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World Easter Sunday blasts at churches, hotels kill more than 200 in Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan security personnel keep watch outside the church premises following a blast at the St. Anthony's Shrine in Kochchikade in Colombo on April 21.

ISHARA S. KODIKARA/AFP/Getty Images

  • At least 207 killed, hundreds injured
  • Thirteen suspects have been arrested, officials say
  • At least 27 foreigners are among the dead, including Chinese, Portuguese, British, U.S. and Dutch citizens
  • A statement from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says there were no reports of any Canadians hurt in the attack
  • The attacks are described as a terrorist attack by religious extremists
  • No one has yet claimed responsibility

Nine bombings of churches, luxury hotels and other sites on Easter Sunday killed more than 200 people and wounded hundreds more in Sri Lanka’s deadliest violence since a devastating civil war in the South Asian island nation ended a decade ago.

Defence Minister Ruwan Wijewardena described the blasts as a terrorist attack by religious extremists, and police said 13 suspects were arrested, though there was no immediate claim of responsibility. Wijewardena said most of the bombings were believed to have been suicide attacks.

The explosions – mostly in or around Colombo, the capital – collapsed ceilings and blew out windows, killing worshippers and hotel guests in one scene after another of smoke, soot, blood, broken glass, screams and wailing alarms. Victims were carried out of blood-spattered pews.

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Multiple explosions across Sri Lanka

Sunday morning

INDIA

Batticaloa

at the Zion Church

At least 27 dead

Negombo

at St. Sebastian’s

Church

At least 62 dead

SRI LANKA

Arabian

Sea

Colombo

at St. Anthony’s Shrine

and three luxury hotels

At least 52 dead

0

65

KM

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCES: TILEZEN;

OPENSTREETMAP CONTRIBUTORS; HIU;

NEW YORK TIMES

Multiple explosions across Sri Lanka

Sunday morning

INDIA

Arabian

Sea

Arabian

Sea

Batticaloa

at the Zion Church

At least 27 dead

Negombo

at St. Sebastian’s Church

At least 62 dead

SRI LANKA

Colombo

at St. Anthony’s Shrine

and three luxury hotels

At least 52 dead

0

0

65

65

KM

KM

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCES: TILEZEN; OPENSTREETMAP

CONTRIBUTORS; HIU; NEW YORK TIMES

Multiple explosions across Sri Lanka Sunday morning

INDIA

Arabian

Sea

Batticaloa

at the Zion Church

At least 27 dead

Negombo

at St. Sebastian’s Church

At least 62 dead

SRI LANKA

Colombo

at St. Anthony’s Shrine

and three luxury hotels

At least 52 dead

0

0

65

65

KM

KM

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCES: TILEZEN; OPENSTREETMAP CONTRIBUTORS; HIU; NEW YORK TIMES

“People were being dragged out,” said Bhanuka Harischandra, of Colombo, a 24-year-old founder of a tech marketing company who was going to the Shangri-la Hotel for a meeting when it was bombed. “People didn’t know what was going on. It was panic mode.”

He added: “There was blood everywhere.”

Most of those killed were Sri Lankans. But the three bombed hotels and one of the churches, St. Anthony’s Shrine, are frequented by foreign tourists, and Sri Lanka’s Foreign Ministry said the bodies of at least 27 foreigners from a variety of countries were recovered.

The United States said “several” Americans were among the dead, while Britain, China and Portugal said they, too, lost citizens.

The Sri Lankan government imposed a nationwide curfew from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. and blocked Facebook and other social media, saying it needed to curtail the spread of false information and ease tension in the country of about 21 million people.

Covered bodies and debris lay at St. Anthony's Shrine after an explosion in the church in Kochchikade in Colombo on April 21, 2019.

ISHARA S. KODIKARA/AFP/Getty Images

In a statement issued Sunday afternoon, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was “shocked and saddened” by reports of the attacks.

“Canada strongly condemns these heinous attacks," he added. “No one should be targeted because of their faith.”

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The statement declared that there had been no reports of any Canadians injured in the attacks, and that the High Commission in Colombo would be closed Monday “due to the current situation.”

