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Death Toll In Sri Lanka Bombings Rises To Almost 300

Updated

Bloodstains are seen on the wall and on a statue of Jesus Christ at St. Sebastian's Church after an attack in Negombo, north of Colombo, Sri Lanka, on April 21.

Police in Sri Lanka say the death toll in a series of deadly explosions that hit several locations, including hotels and churches in the capital where worshippers attended Easter services, has risen to at least 290, with some 500 others wounded.

Police said on April 22 that 24 arrests have been made so far in connection with the blasts in and around Colombo the previous day. A total of nine explosions tore through churches, luxury hotels and other sites in the capital in the worst violence to hit the island since its devastating civil war ended a decade ago.

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena will ask for foreign assistance to track international links to the attacks, his office said on April 22.

"The intelligence reports [indicate] that foreign terrorist organizations are behind the local terrorists. Therefore, the president is to seek the assistance of the foreign countries," it said in a statement.

The president will also declare a nationwide emergency that will go into effect at midnight on April 22. This measure will grant police and the military extensive powers to detain and interrogate without court orders.

Earlier, government spokesman Rajitha Senaratne said a local Islamist extremist group called the National Thowheeth Jama'ath (NTJ) is believed to be behind the bombings.

He also confirmed that the police had advance information about possible suicide attacks on churches, but they failed to act upon the reports before the multiple attacks.

Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera declined to give a breakdown of those killed and wounded by the explosions, which are being investigated amid talk of intelligence failures by government officials.

A government analyst told reporters three attacks on churches and three others on the hotels in the capital were carried out by suicide bombers.

No one has claimed responsibility for the blasts but Defense Minister Ruwan Wijewardena described the bombings as a terrorist attack by religious extremists. Most of the blasts were believed to have been suicide attacks, he added.

There were no immediate claims of responsibility. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said he would seek support from abroad to find out whether the attackers were linked to international terrorism.

Three churches hit were in the north of the capital, the town of Negombo, just outside Colombo, and another in Batticaloa, 250 kilometers east of the capital.

St. Sebastian's church at Katuwapitiya in Negombo posted pictures of destruction inside the church on its Facebook page, showing blood on pews and the floor, and requested help from the public.

At least 50 people are reported to have died there.

Three other explosions were reported in five-star hotels, according to police.

Police said 35 foreigners were among the dead, including American, British, Chinese, Dutch, and Portuguese citizens. Britain, China, Denmark, India, and United States later confirmed that several of their nationals were among those killed.

Sri Lanka had been at war for decades with Tamil separatists, but extremist violence has waned since the civil war ended 10 years ago.

The South Asian island nation of about 22 million people has minority Christian, Muslim, and Hindu populations of up to percent.

Only 7 percent of the population in Sri Lanka are Christians. Most are Buddhists.

Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera said in a tweet that the attacks appeared to be a "well-coordinated attempt to create murder, mayhem and anarchy" and had killed "many innocent people."

Government minister Harsh de Silva wrote on Twitter that he had seen “horrible scenes” after the explosions and that there were “many casualties including foreigners.”

President Maithripala Sirisena has issued a statement calling for people to remain calm and support the authorities in their investigations.

A curfew imposed following the attacks was lifted on April 22. But major social media networks and messaging apps, including Facebook and WhatsApp, remained blocked by the government to prevent misinformation and rumors.

Security in the capital and the airport has been stepped up following the incidents.

World leaders have condemned the attacks. Pope Francis expressed his sadness and said he stood with the victims of "such cruel violence."

U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted: “The United States offers heartfelt condolences to the great people of Sri Lanka. We stand ready to help!”

The U.S. State Department said in a revised travel advisory issued on April 22 that"terrorist groups" were continuing to plot possible attacks in Sri Lanka.

It said possible targets included tourist locations, transportation hubs, shopping malls, hotels, places of worship, airports, and other public areas.

Based on reporting by AFP, Reuters, dpa, AP, The Washington Post, and Sundaytimes.lk
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