A series of eight devastating bomb blasts ripped through high-end hotels and churches holding Easter services in Sri Lanka on Sunday, killing at least 290 people, including dozens of foreigners.
The powerful blasts – six in quick succession and then two more hours later – wrought devastation at sites in and around the Sri Lankan capital, including at the well-known St Anthony’s Shrine, a historic Catholic Church.
An AFP photographer at the scene at St Anthony’s saw bodies lying on the floor, some draped with scarves and clothes. Much of the church roof was blown out in the explosion, with roof tiles, glass and splintered wood littering the floor along with pools of blood.
Local TV showed damage at the Cinnamon Grand, Shangri-La and Kingsbury hotels in Colombo, which are frequented by foreign tourists. The Shangri-La’s second-floor restaurant was gutted in the blast, with the ceiling and windows blown out.
An improvised bomb discovered at the main airport in Colombo was defused late Sunday, police said.
Police said Monday morning the death toll had risen to at least 290 with another 500 wounded in the multiple blasts. The police also said that three officers were killed while conducting a search at a suspected safe house on the outskirts of Colombo. The occupants of the safe house apparently detonated explosives to prevent arrest.
Thirteen arrests have been made, all of whom are Sri Lankans, police said.
A foreign ministry official said there were 27 bodies of suspected foreign nationals, while the police said at least 35 of the dead were foreigners. One Portuguese man, three Danes, two Turks, five British nationals (two of whom had dual US citizenship), three Indians and several American and were killed, according to their respective governments.
There were also Chinese and Dutch among the dead, according to media reports.
There were no immediate claims of responsibility for the blasts despite the death toll, but documents seen by AFP show that Sri Lanka’s police chief Pujuth Jayasundara issued an intelligence alert to top officers 10 days ago, warning that suicide bombers planned to hit “prominent churches”.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremsinghe acknowledged that the government had some “prior information of the attack”, though ministers were not told.
In view of the devastation and death tool, he said there wasn’t an adequate response and there needed to be an inquiry into how the information was used.
(TSR, with FRANCE 24, AFP, AP, REUTERS)