Easter Sunday bomb blasts kill more than 200 in Sri Lanka

Posted: Updated:

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) - 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.

Defense 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.

"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 U.S. said "several" Americans were among the dead, while Britain, China, Japan 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 most social media including Facebook and YouTube, saying it needed to curtail the spread of false information and ease tension in the country of about 21 million people.

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 defense 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.

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 percent Buddhist. Scattered incidents of anti-Christian harassment have occurred in recent years, but nothing on the scale of what happened Sunday.

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 guesthouse, where two people were killed, the other near an overpass, Atapattu said.

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.

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 OK. Visitors from around the world come to Sri Lanka to see elephants, tea plantations, ancient Buddhist monuments and other sights.

"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.

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.

  • NewsMore>>

  • Officials address LIRR overtime abuse at MTA board meeting

    Officials address LIRR overtime abuse at MTA board meeting

    Monday, October 21 2019 9:59 PM EDT2019-10-22 01:59:02 GMT
    The MTA Board met for the first time since an inspector general audit found more cases of overtime abuse within the Long Island Rail Road.
    The MTA Board met for the first time since an inspector general audit found more cases of overtime abuse within the Long Island Rail Road.
  • Final 'Rise of Skywalker' trailer debuts

    Final 'Rise of Skywalker' trailer debuts

    The final trailer for the "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker" debuted Monday, offering a fleeting glimpse of the late Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia embracing Daisy Ridley's Rey.
    The final trailer for the "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker" debuted Monday, offering a fleeting glimpse of the late Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia embracing Daisy Ridley's Rey.
  • Islanders draft new puppy to become service dog - and you can vote on her name!

    Islanders draft new puppy to become service dog - and you can vote on her name!

    Tuesday, October 22 2019 4:56 AM EDT2019-10-22 08:56:33 GMT
    The New York Islanders have drafted a new Puppy with a Purpose for the 2019-20 season!The New York Islanders have drafted a new Puppy with a Purpose for the 2019-20 season!
    The New York Islanders have drafted a new Puppy with a Purpose for the 2019-20 season!The New York Islanders have drafted a new Puppy with a Purpose for the 2019-20 season!
    The New York Islanders have drafted a new Puppy with a Purpose for the 2019-20 season!
    The New York Islanders have drafted a new Puppy with a Purpose for the 2019-20 season!
  • SlideshowsGalleriesMore>>

  • Dog Day Fridays for Oct. 18

    Dog Day Fridays for Oct. 18

    Friday, October 18 2019 10:16 AM EDT2019-10-18 14:16:58 GMT
    Douglas is a 5-year-old, male, neutered Cattle dog mix rescued through the Soi Dog Foundation in Thailand from the streets of Thailand. These dogs are often rounded up and sold to the dog meat trade in China. He is good with dogs and older children.Douglas is a 5-year-old, male, neutered Cattle dog mix rescued through the Soi Dog Foundation in Thailand from the streets of Thailand. These dogs are often rounded up and sold to the dog meat trade in China. He is good with dogs and older children.
    Douglas is a 5-year-old, male, neutered Cattle dog mix rescued through the Soi Dog Foundation in Thailand from the streets of Thailand. These dogs are often rounded up and sold to the dog meat trade in China. He is good with dogs and older children.Douglas is a 5-year-old, male, neutered Cattle dog mix rescued through the Soi Dog Foundation in Thailand from the streets of Thailand. These dogs are often rounded up and sold to the dog meat trade in China. He is good with dogs and older children.
    This week's dogs are up for adoption at Almost Home Animal Rescue & Adoption. The shelter is located at 646 Medford Ave. in Patchogue. Their phone number is (631) 627-3665.
    This week's dogs are up for adoption at Almost Home Animal Rescue & Adoption. The shelter is located at 646 Medford Ave. in Patchogue. Their phone number is (631) 627-3665.
  • Your Oct. 16 storm photos

    Your Oct. 16 storm photos

    Storm photos Oct. 17Storm photos Oct. 17
    Storm photos Oct. 17Storm photos Oct. 17
    Heavy right and high winds swept through the tri-state area due to a large coast storm on the night of Oct. 16. Here are your photos from the storm.
    Heavy right and high winds swept through the tri-state area due to a large coast storm on the night of Oct. 16. Here are your photos from the storm.
  • Your Long Island Fall Fun Photos

    Your Long Island Fall Fun Photos

    Monday, October 7 2019 12:12 PM EDT2019-10-07 16:12:23 GMT
    Fall FunFall Fun
    Fall FunFall Fun
    Are you and your family doing fun things this fall? Whether you're out apple or pumpkin picking, at a farm or corn maze or just hanging around in your home or yard, News 12 Long Island wants to see your Fall Fun pics!
    Are you and your family doing fun things this fall? Whether you're out apple or pumpkin picking, at a farm or corn maze or just hanging around in your home or yard, News 12 Long Island wants to see your Fall Fun pics!
sorry to interrupt
your first 20 are free
Access to News 12 is free for Optimum, Comcast®, Spectrum Networks® and Service ElectricSM customers.
Please enjoy 20 complimentary views of articles, photos, and videos during the next 30 days.
you have reached your 20 view limit
Access to News 12 is free for Optimum, Comcast®, Spectrum Networks® and Service ElectricSM customers.
Please login or create an account to continue enjoying News12.
Our sign-up page is undergoing maintenance and is not currently available. However, you will be given direct access to news12.com while we complete our upgrade.
When we are back up and running you will be prompted at that time to complete your sign in. Until then, enjoy the local news, weather, traffic and more that's "as local as local news gets."