Three Indians were among 207 people confirmed killed as eight bomb blasts ripped through churches and luxury hotels in or near Sri Lanka’s capital on Easter – the deadliest violence the country has experienced since a bloody civil war ended a decade ago. At least 450 more were wounded.
Six nearly simultaneous blasts took place in the morning in Colombo at St Anthony’s Shrine-a Catholic church – and the Cinnamon Grand, Shangri-La and Kingsbury hotels. After a lull of a few hours, two more explosions occurred at St Sebastian Catholic church in Negombo, a mostly Catholic town north of Colombo, and at the Protestant Zion church in the eastern town of Batticaloa.
External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj confirmed the identities of the Indian nationals as Lakshmi, Narayan Chandrashekhar and Ramesh. “Indian high commission in Colombo has conveyed that National Hospital has informed them about death of three Indian nationals,” she tweeted, adding, “We are ascertaining further details.”
The casualties included a Sri Lankan woman PS Raseena (61), whose roots lay in Kerala’s Kasaragod district but who had been born and brought up in Sri Lanka before she moved to Mangaluru after getting married. She held a Sri Lankan passport and was to check out of Colombo’s Shangri-La Hotel when the bomb went off.
An Indian national named Surendra and a person of Indian origin living in Fremont, California, Bhakta Balla, were injured but reported themselves safe.
Defence minister Ruwan Wijewardena described the bombings as a terrorist attack by religious extremists, though there was no immediate claim of responsibility. Local media reports mentioned 13 arrests around the island.
Three police officers were killed while conducting a search at a suspected safe house in Dematagoda, on the outskirts of Colombo, when its occupants apparently detonated explosives to prevent arrest.
News of the bombings 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. “I want to express my affectionate closeness to the Christian community, struck while it was gathered in prayer, and all the victims of such cruel violence. I entrust to the Lord all those who were tragically killed,” he said.
Witnesses described powerful blasts, followed by scenes of smoke, blood, broken glass, alarms going off and victims screaming. Sri Lanka’s foreign ministry said the bodies of at least 27 foreigners were recovered and included people from Britain, the US, Portugal and Turkey.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said several American citizens were among the dead. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said he feared the massacre could trigger instability in Sri Lanka, a country of about 21 million people, and vowed to “vest all necessary powers with the defense forces” to take action against those responsible. The government imposed a nationwide curfew from 6pm to 6am.
Local TV showed the Shangri-La’s second-floor restaurant was gutted, with the ceiling and windows blown out. Loose wires hung and tables were overturned in the blackened space. From outside the police cordon, three bodies could be seen covered in white sheets.
A witness, Sarita Marlou, who was at the Shangri-La hotel, wrote in a Facebook post that one blast occurred at 8:57am 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.”
N A Sumanapala, 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.” (with inputs from NYT)