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said he feared the massacre could trigger instability in Sri Lanka, and he vowed to “vest all necessary powers with the defence forces” to take action against those responsible.

The Archbishop of Colombo, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, called on Sri Lanka’s government to “mercilessly” punish those responsible “because only animals can behave like that.”

Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara said at least 207 people were killed and 450 wounded. He said police found a safe house and a van used by the attackers.

A view of St. Sebastian's Church damaged in blast in Negombo, north of Colombo, Sri Lanka, Sunday, April 21, 2019.

Rohan Karunarathne/The Associated Press

The scale of the bloodshed recalled the worst days of Sri Lanka’s 26-year civil war, in which the Tamil Tigers, a rebel group from the ethnic Tamil minority, sought independence from the Buddhist-majority country. The Tamils are Hindu, Muslim and Christian.

Sri Lanka, situated off the southern tip of India, is about 70 per cent Buddhist. While there have been scattered incidents of anti-Christian harassment in recent years, there has been nothing on the scale of what happened Sunday.

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There is also no history of violent Muslim militants in Sri Lanka. However, tensions have been running high more recently between hard-line Buddhist monks and Muslims.

Two Muslim groups in Sri Lanka condemned the church attacks, as did countries around the world, and Pope Francis expressed condolences at the end of his traditional Easter Sunday blessing in Rome.

“I want to express my loving closeness to the Christian community, targeted while they were gathered in prayer, and all the victims of such cruel violence,” Francis said.

Six nearly simultaneous blasts took place in the morning at the shrine and the Cinnamon Grand, Shangri-la and Kingsbury hotels in Colombo, as well as at two churches outside Colombo, according to a Sri Lankan military spokesman, Brig. Sumith Atapattu.

A few hours later, two more blasts occurred just outside Colombo, one of them at a guest house, where two people were killed, the other near an overpass, Atapattu said.

A police officer inspects the explosion area at Shangri-La hotel in Colombo, Sri Lanka, April 21, 2019.

DINUKA LIYANAWATTE/Reuters

Also, three police officers were killed during a search at a suspected safe house on the outskirts of Colombo when its occupants apparently detonated explosives to prevent arrest, authorities said.

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The Shangri-la’s second-floor restaurant was gutted, with the ceiling and windows blown out. Loose wires hung down and tables were overturned in the blackened space. From outside the police cordon, three bodies could be seen covered in white sheets.

Foreign tourists hurriedly used their cellphones to text family and loved ones that they were okay. Visitors from around the world come to Sri Lanka to see elephants, tea plantations, ancient Buddhist monuments and other sights.

Sri Lankan security personnel and investigators look through debris outside Zion Church following an explosion in Batticaloa in eastern Sri Lanka on April 21, 2019.

LAKRUWAN WANNIARACHCHI/AFP/Getty Images

Sri Lankan security personnel walk through debris after an explosion in St Sebastian's Church in Negombo, north of the capital Colombo, on April 21, 2019.

STR/AFP/Getty Images

“I had a sense that the country was turning the corner, and in particular those in the tourism industry were hopeful for the future,” said tourist Peter Kelson, a technology manager from Sydney. “Apart from the tragedy of the immediate victims of the bombings, I worry that these terrible events will set the country back significantly.”

Locals who work in Sri Lanka’s vital tourism industry were shocked and upset by the bloodshed.

“After so many years, we’ve started again,” said Gamini Francis, 56, a long-time hotel worker. “A lot of people are going to lose their jobs. 100% sure. It’s tragic. Crazy people killing innocent people.”

Sri Lankan forces defeated the Tamil Tiger rebels in 2009, ending a civil war that took over 100,000 lives, with both sides accused of grave human rights violations.

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Harischandra, who witnessed the attack at the Shangri-la Hotel, said there was “a lot of tension” after the bombings, but added: “We’ve been through these kinds of situations before.”

He said Sri Lankans are “an amazing bunch” and noted that his social media feed was flooded with photos of people standing in long lines to give blood.

– With a file from John Ibbitson in Ottawa

A relative of a victim of the explosion at St. Anthony's Shrine, Kochchikade church, reacts at the police mortuary in Colombo, Sri Lanka on April 21, 2019.

DINUKA LIYANAWATTE/Reuters

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