Easter Sunday blasts kill at least 207 in Sri Lanka

Bodies of at least 27 foreigners were recovered

Sri Lankan Army soldiers secure the area around St. Anthony’s Shrine after a blast in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Sunday, April 21, 2019. Witnesses are reporting two explosions have hit two churches in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, causing casualties among worshippers. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

Sri Lankan Army soldiers secure the area around St. Anthony’s Shrine after a blast in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Sunday, April 21, 2019. Witnesses are reporting two explosions have hit two churches in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, causing casualties among worshippers. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

At least 207 people were killed and hundreds more wounded in eight bomb blasts that rocked churches and luxury hotels in or near Sri Lanka’s capital on Easter Sunday — the deadliest violence the South Asian island country has seen since a bloody civil war ended a decade ago.

Defence Minister Ruwan Wijewardena described the bombings as a terrorist attack by religious extremists and said seven suspects had been arrested, though there was no immediate claim of responsibility. Wijewardena said most of the blasts were believed to have been suicide attacks.

The explosions collapsed ceilings and blew out windows, and the dead included worshippers and hotel guests. People were seen carrying the wounded out of blood-spattered pews.

The three bombed hotels and one of the churches, St. Anthony’s Shrine, are frequented by foreign tourists, and Sri Lanka’s foreign secretary said the bodies of at least 27 foreigners were recovered. Sri Lankan TV said the dead included people from Belgium, China, Britain and the U.S.

READ MORE: Northern Ireland journalist is killed; police hunt suspects

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said he feared the violence could trigger instability in Sri Lanka, a country of about 21 million people, and he vowed the government will “vest all necessary powers with the defence forces” to take action against those responsible for the massacre, “regardless of their stature.” The government imposed a nationwide curfew from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.

The scale of the bloodshed recalled the worst days of the nation’s 26-year civil war, in which the Tamil Tigers, a rebel group from the ethnic Tamil minority, sought independence from Sri Lanka, a Buddhist-majority country. During the war, the Tigers and other rebels carried out a multitude of bombings.

The Archbishop of Colombo, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, called on Sri Lanka’s government to “mercilessly” punish those responsible “because only animals can behave like that.”

Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara said 207 people were killed and 450 wounded.

The first six blasts Sunday morning took place nearly simultaneously at St. Anthony’s Shrine, a Catholic church in Colombo, and three hotels in the city. The two other explosions occurred after a lull of a few hours at St. Sebastian Catholic church in Negombo, a majority Catholic town north of Colombo, and at the Protestant Zion church in the eastern town of Batticaloa.

Three police officers were killed while conducting a search at a suspected safe house in Dematagoda, on the outskirts of Colombo. The occupants of the safe house apparently detonated explosives to prevent arrest, Wijewardena said.

Countries around the world condemned the attacks, and Pope Francis expressed condolences at the end of his traditional Easter Sunday blessing in Rome.

“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,” Francis said.

Sri Lanka, a small island nation at the southern tip of India, has a long history with Christianity. Christian tradition holds that St. Thomas the Apostle visited Sri Lanka and southern India in the decades after the death of Christ. The majority of the island’s Christians are Roman Catholic.

Local TV showed damage at the Cinnamon Grand, Shangri-La and Kingsbury hotels. The Shangri-La’s second-floor restaurant was gutted, with the ceiling and windows blown out. Loose wires hung and tables were overturned in the blackened space. From outside the police cordon, three bodies could be seen covered in white sheets.

Foreign tourists hurriedly took to their cellphones to text family and loved ones around the world that they were OK.

One group was on a 15-day tour of the tropical island nation, seeing such sites as huge Buddhist monuments, tea plantations, jungle eco-lodges and sandy beaches. The tour was supposed to end in Colombo, but tour operators said the group may skip the capital in light of the attacks. The tour started last week in Negombo, where one of the blasts struck.

“Having experienced the open and welcoming Sri Lanka during my last week travelling through the country, I had a sense that the country was turning the corner, and in particular those in the tourism industry were hopeful for the future,” said Peter Kelson, a technology manager from Sydney.

