Death toll in Sri Lankan terror attacks soars to 290
COLOMBO, Kyodo - The death toll in the Easter Sunday attacks on churches and high-end hotels in Colombo and other parts of Sri Lanka has soared to 290, with about 500 others injured, police said Monday, according to local media.
Thirteen people have been arrested in connection with the eight bombings, which President Maithripala Sirisena called terror attacks. At least 35 foreigners including Chinese, American, Dutch, Indian and Japanese nationals were among the dead.
The Japanese Foreign Ministry confirmed one Japanese died. It said four others were injured in the blasts, but the extent of their injuries was unknown.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the worst violence the South Asian island nation has seen since the end of a civil war a decade ago.
Local newspaper The Daily Mirror reported that six blasts in Colombo on Sunday morning were carried out by suicide bombers.
Local media reports suggested Sri Lankan police were informed about a threat to churches from a radical Islamist group and issued a warning.
Buddhism is the dominant religion of Sri Lanka, being practiced by around 70 percent of the population. Less than 10 percent of its people are Christian, around 10 percent Muslim and another 10 percent Hindu.
The Sri Lankan government imposed a nationwide curfew with immediate effect and blocked access to all major social media and messaging services to prevent the spread of false news reports. People at Bandaranaike international airport in Colombo remained stranded after the curfew was imposed.
“I went for a holiday to Singapore and landed just now, it's quite havoc here as I am waiting from around 45 minutes for taxi but there is no progress as there is curfew all around Colombo,” said a 28-year-old arriving passenger who lives in the city.
Among the three luxury hotels in central Colombo targeted in the attacks was the Cinnamon Grand, which is popular among politicians and foreign tourists.
A staff member of the hotel told Kyodo News that a suicide bomber detonated an explosive where a breakfast buffet was being served. “Most of the people sitting inside the restaurant died,” the employee said.
The remaining two luxury hotels attacked in Colombo were the Shangri-La and the Kingsbury, also popular among foreign tourists.
The three churches attacked Sunday morning were St. Sebastian's in Negombo, north of Colombo, St. Anthony's Shrine in Colombo and Zion Church in Batticaloa on the country's east coast. Many worshippers had gathered for Easter Sunday celebrations.
Separately there was a blast at a hotel in the suburbs of Colombo. Three police officers were also killed in a residential area in Colombo when a suspect being questioned by the police detonated a suicide bomb.
The South Asian country had enjoyed a decade of peace since a bloody 26-year-long civil war between the government and militant Sri Lankan Tamil nationalists ended in 2009.
But political instability has rocked the nation recently after Sirisena abruptly sacked Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in October and named former President Mahinda Rajapaksa as his successor, only to see Wickremesinghe return as premier after weeks of chaos. (Kyodo)