Colombo: At least 207 people were killed and around 500 others were injured in a string of coordinated eight powerful blasts — including two suicide attacks — that struck three churches and luxury hotels frequented by foreigners in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday.
Six bombs went off in quick succession and another two blasts two hours later in Sri Lanka’s worst violence, shattering a decade of peace in the island nation after the end of the brutal civil war with the LTTE. One of the attackers set off the explosion in a packed restaurant at the Cinnamon Grand hotel in Colombo. Describing the Cinnamon bombing, a hotel manager said the attacker had registered the night before as Mohamed Azzam Mohamed.
Seven suspects have been arrested; meanwhile, it emerged the country’s police chief had warned of an Islamic extremist plot to target ‘prominent churches’ just 10 days earlier; however, no group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack.
Sri Lanka’s defence ministry has clamped curfew with immediate effect ‘until further notice’ while access to social media messaging services has been shut down.
Three of the blasts targeted St Anthony’s Church in Colombo, St Sebastian’s Church in the western coastal town of Negombo and a church in the eastern town of Batticaloa around 8.45 a.m. (local time) as the Easter Sunday mass were in progress. Explosions were also reported from three five-star hotels – the Shangri-La, the Cinnamon Grand and the Kingsbury in Colombo.
The victims included 35 foreigners — Britons and Americans as well as nationals of Turkey, China, Portugal and the Netherlands. Four Indians, too, died in the terror strikes. A witness, Sarita Marlou, who was at the Shangri-La hotel, wrote in a Facebook post that one blast occurred in the Table One Restaurant on the third floor where people had gathered for brunch.
“Felt the blast all the way up to the 17th floor where we were sleeping,” she wrote. “Few minutes later, we were asked to evacuate the hotel. While running down the stairs, saw a lot of blood on the floor but we were still clueless as to what really happened.”
The worst hit was the St. Sebastian’s church, where the explosion ripped off the roof and knocked out doors and windows; body parts were strewn over the walls and people carried the wounded away from blood-stained pews, local TV footage showed.
According to New York Times, a shopkeeper near St. Anthony’s Shrine who said he had run inside to help, said: “It was a river of blood. Ash was falling like snow.” The police chief had sent an intelligence warning to top officers on April 11 setting out the threat, sources said.
‘‘A foreign intelligence agency has reported that the NTJ (National Thowheeth Jama’ath) is planning to carry out suicide attacks targeting prominent churches as well as the Indian high commission in Colombo,’’ said the alert. The NTJ is a radical Muslim group in Sri Lanka that came under the scanner last year when it was linked to the vandalisation of Buddhist statues.
4 Indians among dead
A Kerala woman on holiday in Sri Lanka died in the blasts. PS Razeena, 58, and her husband – residents of Kasargode, who had settled in Dubai — were in Colombo to meet her relatives, reports IANS. They were staying at the Shangri-La hotel, one of the three hotels that were targeted in the serial blasts.
Steps are being taken to bring back the body of Razeena to Kerala. It is learnt that four Indian nationals died in the attack. The names of three others are Lokashini, Narayan Chandrashekhar and Ramesh. Tamil actress and entrepreneur Radikaa Sarathkumar narrowly escaped the blast at Cinnamon Grand hotel in Sri Lanka. “OMG bomb blasts in Sri Lanka, god be with all. I just left Colombo Cinnamon Grand hotel and it has been bombed, can’t believe this, it is shocking,” she said.