Simultaneous blasts occurred in Sri Lanka Easter Sunday morning at three churches and three hotels. At least 200 people are dead and 500 are injured.
“Several” Americans are among at least 207 people killed and 450 injured in simultaneous terrorist attacks at several high-end hotels and churches in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirmed Sunday.
“The United States condemns in the strongest terms the terror attacks in Sri Lanka on Easter morning,” Pompeo said in a statement released by the State Department. “Attacks on innocent people gathering in a place of worship or enjoying a holiday meal are affronts to the universal values and freedoms that we hold dear, and demonstrate yet again the brutal nature of radical terrorists whose sole aim is to threaten peace and security.”
At least six explosions hit hotels and churches as worshipers gathered for Easter services in the cities of Colombo, Negombo and Batticaloa, according to The Associated Press. Hours later, a blast at a guesthouse killed at least two people. Then an eighth explosion rocked an overpass in the area of Dematagoda on the outskirts of the capital of Colombo, according to police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara.
Three police officers were killed when they went to question suspects. Seven suspects were arrested.
“People were being dragged out,” said Bhanuka Harischandra, of Colombo, a 24-year-old founder of a tech marketing company who was going to the city’s Shangri-La Hotel for a meeting when it was bombed. “People didn’t know what was going on. It was panic mode.”
He added: “There was blood everywhere.”
The attacks raised fears of copycats. In New York City, police officers “will make periodic visits to all houses of worship, giving special attention to those with Easter services,” police spokesman Sgt. Brendan Ryan said.
At least 20 foreigners were among the dead in Colombo, according to Anil Jasinghe, director general of health services. Among them were two who were citizens of both the U.S. and United Kingdom. There were also three Indians, one Portuguese national, two Turkish nationals and three British nationals.
Names of the U.S. victims have not been released. Nine foreigners were reported missing.
No one had claimed responsibility for the attacks by Sunday night local time.
It’s the deadliest spout of violence in Sri Lanka since the South Asian country’s bloody civil war ended a decade ago. The island nation of about 23 million people off the southern tip of India has been relatively peaceful since the war ended, though its various factions continued to jostle for power.
The majority are Sinhalese, mostly Buddhist. The minority Tamil are Hindu, Muslim and Christian. Christians, targeted in Sunday’s attacks, have a lower profile than some of the other factions.
The Sri Lankan government imposed a nationwide curfew from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. and blocked Facebook and other social media, saying it needed to curtail the spread of false information and ease tension in the country of about 21 million people.
In his Easter Sunday message in Vatican City, Pope Francis noted the “cruel violence” of targeting Christians who had come together in prayer.
“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,” Francis told a crowd of about 70,000 people in St. Peter’s Square. “I entrust to the Lord all those who were tragically killed and pray for the injured and all those who are suffering as a result of this dramatic event.”
The first blast rang through St. Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo. Alex Agileson, who was in the vicinity, said buildings in the surrounding area shook with the blast, according to the AP.
A second explosion was reported at St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo, a Catholic majority town north of Colombo.
Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe condemned the attacks and warned against spreading unverified reports in a statement issued on Twitter.
“I call upon all Sri Lankans during this tragic time to remain united and strong. Please avoid propagating unverified reports and speculation,” he said. “The government is taking immediate steps to contain this situation.”
President Donald Trump tweeted his condolences to the victims early Sunday morning, initially stating that the explosions killed “at least 138 million people.” The inaccurate tweet stayed up for about 20 minutes before it was deleted, and a new statement was issued with the same pledge to help and the accurate number of fatalities.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed “deep shock” over the attacks and said, “The entire world must unite in the battle against the scourge of terrorism.”
Contributing: The Associated Press
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