Death toll rises to 290 in Sri Lanka’s Easter Sunday attacks

Sri Lankan soldiers look on inside St. Sebastian's Church at Negombo following a bomb blast during the Easter service that killed worshippers. Photo by Perera Sameera/UPI

April 22 (UPI) — The death toll in the Easter Sunday attacks on churches and high-end hotels throughout Sri Lanka rose to 290 on Monday, police said.

Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara said that the number of injured also increased to 500 while the Criminal Investigation Department had arrested 24 people in connection with the blasts, Sri Lanka’s Daily Mirror reported.

On Sunday night, Gunasekara had reported a death toll of 207 with 450 people reported injured, with foreign nationals from Poland, Denmark, China, Japan, Pakistan, the United States, India, Morocco and Bangladesh among the dead.

At least 35 of the dead were foreign nationals, the New York Times reported.

Air force officials also discovered an undetonated improvised explosive device near the Bandaranaike International Airport while on mobile patrol and it was disposed of by the air force’s Explosives Ordinance Disposal Unit, Times Online reported.

“A PVC pipe, which was six feet in length containing explosives in it, was discovered,” Air Force spokesman Gihan Seneviratne said.

Meanwhile, Shiral Lakthilaka, adviser and coordinating secretary at the presidential secretariat, told The Indian Express that Sri Lanka believes “international elements” were behind the attack while “investigators suspect that two or three more bombs remain at large.”

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack but Ruwan Wijewardan, Sri Lanka’s state minister for defense, said the unnamed suicide bombers were believed to be part of a single group.

Some 152 rounds of T-52 ammunition and eight ammo cases for 9mm pistols in the Kahagolla area also were found.

The attacks began at about 8:45 a.m. Sunday, when coordinated blasts struck three churches and three five-star hotels favored by foreigners while there were more bombings in the capital of Colombo hours later.

There were at least eight bomb blasts in total during the highly coordinated attack.

The Cinnamon Grand, the Shangri-La Hotel and the Kingsbury Hotel, all in Colombo, were attacked while St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo, St. Anthony’s Shrine in Kochchikade and Zion Church in Batticaloa were the religious institutions targeted.

There were also attacks reported near the Dehiwala Zoo in Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia and a house in Mahawila Gardens, Dematagoda.

Gunasekara could not say Monday exactly where each of the fatalities occurred.

Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe condemned the attacks as “cowardly.’

“I call upon all Sri Lankans during this tragic time to remain united and strong,” he said in a statement Sunday on Twitter. “Please avoid propagating unverified reports and speculation. The government is taking immediate steps to contain this situation.”

On Sunday, Wickremensinghe told reporters that government officials had intelligence about the attacks prior to them occurring, the Washington Post reported.

“Information was there,” he said. “This is a matter we need to look into.”

The comment may have been in reference to an April 11 memo circulating on social networks that warned of possible attacks.

“Serious action needs to be taken as to why this warning was ignored,” Sri Lanka’s Telecommunications Minister Harin Fernado tweeted Sunday with copies of the memo.

Meanwhile, the New York Police Department increased its presence around places of worship following the attack, NYPD Chief Terence Monahan said.

“Houses of worship are sanctuaries for congregants to gather — without fear,” he said on Twitter. “Although there is no known nexus to NYC, NYPD officers will be seen at temples and churches as we remain steadfast in our mission to keep every New Yorker safe.”

The United States also issued a travel advisory for Sri Lanka in the wake of the attacks, citing more could take place.

“Terrorist groups continue plotting possible attacks in Sri Lanka,” the U.S. Embassy in Sri Lanka said on its website. “Terrorists may attack with little or no warning, targeting tourist locations” as well as other government facilities, airports and places of worship, among other public locations.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was “outraged by the terror attacks” and called for the perpetrators to be “swiftly brought to justice.”

“The Secretary-General reiterates the support and solidarity of the United Nations with the people and the Government of Sri Lanka in this difficult moment for the nation,” his office said in a statement.

According to 2011 census data, 7.4 percent of Sri Lanka’s 21.4 million population is Christian while 70.2 percent identifies as Buddhist, 12 percent as Hindu and 9.7 percent as Muslim.

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. In the conflict, more than 100,000 civilians and 50,000 fighters died.


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