More than 290 dead as blasts hit Sri Lanka churches, hotels
COLOMBO – Agence France-Presse
The toll in a series of eight blasts in Sri Lanka has risen to at least 290, with over 450 people wounded, police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera 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.
Gunasekera said the police were investigating whether suicide bombers were involved in all of the blasts.
An official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said at least 45 people had been killed in Colombo, where three hotels and a church were hit.
Another 67 were killed in an attack on a church in Negombo north of the capital, with another 25 dead at a church in the town of Batticaloa, in the east of the country.
The nature of the blasts was not immediately clear and there were no immediate claims of responsibility.
President Maithripala Sirisena in an address said he was shocked by the explosions and appealed for calm.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe wrote on Twitter: "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 first explosions were reported at St Anthony's Shrine - a church in Colombo - and St Sebastian's Church in the town of Negombo just outside the capital.
Dozens of people injured in the St Anthony's blast flooded into the Colombo National Hospital by mid-morning, an official told AFP.
"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.
Shortly after those blasts were reported, police confirmed three hotels in the capital had also been hit, along with a church in Batticaloa.
An official at one of the hotels, the Cinnamon Grand Hotel near the prime minister's official residence in Colombo, told AFP that the blast had ripped through the hotel restaurant.
He said at least one person had been killed in the blast.
An official at the Batticaloa hospital told AFP more than 300 people had been admitted with injuries following the blast there.
"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.
Photos circulating on social media showed the roof of one church had been almost blown 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, with some trying to help those with more serious injuries.
The images could not immediately be verified.
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.