“Apart from the tragedy of the immediate victims of the bombings, I worry that these terrible events will set the country back significantly.”

Sri Lankan security forces defeated the Tamil Tiger rebels in 2009. The United Nations initially estimated the death toll from the civil war at 100,000, but a U.N. expert panel later said some 45,000 ethnic Tamils may have been killed in the last months of the fighting alone. Both sides were accused of grave human rights violations.

___

Associated Press writers Sheila Norman-Culp and Gregory Katz in London; Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow; Nicole Winfield at the Vatican; Adam Schreck in Bangkok; and Emily Schmall in New Delhi contributed to this report.

Bharatha Mallawarachi And Krishan Francis, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

This image made from video provided by Hiru TV shows damage inside a church after a blast in Colombo, Sunday, April 21, 2019. Near simultaneous blasts rocked three churches and three hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday.(Hiru TV via AP)

This image made from video provided by Hiru TV shows damage inside a church after a blast in Colombo, Sunday, April 21, 2019. Near simultaneous blasts rocked three churches and three hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday.(Hiru TV via AP)

Just Posted

Langley native Tamara Lovelace has been named to the Team USA medical team for the Beijing Winter Olympics in 2022 (Special to Langley Advance Times)
How a ‘very focused’ Brookswood Secondary grad ended up a Team USA doctor

Langley’s Tamara Lovelace was going to be a ballerina

SkyTrain running through Whalley. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
Mayors’ Council wants feds to fund Surrey-Langley SkyTrain in upcoming budget

Mayors’ Council on regional transportation sent letter to federal government Monday

Bree Jordan, seen here with her husband Steve and son Levi, is hoping to have cancer treatments in the U.S. The Range in Langley has joined the campaign and will donate all drop-in fees on March 18th. (GoFundMe)
Langley gun range holds fundraiser to help mom battling cancer

Word has gone out to law enforcement agencies in the Lower Mainland

Three metal plaques have been pried off the monument, seen here on Saturday, March 6 in the Neil McLeod Memorial Park on 216th Street (Dan Ferguson/Langley Advance Times)
Theft of plaques from Langley’s McLeod Memorial Park called ‘disgusting’

Former mayor Kurt Alberts says McLeod family members would be ‘broken-hearted’

(The Canadian Press)
‘Worse than Sept. 11, SARS and financial crisis combined’: Tourism industry in crisis

Travel services saw the biggest drop in active businesses with 31 per cent fewer firms operating

Rising accident rates and payout costs have contributed to billion-dollar deficits at ICBC. (Comox Valley Record)
B.C. appealing decision keeping ICBC injury cases in court

David Eby vows to ‘clip wings’ of personal injury lawyers

(Black Press Media files)
Hosts charged, attendees facing COVID fines after Vancouver police bust party at condo

Police had previously received 10 complains about that condo

Minister of Families, Children and Social Development Ahmed Hussen takes part in an update on the COVID pandemic during a press conference in Ottawa on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. A joint federal and B.C. government housing program announced today aims to help people living in up to 25,000 vulnerable households pay their rent. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Federal, B.C. governments announce $517-million rent aid program to help vulnerable

Benefits for those not eligible for B.C.’s Rental Assistance Program or Shelter Aid for Elderly Renters

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

(BC SPCA)
Is it safe to give your dog some peanut butter? Not always, BC SPCA warns

Some commercial peanut butter ingredients can be harmful to dogs

Health Minister Adrian Dix, front, B.C. Premier John Horgan and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry arrive for a news conference about the provincial response to the coronavirus, in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, March 6, 2020. Pandemic emergency measures have been in place for almost a year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. officials plead for patience as 1.7 million COVID-19 calls flood in

Vaccine registration for 90-plus seniors opened Monday

A West Kootenay man died in an avalanche on March 4 while snowmobiling near Mount Payne, which is indicted by the red flag. Illustration: Google Maps
B.C. father of 3 dead after avalanche in West Kootenay

The man was snowmobiling with a group when incident occurred March 4

Most Read