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Sri Lanka blasts: What we know so far

  • Published at 01:23 pm April 22nd, 2019
WEB- Sri Lanka
Police officers guard St Anthony's Shrine in Colombo, after bomb blasts ripped through churches and luxury hotels on Easter, in Sri Lanka April 22, 2019 Reuters

Here is what we know so far about one of the worst attacks in the island nation's history

Sri Lanka was in shock Monday as the death toll from a deadly series of bombings on Easter Day rose to nearly 300.

Here is what we know so far about one of the worst attacks in the island nation's history, which targeted churches and high-end hotels:

What happened?

Powerful explosions struck in quick succession at three hotels in the capital Colombo. The Cinnamon Grand was hit at around 0300 GMT Sunday, and the Shangri-La soon after at 0335 GMT. The Kingsbury Hotel was also hit.

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.

All six blasts were suicide bombs.

Hours later, police raided two addresses. There were explosions at both of these addresses, with three police officers killed at one location in a suicide blast.

A home-made bomb was defused at the Colombo airport late Sunday.

Who were the victims?

The Sunday attacks were the worst ever against Sri Lanka's small Christian minority. The blasts hit the three churches when they were full of worshippers gathered for Easter services.

More than five hundred people were injured in the bombings on churches and hotels.

At least 37 foreigners died, according to the government, including three Britons, two Turkish nationals, a Portuguese citizen, and two people holding both British and American passports.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said "several US citizens were among those killed."

Three Danes, a Japanese citizen, two Chinese nationals, and at least five Indians also died in the attacks, their respective governments confirmed.

Stef Blok, the Netherlands' foreign minister, said on Twitter that one Dutch national was among the victims - a 54-year-old woman, according to Dutch newspaper AD.

The Sri Lankan foreign ministry said nine foreign nationals have been reported missing, and there are 25 unidentified bodies believed to be of foreigners.

Who did it?

There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

Police said a total of 24 people have now been detained over the attacks, but have not provided any details about them.

The island nation suffered deadly militant attacks for years, especially by ethnic Tamil militants during a decades-long civil war that ended in 2009 when Sri Lankan forces crushed the insurgency.

In recent years, there have also been clashes between the majority Sinhalese Buddhist community and minority Muslims, and in March last year, the government imposed a 12-day state of emergency to quell anti-Muslim riots.

Christian groups have also complained of increased harassment from hardline Buddhist groups.

According to documents seen by AFP, the country's police chief warned top officers 10 days ago of possible suicide bomb attacks on churches and the Indian high commission by the National Thowheeth Jama'ath (NTJ), a radical Muslim group in Sri Lanka. He cited reports by a "foreign intelligence agency", according to the documents.

Authorities have said they will look into whether the attackers had any "overseas links." There have been no attacks in Sri Lanka linked to foreign Islamist groups, but in January, police seized a haul of explosives and detonators following the arrest of four men from a newly formed radical group.

How did Sri Lanka react?

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe urged people to "hold our unity as Sri Lankans" and pledged to "wipe out this menace once and for all."

The Archbishop of Colombo, Malcolm Ranjith, described the attackers as "animals" and called on authorities to "punish them mercilessly."

Security has been beefed up. An initial nationwide curfew was lifted early Monday, but schools have been ordered shut for two days and the Colombo stock exchange was closed.

Authorities also put in place a "temporary" ban on social media platforms on Sunday "in order to prevent incorrect and wrong information being spread". It was not immediately clear Monday which apps and websites were partially or completely affected by the restrictions.

Security at Colombo's airport was also enhanced, according to SriLankan Airlines, which advised its passengers to arrive four hours before their flights.

Embassies have warned their citizens to stay inside.

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