At least 207 people were killed and hundreds more wounded in a series of bomb blasts that hit luxury hotels and churches across Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, leaving the entire country in a state of lock-down. The first wave of attacks struck at the heart of the country’s minority Christian community during busy Easter services at churches in the cities of Colombo, Negombo and Batticaloa on Sunday morning.
Additional blasts ripped through three high-end hotels, the Shangri La, Cinnamon Grand and Kingsbury, all in the capital city Colombo. In a statement, the Shangri-La hotel in Colombo said that the hotel’s Table One cafe was hit just after 9am local time. The hotel is popular with foreign tourists and the country’s business community.
A seventh and eighth blast, at a hotel in front of the Dehiwala Zoo in Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia and at a private house in Mahawila Gardens, in Dematagoda, occurred Sunday afternoon. Here’s the full list of blast sites reported so far:
1. St Anthony’s Shrine, Kochchikade
2. St Sebastian’s Church, Negombo
3. Zion Church, Batticaloa
4. Cinnamon Grand, Colombo
5. Shangri-La Hotel, Colombo
6. The Kingsbury Hotel, Colombo
7. Near Dehiwala Zoo in Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia
8. A house in Mahawila Gardens, Dematagoda
Sri Lanka’s Minister of Economic Reforms and Public Distribution Harsha de Silva said on Twitter that “close to 30 foreigners” were killed on Sunday. In the capital, Colombo, at least 20 foreigners are among the dead, according to hospital Director General Anil Jasinghe. Hospitals have opened their doors to scores of victims Seven people are under arrest following the attacks, De Silva wrote after an emergency meeting with defence officials.
There was however no immediate claim of responsibility. Sri Lankan security officials said police and security services immediately rushed to all affected areas and sealed off the churches and hotels. The violence ends a decade of relative peace in Sri Lanka following the end of its civil war in 2009. Terrorist bombings were common during the brutal 25-year struggle.
Father Edmond Tillekeratne, social communications director for the Archdiocese of Colombo, spoke to CNN from St. Sebastian’s Church, one of the locations targeted. He said that the blast took place after Easter Mass, and there were about 30 bodies lying in the area of the church.
Tillekeratne said three priests had been celebrating the mass at the time of the blast. Two of them were badly injured by flying glass and debris, and one was only lightly injured because he was behind the altar.
He estimated that more than a thousand people had come to the church for Easter Sunday “because it is a special day.” Many came from villages, he added. He described the ground as covered in rubble and shattered glass. “You can see pieces of flesh thrown all over the walls and on the sanctuary and even outside of the church,” he added.
Police in Sri Lanka imposed an island-wide curfew starting Sunday at 6pm local (8:30am ET Sunday) until the morning. The country’s authorities convened an emergency meeting involving the heads of the army, air force and navy, according to Sri Lanka’s economic reforms minister, Harsha de Silva. He said on Twitter that all emergency steps had been taken and that the group would issue a statement on the blasts.
Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe condemned the blasts on Twitter, calling on Sri Lankans to “remain united and strong.” President Maithripala Sirisena also spoke out following the attacks. “I have given instructions to take very stern action against the persons who are responsible for this conspiracy,” he said. Leave has been cancelled for all police in Sri Lanka.
“Horrible scenes, I saw many body parts strewn all over,” de Silva said after visiting the Kochchikade church and Shangri-La Hotel in Colombo. “We took multiple casualties to hospital. Hopefully saved many lives.” De Silva confirmed that foreigners were among the casualties and said rescue operations were underway, adding that emergency crews were operating in “full force.”
Christianity is a minority religion in Sri Lanka, accounting for less than 10 percent of the total population of 21.4 million. According to census data, 70.2 percent of Sri Lankans identify as Buddhist, 12 percent Hindu, 9.7 percent Muslim, and 7.4 percent Christian. It is estimated that 82 percent of Sri Lankan Christians are Roman Catholic.