Through its ‘Amaq News Agency, the Islamic State (IS) claimed credit for the Easter Day bombings in Sri Lanka.
A series of explosions in Sri Lanka ripped through churches and hotels on Easter Sunday, killing at least 290 people and injuring more than 500 others on one of the holiest days in the Christian calendar.
At least 27 of those who died were foreigners and three were police officers, authorities said. Local police confirmed the death toll to multiple media outlets.
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Three churches across the island nation and three hotels near the capital, Colombo, were hit with nearly simultaneous blasts, the AP reported. Then, hours later, two more explosions went off: at a guesthouse and on the outskirts of Colombo.
Photos from the blast sites showed broken pews in disarray, shattered glass, and statues flecked with ash and blood.
Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe condemned the attacks and called on people to “avoid propagating unverified reports and speculation.”
At a press conference, Wickremesinghe said that some parts of the government had some prior information about the attacks, but did not elaborate beyond acknowledging that “information was there,” according to the Washington Post.
According to the Sri Lankan government news portal, all social media has been blocked in the country to avoid the spread of false news reports in light of the bombings.
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.
Officials have warned against sowing divisions following the attacks, which come nearly 10 years after a violent, decades-long civil war between the Tamil Tigers, a separatist militant organization, and the Sri Lankan government. It’s estimated that 70,000 people were killed during that conflict, which ended in 2009. But the violence in the country has largely subsided since then.
In a statement, Minister of Finance Mangala Samaraweera said the attacks are “a diabolical attempt to create racial and religious tensions in this country yet again, thereby pulling the country backwards.” He called on Sri Lankans to unite, and thwart “this heinous attempt to drag our country back into the dark past.”
A State Department spokesperson told BuzzFeed News that the US Embassy had identified “several American citizens among the victims.”
In a tweet Sunday decrying the events, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo described the blasts as “terror attacks.”
The Shangri-La Hotel in Colombo confirmed in a Facebook statement that a blast occurred around 9 a.m. local time. “We are deeply saddened and shocked by the incident and our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the casualties and those who have been affected,” the hotel said.
The Kingsbury in Colombo, which was also targeted, said injured guests and employees were treated and evacuated. The Cinnamon Grand hotel also confirmed they were affected by one of the explosions and that the area had been “isolated for investigations.”
The attacks have been widely condemned by world leaders.
Imran Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan,tweeted, “My profound condolences go to our Sri Lankan brethren. Pakistan stands in complete solidarity with Sri Lanka in their hour of grief.” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also tweeted his condolences and added, “All possible help is being extended by the authorities.”
President Donald Trump tweeted condolences to Sri Lankans and said, “We stand ready to help.”
138 people have been killed in Sri Lanka, with more that 600 badly injured, in a terrorist attack on churches and hotels. The United States offers heartfelt condolences to the great people of Sri Lanka. We stand ready to help.
The White House in a statement condemned the “outrageous terrorist attacks that have claimed so many precious lives on this Easter Sunday” and said that the administration stands with the people and government of Sri Lanka “as they bring to justice the perpetrators of these despicable and senseless acts.”
In his Easter address, Pope Francis denounced the attacks, the AP reported.
“I want to express my loving closeness to the Christian community, targeted while they were gathered in prayer, and all the victims of such cruel violence,” the pope said.
After the attack, volunteers rushed to donate blood to the victims.
Seeing hundreds of people rushing to National Blood Transfusion Service today morning, and seeing how people helped unknown people to fill up applications reminded me terrorism would never beat the humanity of people in Sri Lanka.
“In the midst of this tragedy, it’s reassuring to see the outpouring of solidarity as people donate blood,” Samaraweera, the finance minister,tweeted.
“Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Muslim & others are donating because we are humans with the same blood & same spirit of compassion. Nobody can deny our common humanity.”