Several explosions have hit three churches and three hotels in Sri Lanka, reportedly leaving at least 156 people dead and over 400 others wounded, police say.
The explosions hit St. Anthony’s Church in Colombo and St. Sebastian’s Church in the nearby city of Negombo as well as Zion Church in the eastern city of Batticaloa on Sunday, as worshipers were attending Easter services.
The Shangri-La, Cinnamon Grand, and Kingsbury hotels, which are situated in Colombo, were also targeted.
Cinnamon Grand is located near the Sri Lankan prime minister’s official residence.
Police officials confirmed the casualty tolls to AFP, adding that 35 foreigners were also among the dead. The news agency also cited hospital sources as saying that American, British, and Dutch citizens were among the foreign nationals killed in the blasts.
A post on the Facebook page of St. Sebastian’s Church said a “bomb attack” had targeted the premises.
‘Body parts strewn all over’
Sri Lankan MP Harsha de Silva tweeted that there had been “foreigners” among the casualties. He said he had been to one of the churches and one of the hotels and seen “horrible scenes,” adding, “I saw many body parts strewn all over. Emergency crews are at all locations in full force.”
Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena said he was shocked by the incidents and appealed for calm.
Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera tweeted that the attacks appeared to be a “well-coordinated attempt to create murder, mayhem & anarchy.”
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe condemned the “cowardly attacks” and urged Sri Lankans to remain “united and strong.”
Ranil also called for a national security council meeting at his residence later in the day.
Seventh, eighth explosions reported hours later
Several hours after the initial explosions, a seventh blast rocked Dehiwala, the largest suburb of Colombo, to the south, and an eighth hit the suburb of Orugodawatta, north of the capital, according to police.
Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera said at least two people were killed in the Dehiwala explosion, which happened at a hotel.
Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan government has imposed a curfew with immediate effect.
Education Minister Akila Viraj Kariyawasam announced that all schools would be closed on Monday and Tuesday.
The government has also blocked access to major social media platforms and messaging services.
State Minister of Defense Ruwan Wijewardene said that investigators had identified the perpetrators of the Sunday attacks.
“We believe that all the culprits who have been involved in this unfortunate terrorist incident will be taken into custody as soon as possible,” he said.
He did not name them.
Muslim Council denounces attacks
The Muslim Council of Sri Lanka (MCSL) issued a statement later in the day mourning “the loss of innocent lives due to extremist and violent elements who wish to create divides between religious and ethnic groups.”
Iran condemns attacks
Also on Sunday, Iran strongly condemned the deadly attacks and expressed sympathy with the Sri Lankan government and nation.
“The crime today [in Sri Lanka] once again showed that the despicable phenomenon of terrorism has become a global problem that knows no border, ethnicity, nationality, or religion,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Moussavi said.
The Sri Lankan civil war
Sri Lanka is still rehabilitating from a 26-year civil war that ended in 2009 with an estimated 100,000 deaths. The strife was mainly between the so-called Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan government, and ended when government forces defeated the rebels.
While there had been sporadic violence since 2009, an outbreak of violence against Muslim communities prompted the government to declare a state of emergency in March 2018.
Countries in Southeast Asia, such as Indonesia and the Philippines, have in the past witnessed similar attacks targeting their churches.