Sri Lanka Blasts: Death Toll Hits 290, Hundreds Injured

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A relative of a victim of the explosion at St. Anthony’s Shrine, Kochchikade church, reacts at the police mortuary in Colombo, Sri Lanka April 21, 2019. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte

COLOMBO: At least 290 people are now known to have died in a series of bomb blasts on Sunday (Apr 21) that tore through churches and luxury hotels in Sri Lanka, in the worst violence to hit the island since its devastating civil war ended a decade ago.

The Sri Lankan government imposed a nationwide curfew after the blasts that also left 500 wounded. The curfew was lifted on Monday.

Soldiers armed with automatic weapons stood guard outside major hotels and the World Trade Center in the business district.

The news came hours after it was revealed that an improvised bomb discovered at the main airport in Colombo had been defused.

Sri Lankans accounted for the bulk of those killed or injured, although government officials said 32 foreigners were also killed. These included British, US, Turkish, Indian, Chinese, Danish, Dutch, Portuguese and Japanese nations.

Map of attacks on hotels in Sri Lanka. (Graphic: AFP/Laurence Saubadu, Vincent Lefai)

“Additionally, while nine foreign nationals are reported missing, there are 25 unidentified bodies believed to be of foreigners,” the Sri Lankan foreign ministry said.

The attacks were mostly targeted at high-end hotels in the capital and churches where worshippers were attending Easter services.

Social media access, including Facebook and WhatsApp, has also been curbed to restrict “wrong information” spreading in the country.

Sri Lanka’s small Christian minority – just 6 per cent of the 21 million-strong population – has been targeted by violence in the past, but never to such brutal effect.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility but the police on Monday said 24 people have been arrested.

A relative of a victim of the explosion at St. Anthony’s Shrine, Kochchikade church, reacts at the police mortuary in Colombo, Sri Lanka April 21, 2019. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte

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”.

Police spokesperson Ruwan Gunasekera said the police were investigating whether suicide bombers were involved in all of the blasts.

In a video on his Twitter account, Sri Lanka’s State Minister for Defence Ruwan Wijewardene said the country’s Criminal Investigations Department is working with the police and the military to investigate the attacks.

“We believe that all the culprits who have been involved in this unfortunate terrorist incident will be taken into custody as soon as possible,” he said, adding that suspects have been identified.