and the injured will receive government compensation. Rs 100,000 ($573) for the funeral expenses. The injured will also receive payments, and the bombed churches will be repaired with government funds. “This will start very soon,” he said. “We are responsible, we are very sorry and we are doing our best to apologize to everybody.”

Update 3:20 am ET: Warning received 14 days ago

Sri Lankan cabinet spokesman, Rajitha Senaratne, addressed the media in Columbo and said "On the 4th of April, 14 days before these incidents occurred we had been informed about these incidents." 

“On the 9th of April, the chief of national intelligence wrote a letter and in this letter many of the names of the members of the terrorist organization were written down,” Senaratne said. “The prime minister was not informed by these letters and revelations”.

Earlier, prime minister Wickremesinghe had said police had been warned at least ten days ago. Senaratne also added: “This is the only country where when the prime minister summons the security council they don’t assemble. Despite these revelations about security, we couldn’t avert these attacks.”

“We are not trying to evade responsibility but these are the facts. We were surprised to see these reports.”

“We do not believe these attacks were carried out by a group of people who were confined to this country. There was an international network without which these attacks could not have succeeded.”

Update 2:58 am ET:  Australian prime minister Scott Morrison confirms death of two Australians 



 

 

Update 2:32 am ET: Sri Lanka’s foreign ministry has confirmed at least 37 foreign citizens are among the dead.  AFP has reported that three Indian citizens, three British and two Turkish citizens' deaths were confirmed by the department,  There are also 25 unidentified bodies “believed to be of foreigners,” the ministry said.

Update 1:34 am ET: The UN expresses its solidarity with Sri Lanka

 



 

 

Update 12:10 am ET: Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera has confirmed a rise in the death toll with 290 people confirmed dead.  500 people were also wounded, according to the figures provided to both Reuters and AFP. The previously reported death toll had been at 200.

According to the AFP, Gunasekara also said that 24 people had now been arrested in connection with the attacks.

Update 12:15 pm: Sri Lanka Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe while briefing reporters said eight people have been arrested in connection with the Sri Lanka blasts. He also mentioned alleged existence of prior information of an attack, but said it was not shared with him.

He also urged Sri Lankans to maintain calm.

"Any disturbance will divert attention of the security forces and police from this very important investigation into the attacks today," he reportedly said.

According to the US state department, "several" American citizens had been killed in the attacks.

Update 10:15 am ET: Former US President Barack Obama termed the bombings as an "attack on humanity."



 

 

Update 8:10 am ET:  A police spokesman has said 207 people have died and 450 others were injured, according to the latest report from Reuters.

Update 7:40 am ET: The Sri Lankan prime minister’s office has said the number of people killed in the bombing attacks has risen to 160, including close to 30 foreigners. Defense minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, in an official statement, said that at least seven people have been arrested in connection with the attacks. The government has confirmed that most blasts carried out on Sunday were suicide bomb attacks, which was most probably carried out by one group.

Sri Lankan government’s official news portal states that schools will remain closed until Wednesday and all police leave has been canceled until further notice. Universities have reportedly been closed and exams have been postponed.

 



 

 

Update 7:25 am ET: Reports of the first arrests being made in connection with the bombings. A BBC reporter tweeted that two suspects were detained following the explosion at the housing complex in Dematagoda, a northern suburb of capital Colombo.



 

 

Update 7:15 am ET: The eighth blast, in a house in a northern suburb of the capital Colombo, was caused by a suicide bomber who detonated his explosives when police entered the residence to search it, a police source told AFP. The explosion brought down the upper level of the house and killed three police officers, the source said.

US President Donald Trump has offered his condolences to the victims.



 

 

Update 6:22 am ET: Dashcam footage shows moments before the explosion outside St. Anthony's church in Colombo, the first target of the series of explosions in the country.

World leaders including Narendra Modi, Imran Khan, Theresa May, Donald Tusk, Jean-Claude Juncker and Vladimir Putin condemned the attacks in Sri Lanka, calling the bombings "appalling." Pope Francis has offered his prayers for the victims of the atrocities in Sri Lanka at the conclusion of his Easter speech, according to BBC.

Speaking from the loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica, Pope Francis said: “I want to express my loving closeness to the Christian community, targeted while they were gathered in prayer, and all the victims of such cruel violence.”

“I entrust to the Lord all those who were tragically killed and pray for the injured and all those who are suffering as a result of this dramatic event," he added.

Update 6:00 am ET: Curfew has been imposed in the whole country with immediate effect, Sri Lanka Defense Minister Ruwan Wijewardene announced at a press conference. Earlier it was announced that it would begin at 6 pm. Wijewardene also said that immediate actions are being taken to stop the activity of all extremist groups in the country. Social media in the country has been banned temporarily.

Wijewardene said that the investigators have identified the culprits, suggesting that the “terrorist attacks” were the work of religious extremists.

"We have taken all the necessary precautions to keep this country safe and the people safe. We believe that all the culprits who have been involved in this unfortunate terrorist incident will be taken into custody as soon as possible. They have been identified, and they will be taken into custody as soon as possible."

 



 

 

Update 5:32 am ET: Sri Lanka government has imposed a curfew in the country as attacks continue. The curfew will reportedly begin at 6 pm and end at 6 am tomorrow morning. The eighth blast is reported to have taken place at Mahawila Udayana Road Housing Scheme in Dematagoda. Two of the blasts were suspected to have been carried out by suicide bombers, according to reports.

Update 5:20 am ET: An eighth blast is being reported, as some reports peg the death toll as high as 185.

Update 5:05 am ET:  A seventh blast is being reported from Sri Lanka, with at least 158 people, including 35 foreigners, being killed and 400 injured after simultaneous blasts rocked Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday.

A police spokesman said that two people have been confirmed dead in the fresh blast.



 

 

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has reportedly called for a national security council meeting at his home later on Sunday.

“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,” he said in a tweet. "Please avoid propagating unverified reports and speculation. The government is taking immediate steps to contain this situation.”

Original Story

At least 138 people were killed and nearly 300 wounded in near-simultaneous blasts that rocked three churches and three hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, according to several media reports.

Three churches in Kochchikade, Negombo and Batticaloa were targeted during Easter services. The Shangri La, Cinnamon Grand and Kingsbury hotels, all in Colombo, were also hit, according to BBC. The blasts caused fatalities among worshippers and hotel guests, a security official told AP.

The first explosion was reported in a church located in the capital. The other blasts followed within half an hour, an Al Jazeera report said. There were no immediate claims of responsibility.

The blasts caused fatalities among worshippers and hotel guests, (AP)

St. Anthony's Shrine and the three hotels where the blasts took place are in Colombo, and are frequented by foreign tourists.

National Hospital spokesman Dr. Samindi Samarakoon told AP that the wounded were being treated in the capital Colombo's main hospital.

Alex Agieleson, who was near the shrine, said buildings shook with the blast, and that a number of injured people were carried away in ambulances.

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

Local TV showed damage at the Cinnamon Grand, Shangri-La and Kingsbury hotels.

Other blasts were reported at St. Sebastian's Church in Negombo, a majority Catholic town north of Colombo, and at Zion Church in the eastern town of Batticaloa. St. Sebastian's appealed for help on its Facebook page.

The explosion ripped off the roof and knocked out doors and windows at St. Sebastian's, where people carried the wounded away from blood-stained pews, local TV footage showed.

Sri Lankan security officials said they were investigating. Police immediately sealed off the areas.

With AP inputs