Sri Lanka lifts curfew as death toll from attacks rises to 290
The Sri Lankan government lifted a curfew in the country on Monday, a day after a string of bombings went off in churches and luxury hotels across the Indian Ocean Island.
The attacks were confirmed to have killed 290 people and wounded about 500, but there were warnings more attacks could come.
Although, Sri Lankans accounted for the bulk of the dead and wounded, there was no claim of responsibility for the Easter Sunday attacks. Four of the bombs went off at roughly the same time, at 8.45 a.m., with the other two coming within 20 minutes.
Government officials said 32 foreigners were killed, including British, U.S., Turkish, Indian, Chinese, Danish, Dutch and Portuguese nationals.
According to Reuters, President Maithripala Sirisena, who was abroad when the attacks happened, had called a meeting of the National Security Council early on Monday, with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in attendance, a government source said.
The Sri Lankan military, who were clearing the route from Colombo airport late on Sunday in preparation for Sirisena’s return, found a crude bomb near the departure gate, an air force spokesman said.
They destroyed the device in a controlled explosion.
There were fears the attacks could spark a renewal of communal violence, with police also reporting late on Sunday there had been a petrol bomb attack on a mosque in the northwest and arson attacks on two shops owned by Muslims in the west.
Sri Lanka was at war for decades with ethnic minority Tamil separatists but violence had largely ended since the government victory in the civil war, 10 years ago.
Sri Lanka’s 22 million people include Christian, Muslim and Hindu populations of between about eight and 12 percent.
Security forces raided a house in Colombo on Sunday afternoon, several hours after the attack. Police reported an explosion at the house and said three officers were killed.
Police said on Monday 24 people had been arrested, all of whom were Sri Lankan.
The U.S. State Department issued a revised travel warning that said terrorist groups were continuing to plot.
“Terrorists may attack with little or no warning,” it said in the warning, which was set at two on a scale on which four means do not travel.
Possible targets included tourist spots, transport hubs, shopping malls, hotels, places of worship, airports and other public areas, it said.
Reuters reported that soldiers with automatic weapons stood guard outside major hotels and the World Trade Centre in the business district, where the four hotels were targeted on Sunday, according to a Reuters witness.
Scores of people who were stranded overnight at the main airport began making their way home as restrictions were lifted.
The government also blocked access to social media and messaging sites, including Facebook and WhatsApp, making information hard to gather.
Wickremsinghe acknowledged on Sunday that the government had some prior information about possible attacks on churches involving a little-known Islamist group but said ministers had not been told.
A British mother and son eating breakfast at the luxury Shangri-La hotel were among those killed, British media reported.
An Australian survivor, identified only as Sam, told Australia’s 3AW radio the hotel was a scene of “absolute carnage”.
He said he and a travel partner were also having breakfast at the Shangri-La when two blasts went off. He said he had seen two men wearing backpacks seconds before the blasts.
“There were people screaming and dead bodies all around,” he said. “Kids crying, kids on the ground, I don’t know if they were dead or not, just crazy.”
There were similar scenes of carnage at two churches in or near Colombo, and a third church in the northeast town of Batticaloa, where worshippers had gathered for Easter Sunday services. Pictures from the scene showed bodies on the ground and blood-spattered pews and statues.
Dozens were killed in one of the blasts at the Gothic-style St. Sebastian church in Katuwapitiya, north of Colombo. Police said they suspected that blast was a suicide attack.