As worshipers gathered on Sunday at Roman Catholic churches across Sri Lanka to celebrate Easter Mass, the culmination of Holy Week, a wave of explosions rocked the congregations.
At about 8:45 a.m., at least eight bombing attacks struck at least three churches, along with three five-star hotels favored by foreigners, killing almost 200 people, in what the police said had been a coordinated attack.
• A senior presidential aide said it appeared that the attacks had been carried out by suicide bombers. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the bombings.
• Seven people were detained in connection with the attacks, according to the economics minister.
• Sri Lanka blocked major social media and messaging services, including Facebook and WhatsApp, to curb misinformation, according to the president’s secretary, Udaya Seneviratne.
• A health official at the National Hospital of Sri Lanka said 189 people had been killed. But the death toll was expected to rise. Eleven foreigners were among the dead, she said.
Video can be seen below:
Images from the site of the bombings showed bloodied and shattered pews and victims lying on the floor of houses of worship. The walls and windows of the targeted hotels were blown out.
Some of the victims were killed as worshipers gathered for Mass at St. Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo, the capital; St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo, about 20 miles north of Colombo; and Zion Church in the eastern city of Batticaloa, officials said.
The attacks also targeted high-end hotels in Colombo, the capital, including the Shangri-La, the Cinnamon Grand and the Kingsbury.
Mangala Samaraweera, the Sri Lankan finance minister, called the explosions “a well-coordinated attempt to create murder, mayhem and anarchy.”
UPDATE: Security officials were warned days ago that an attack might be imminent, according to The New York Times. And the toll is climbing. Details:
At least 207 people were killed and 450 others injured, a police spokesman, Ruwan Gunasekera, said.
News of the bombings, the largest attack on South Asian Christians in recent memory, rippled out all Easter morning, interrupting celebrations across the world. Pope Francis, after celebrating Mass in St. Peter’s Square, said the attacks had “brought mourning and sorrow” on the most important of Christian holidays.
A top police official alerted security officials in an advisory 10 days ago about a threat to churches from a radical Islamist group, National Thowheeth Jama’ath. But it was unclear what safeguards, if any, were taken, or if in the end the group played any role in the violence. And on Sunday, reflecting frictions within the government, the prime minister pointedly said he had not been informed.
Sri Lanka temporarily blocked major social media and messaging services, including Facebook and WhatsApp, to curb misinformation.
At least 35 of the dead were foreigners, several of them American, the authorities said. Others were British, Chinese, Dutch and Portuguese, according to officials and news reports.