SRI LANKA, April 21, 2019 (Gephardt Daily/UPI) — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has issued a statement after eight bomb blasts across Sri Lanka killed at least 207 people and injured 450 others Sunday morning. The attacks were aimed at churches and high-end hotels where throngs of Christians were attending Easter services.
The Asia Area Presidency of the Church released the following statement Sunday following the bombings: “We are deeply saddened on this Easter Sunday by the bomb blasts in Sri Lanka. We offer our heartfelt condolences and sincere prayers to all of those affected by these tragic events. We mourn with those who lost loved ones and pray for those who are seeking to heal from the physical and emotional wounds they are now suffering. May the Lord bless them with peace and comfort in these trying moments.”
No one so far has claimed responsibility for the suspected terrorist attacks, but seven people have been detained in connection with the attacks, according to Ruwan Wijewardan, Sri Lanka’s state minister for defense. He said the unnamed suicide bombers were believed to be part of a single group.
The carnage began about 8:45 a.m. local time, with blasts reported at three churches and three five-star hotels favored by foreigners.
In the afternoon there were two more bombings, both in Colombo.
The earlier blasts occurred in Kochchikade, Negombo, Batticaloa, Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia and Dematagoda in the south Asian island country in the Indian Ocean.
It’s not clear at this time how many Americans are among the dead.
“I have given instructions to take very stern action against the persons who are responsible for this conspiracy,” President Maithripala Sirisena said.
Pope Francis said during an Easter address to those gathered in St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican: “I learned with great sadness the news of the serious attacks that, today, on Easter they brought mourning and pain to some churches and other Sri Lankan hangouts. I wish to show my affectionate closeness to the Christian community, hit while gathered in prayer, and to all the victims of such cruel violence. I entrust to the Lord those who have tragically been lost and I pray for the wounded and all those who suffer because of this dramatic event.”
Police in Sri Lanka imposed an island-wide 12-hour curfew starting at 6 p.m. local time Sunday. And an emergency meeting involving the heads of the army, air force and navy was convened, according to Sri Lanka’s economic reforms minister, Harsha de Silva.
All schools in Sri Lanka will be closed until Wednesday, according to official government news portal News.LK.
In an attempt to curb misinformation, Sri Lanka also blocked major social media and messaging services, including Facebook and WhatsApp, according to the president’s secretary, Udaya Seneviratne.
“You can see pieces of flesh thrown all over the walls and on the sanctuary and even outside of the church,” Father Edmond Tillekeratne, social communications director for the Archdiocese of Colombo, said according to CNN from St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo, one of the locations targeted.
He said that the blast took place after Easter Mass, where he estimated more than 1,000 people had come “because it is a special day.”
Tillekeratne said the ground was covered in rubble and shattered glass with about 30 bodies lying in the church area.
Other churches attacked were St. Anthony’s Shrine in Kochchikade and Zion Church in Batticaloa.
“It was a river of blood,” N. A. Sumanapala, a shopkeeper near St. Anthony’s Shrine where he had run inside to help, told The New York Times. “The priest came out and he was covered in blood.”
Hotels affected were the Cinnamon Grand and Shangri-La Hotel as well as the Kingsbury Hotel, all in Colombo. Also, an area near Dehiwala Zoo in Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia and a house in Mahawila Gardens, Dematagoda, were attacked.
“Horrible scenes, I saw many body parts strewn all over,” de Silva told CNN after visiting the Kochchikade church and Shangri-La Hotel in Colombo. “We took multiple casualties to hospital. Hopefully saved many lives.”
In Sri Lanka, less than 10 percent of the 21.4 total population are Christians, according to census data. Of those, about 82 percent are Roman Catholics.
In Paris, where the iconic Notre-Dame Cathedral was the site of a devastating fire last week, the Archbishop of Paris, Michel Aupetit, began Easter Mass in Saint Eustache church, saying “we’re thinking of our brothers in Sri Lanka, who were slaughtered this morning.”
Donald Trump, from his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla., posted on Twitter before attending church services: “The United States offers heartfelt condolences to the great people of Sri Lanka. We stand ready to help!”
Sri Lanka has had a decade of minimal violence after the end of its 25-year civil war in May 2009 when terrorist bombings were common.