International desk, April 21: Over 150 people, including 35 foreigners, were killed and hundreds injured in multiple blasts on Easter Sunday, in one of the worst attacks in the island nation in recent years. The serial blasts – eight of them – comes after a lull in major attacks since the end of the civil war 10 years ago.The first blasts hit three high-end hotels and a church in Colombo, while two other churches were targeted outside Colombo during Easter Mass, Sri Lanka police told news agency AFP. Hours later, another explosion took place at a hotel opposite the national zoo in the Dehiwala area near Colombo.
The nature of the explosions, which happened at around 8:45 am local time, was not immediately clear and there were no immediate claims of responsibility.
Sri Lanka Prime Minister condemned the attack in a tweet, and appealed to citizens to stay strong and united. “I strongly condemn the cowardly attacks on our people today. I call upon all Sri Lankans during this tragic time to remain united and strong. Please avoid propagating unverified reports and speculation. The government is taking immediate steps to contain this situation,” he tweeted.
The Sri Lanka government called an emergency meeting after the blasts. “Emergency meeting called in a few minutes. Rescue operations underway,” the Minister of Economic Reforms and Public Distribution, Harsha de Silva, said in a tweet.
President Maithripala Sirisena said he was shocked by the explosions and urged for calm.
The Sri Lanka police chief, Pujuth Jayasundara, had issued an intelligence alert to top officials 10 days ago, warning of planned suicide bomb attacks on churches as well as the Indian High Commission in Colombo, according to documents seen by AFP.
“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,” the alert said.
The NTJ is a radical Muslim group in Sri Lanka that was linked last year to the vandalisation of Buddhist statues.
The first explosions were reported at St Anthony’s Church in Colombo and St Sebastian’s Church at Katuwapitiya in the town of Negombo.
More than 100 people have died in a series of explosions in the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo and two other towns. Reports suggest at least 500 people have also been taken to hospital, after suicide bombers targeted churches and hotels.
“A bomb attack to our church, please come and help if your family members are there,” read a post in English on the Facebook page of the St Sebastian’s Church.
Soon after the initial reports, four other blasts were confirmed by the police. Three of those were at hotels, while another was reported from a church in the town of Batticaloa.
An official at the Batticaloa hospital told AFP more than 300 people had been admitted with injuries following the blast there.
In Colombo, the blasts hit the Cinnamon Grand Hotel, the Shangri-La and the Kingsbury.
At least one of the victims was killed in Colombo’s Cinnamon Grand Hotel, near the prime minister’s official residence, where the blast ripped through a restaurant, a hotel official told AFP.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi condemned the blasts that hit Sri Lanka on Easter. “Strongly condemn the horrific blasts in Sri Lanka. There is no place for such barbarism in our region. India stands in solidarity with the people of Sri Lanka. My thoughts are with the bereaved families and prayers with the injured,” PM Modi tweeted.
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, responding to the explosions, said that she is in close touch with the Indian High Commissioner in Colombo and that the government was closely monitoring the situation in the neighboring country.
For Indian citizens in Sri Lanka requiring any assistance, the Indian embassy in Sri Lanka has tweeted out helpline numbers.
Source: News Agencies