Easter Sunday blasts kill 207 in Sri Lanka

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COLOMBO

At least 207 people were killed and hundreds more wounded in eight bomb blasts that rocked churches and luxury hotels in or near Sri Lanka’s capital on Easter Sunday — the deadliest violence the South Asian island country has seen since a bloody civil war ended a decade ago.

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

The explosions collapsed ceilings and blew out windows, and the dead included worshippers and hotel guests.

The three bombed hotels and one of the churches, St. Anthony’s Shrine, are frequented by foreign tourists, and Sri Lanka’s foreign secretary said the bodies of at least 27 foreigners were recovered. Sri Lankan TV said the dead included people from Belgium, China, Britain and the US.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said he feared the violence could trigger instability in Sri Lanka, a country of about 21 million people, and he vowed the government will “vest all necessary powers with the defense forces” to take action against those responsible for the massacre, “regardless of their stature.” The government imposed a nationwide curfew from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.

Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara said 207 people were killed and 450 wounded.

The first six blasts Sunday morning took place nearly simultaneously at St. Anthony’s Shrine, a Catholic church in Colombo, and three hotels in the city. The two other explosions occurred after a lull of a few hours at St. Sebastian Catholic church in Negombo, a majority Catholic town north of Colombo, and at the Protestant Zion church in the eastern town of Batticaloa.

Three police officers were killed while conducting a search at a suspected safe house in Dematagoda, on the outskirts of Colombo. The occupants of the safe house apparently detonated explosives to prevent arrest, Wijewardena said.

Countries around the world condemned the attacks, and Pope Francis expressed condolences at the end of his traditional Easter Sunday blessing in Rome.

Pakistan condemns the terror attacks

Later in the day, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi called Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to condole and condemn the terrorist attacks that rocked the country on Easter Day.

Four Pakistanis were among the injured, according to the Foreign Ministry. All four ─ including three women identified as Maheen Hassan, Muzna Humayun and Atika Atif ─ sustained minor injuries and were discharged after receiving treatment.

Qureshi expressed “his deepest condolences on behalf of Prime Minister Imran Khan and the people of Pakistan in the wake of terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka”, said a statement issued by the ministry.

The foreign minister also extended all out help and support to the Sri Lankan government and people.

Earlier, Prime Minister Imran Khan strongly condemned the “horrific terrorist attack in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday”.

“My profound condolences go to our Sri Lankan brethren. Pakistan stands in complete solidarity with Sri Lanka in their hour of grief,” he tweeted.

Leader of the Opposition and PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif also expressed grief at the “tragic Easter carnage” in Sri Lanka. “We mourn the loss of innocent lives. Stand by Sri Lanka and the Christian community around the globe in this hour of grief,” he said.

Condemning the attacks, PPP Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said “as always, the purveyors of terror have chosen to target innocents on a holy day. Thoughts & prayers with all the families for whom this #Easter has become one of mourning”.

“The people and Government of Pakistan stand by the people and Government of Sri Lanka at this moment of tragedy and against terror,” Foreign Office spokesperson Dr Mohammad Faisal tweeted soon after news of the attacks broke.

Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari condemned the attack in a tweet, saying that terrorism needs a strong united global approach to be effectively defeated worldwide.

“We stand with our Sri Lankan brethren as they confront these brutal terrorist attacks,” Mazari said.

AP