International desk, April 22: Sri Lanka has been placed under a nationwide curfew, as the government responds to a string of deadly bomb attacks on Sunday.At least 207 people were killed and hundreds more injured in eight blasts that targeted busy luxury hotels and Easter services at churches, the first major attack on the Indian Ocean Island since the end of a civil war 10 years ago.
The government has not yet attributed blame for the attacks.
There are also reports of social media networks being temporarily limited to try and stop misinformation spreading.
The government declared a curfew in Colombo and blocked access to social media and messaging sites, including Facebook and WhatsApp. It was unclear when the curfew would be lifted.
But in a sign that the attacks on three churches and four hotels could lead to communal violence, police reported on Sunday night that there had been a petrol bomb attack on a mosque in the northwestern district of Puttalum and arson attacks on two shops owned by Muslims in the western district of Kalutara.
The government has acknowledged that it had “prior information” of attacks on churches involving a little known local Islamist group but didn’t do enough about it.
In February-March last year, there were a series of religious clashes between Sinhalese Buddhists and Muslims in the towns of Ampara and Kandy.Late on Sunday, the air force said an improvised explosive device had been found and disposed of close to the country’s main airport in the capital, Colombo.
“A PVC pipe which was six feet [1.8m] in length containing explosives in it was discovered,” spokesman Gihan Seneviratne told local media.
The first reports of explosions came at about 08:45 (03:15 GMT) local time – with six blasts reported within a small space of time.
Three churches in Negombo, Batticaloa and Colombo’s Kochchikade district were targeted during Easter services and blasts also rocked the Shangri-La, Kingsbury and Cinnamon Grand hotels in the country’s capital.
As police hunted those responsible, two further explosions were reported.
It remains unclear who was behind the attacks, but 13 arrests were made by police on Sunday.
The government has said they believe suicide bombs were used at some of the sites.
During a news conference on Sunday evening, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe addressed rumours that officials had had prior intelligence of forthcoming attacks.
“We must look into why adequate precautions were not taken. Neither I nor the Ministers were kept informed,” he said.
Government officials have called for the public to remain calm while investigations take place.
Airlines have said people are still able to travel to Bandaranaike International Airport in spite of the curfew.
Travellers have been told to produce their boarding pass and identification at checkpoints and arrive four hours before their scheduled departure.
The country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs says it believes 36 foreign nationals are among the dead, with most still unidentified at a Colombo morgue.
Pope Francis, in his traditional Urbi et Orbi speech at the Vatican, condemned the attacks as “such cruel violence” targeting Christians celebrating Easter.
A spokesperson for UN Secretary General António Guterres said he was “outraged” by the attacks, and expressed his hope the perpetrators would be “swiftly brought to justice”.
UK PM Theresa May tweeted her condolences, saying the “acts of violence against churches and hotels in Sri Lanka are truly appalling”.
US President Donald Trump tweeted “heartfelt condolences” for the “horrible terrorist attacks”.
The leader of New Zealand, where deadly mosque attacks killed 50 last month, labelled the bombings “devastating”.
“Collectively we must find the will and the answers to end such violence,” Jacinda Arden said.
Source: News Agencies