'People screaming, dead bodies all around': Survivor recalls chaos during deadly Sri Lanka blasts
COLOMBO: An Australian tourist who survived the blasts in Sri Lanka on Sunday (Apr 21) that tore through multiple churches and hotels in the capital city described scenes as "absolute carnage".
The string of attacks in Colombo, which started in the morning, killed 290 people and wounded about 500.
The survivor, identified only as Sam, told Australia's 3AW radio that he and a travel partner were having breakfast at the Shangri-La hotel when two blasts went off.
He said he had seen two men wearing backpacks seconds before the blasts.
"There were people screaming and dead bodies all around," he said. "Kids crying, kids on the ground, I don't know if they were dead or not, just crazy."
Luxury hotels which were hit included Kingsbury hotel and the Cinnamon Grand hotel.
Three churches were also targeted: Colombo's historic St Anthony's Shrine, the St Sebastian's church in the town of Negombo, as well as the Zion Church in the east-coast town of Batticaloa.
Police said that 24 arrests have been made.
There were no immediate claims of responsibility for the attacks in a country which was at war for decades with Tamil separatists until 2009, a time when bomb blasts in the capital were common.
'DON'T WANT THE COUNTRY TO GO BACK TO DARK PAST'
Sri Lankans accounted for the bulk of the victims, which also included British, US, Turkish, Indian, Chinese, Danish, Dutch and Portuguese nationalities.
A British mother and son eating breakfast at the luxury Shangri-La hotel were among those killed, Britain's The Telegraph newspaper reported.
Witness NA Sumanapala was near St Anthony's church when the blast happened.
"I ran inside to help. The priest came out and he was covered in blood," he told AFP. "It was a river of blood."
Gabriel, who declined to give his family name, said his brother was injured in the explosion, adding: "We don't want the country to go back to that dark past where we had to live in fear of suicide blasts all the time."
A manager at the Cinnamon Grand, near the prime minister's official residence in Colombo, said a suicide bomber blew himself up at the hotel's restaurant.
"He came up to the top of the queue and set off the blast," the manager said.
A government source said President Maithripala Sirisena, who was abroad when the attacks happened, had called a meeting of the National Security Council early on Monday. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe would attend the meeting, the source said.
There were fears the attacks could spark a renewal of communal violence, with police reporting late on Sunday there had been a petrol bomb attack on a mosque in the northwest and arson attacks on two shops owned by Muslims in the west.
Sri Lanka had been at war for decades with Tamil separatists but extremist violence had been on the wane since the civil war ended 10 years ago.
The South Asian nation of about 22 million people has Christian, Muslim and Hindu populations of between about eight and 12 per cent.
CURFEW LIFTED, SOCIAL MEDIA BLOCKED
The island-wide curfew imposed by the government was lifted early on Monday, although there was uncharacteristically thin traffic in the normally bustling capital.
Soldiers armed with automatic weapons stood guard outside major hotels and the World Trade Centre in the business district, where the four hotels were targeted on Easter Sunday, according to a Reuters witness.
Scores of people who were stranded overnight at the main airport began making their way home as restrictions were lifted.
The government also blocked access to social media and messaging sites, including Facebook and WhatsApp, making information hard to come by.
Wickremsinghe acknowledged on Sunday that the government had some prior information about possible attacks on churches involving a little-known Islamist group, but said ministers had not been told.
On Apr 25, the Sri Lankan government revised the death toll to 253.