Sri Lanka blasts: What we know so far

Sri Lanka blasts: What we know so far

Sri Lanka attacks
Sri Lankan soldiers inside the St Sebastian's Church at Katuwapitiya in Negombo on Apr 21, 2019, following a bomb blast during the Easter service that killed worshippers. (Photo: AFP/Stringer)

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka was rocked on Sunday (Apr 21) by a series of deadly blasts that killed nearly 300 people and injured hundreds more.

Here is what we know so far about one of the deadliest attacks in the island nation's history:

WHAT HAPPENED?

Powerful explosions struck in quick succession at three hotels in the capital Colombo. 

At around 8.45am local time (11.15am Singapore time), the Table One restaurant at the Shangri-La hotel and Kingsbury hotel were hit. 

Five minutes later, the Cinnamon Grand hotel was also hit. 

Three churches were also targeted in that wave of blasts: Colombo's historic St Anthony's Shrine, the St Sebastian's church in the town of Negombo - north of the capital. 

READ: Sri Lanka bomber queued for buffet breakfast before setting off explosives: Hotel manager

SLanka graphic
Map of attacks on hotels in Sri Lanka. (Graphic: AFP/Laurence Saubadu, Vincent Lefai)

At around 9.05am (11.35am Singapore time), the Zion Church in the east-coast town of Batticaloa was hit. 

Hours later, there were two more blasts, one of them at another Colombo hotel. At least two of the eight were carried out by suicide bombers, according to police sources and a hotel official.

The other blast occurred at a house in in Dematagoda, Colombo, during a police raid, where three officers were killed.

At night, a petrol bomb attack on a mosque and arson attacks on two Muslim-owned shops were reported in two different parts of the country, according to police. 

READ: Multiple blasts hit Sri Lanka churches, hotels; at least 200 dead, hundreds injured

Crime scene officials inspect the site of a bomb blast inside a church in Negombo
Crime scene officials inspect the site of a bomb blast inside a church in Negombo, Sri Lanka April 21, 2019. (Photo: Reuters/Stringer)

WHO WERE THE VICTIMS?

The blasts hit the churches when they were full of worshippers gathered for Easter services.

By Sunday evening, the toll stood at 207 dead and 450 people injured. 

On Monday morning, the death toll rose to 290, with 500 wounded, said police. 

Police said 32 foreigners were among the dead, including British, Dutch, Portuguese, Chinese and American citizens, with the US and Britain later confirming their nationals were killed.

Hospital sources also said British, Dutch and American citizens were among those killed, with Britons and Japanese also injured. 

Several Americans were among those dead, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said.

"While many details of the attacks are still emerging, we can confirm that several US citizens were among those killed," he said in a statement. 

"The US Embassy is working tirelessly to provide all possible assistance to the American citizens affected by the attacks and their families."

India's Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj added three Indians were killed.

Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed there were no Singaporean casualties.

A Portuguese man has also died, according to the Iberian nation's LUSA news agency. 

Two Chinese nationals were injured, the country's embassy in Sri Lanka said, according to Beijing's official Xinhua news agency. The agency also reported one Chinese citizen had died in the attacks.

Three police officers have also died after a suicide bomber blew himself up inside a house, a police source said.

READ: Sri Lanka blasts: Police say suicide bombers involved in two attacks

WHO DID IT?

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe declined to identify any suspected perpetrators.

At least 24 have been arrested in connection with the attacks, police said, and investigators would look into whether the attackers had "overseas links".

The island nation has suffered deadly militant attacks for years, especially by ethnic Tamil militants during a decades-long civil war that ended in 2009 when Sri Lankan forces crushed the insurgency.

In recent years, there have been clashes between the majority Sinhalese Buddhist community and minority Muslims, and in March last year the government imposed a 12-day state of emergency to quell anti-Muslim riots.

Christian groups have also complained of increased harassment from hardline Buddhist groups.

READ: Sri Lanka blasts: Prime minister condemns 'cowardly' attacks

Sri Lankan military officials stand guard in front of the St. Anthony's Shrine, Kochchikade ch
Sri Lankan military officials stand guard in front of the St Anthony's Shrine, Kochchikade church after an explosion in Colombo, Sri Lanka on Apr 21, 2019. (Photo: Reuters/Dinuka Liyanawatte)

According to documents seen by AFP, the country's police chief warned top officers 10 days ago of possible suicide bomb attacks on churches and the Indian high commission by the National Thowheeth Jama'ath (NTJ), a radical Muslim group in Sri Lanka. He cited reports by a "foreign intelligence agency", according to the documents.

HOW DID SRI LANKA REACT?

Wickremesinghe urged people to "hold our unity as Sri Lankans" and pledged to "wipe out this menace once and for all."

Wickremesinghe​​​​​​​ also ordered a probe into why intelligence services failed to act on a warning about the attacks.

The Archbishop of Colombo, Malcolm Ranjith, described the attackers as "animals" and called on authorities to "punish them mercilessly".

The government beefed up security and imposed an immediate and indefinite curfew across the country, which was lifted on Monday. 

It also put in place a "temporary" ban on social media platforms "in order to prevent incorrect and wrong information being spread".

Security at Colombo's airport was also enhanced, according to Sri Lankan Airlines, which advised its passengers to arrive four hours before their flights. It added that passengers with passports and tickets will be able to reach the airport during the curfew.

Embassies in Sri Lanka have warned their citizens to shelter in place.

The government also declared closures of schools across the country for two days. 

READ: Two more blasts hit Sri Lanka, government orders night curfew

HOW DID THE WORLD REACT

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said he was horrified by the "heinous attacks".

"I offer our deepest condolences to the victims and their families. Singapore condemns such senseless acts of violence," he wrote on Facebook.

"We stand firmly behind Sri Lanka in its efforts to preserve the hard-wrought peace and stability. 

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Sri Lanka. May they find strength and unity to overcome this adversity together."

Sri Lankan military officials stand guard in front of the St. Anthony's Shrine, Kochchikade ch
Sri Lankan military officials stand guard in front of the St. Anthony's Shrine, Kochchikade church after an explosion in Colombo, Sri Lanka April 21, 2019. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte

Pope Francis expressed his sadness over the attacks during his traditional Easter address at the Vatican.

"I want to express my affectionate closeness with the Christian community, attacked while it was at prayer, and to all the victims of such cruel violence," he said.

READ: Sri Lanka blasts: PM Lee condemns 'heinous attacks', MFA says no Singaporean casualties

The Catholic Church in Jerusalem had said in an earlier statement: "We pray for the souls of the victims and ask for speedy recovery of the injured, and ask God to inspire the terrorists to repent of their killing and intimidation."

US President Donald Trump tweeted: "Heartfelt condolences from the people of the United States to the people of Sri Lanka on the horrible terrorist attacks on churches and hotels."

"We stand ready to help!"

British Prime Minister Theresa May described the attacks as "truly appalling".

"The acts of violence against churches and hotels in Sri Lanka are truly appalling, and my deepest sympathies go out to all of those affected at this tragic time," she tweeted.

"We must stand together to make sure that no one should ever have to practise their faith in fear."

Source: Agencies/mi/de/ad

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