Over 200 people were killed and at least 450 injured in a series of eight devastating bomb blasts that ripped through high-end hotels and churches in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday.
The powerful blasts – six in quick succession and then two more hours later — left hundreds injured and wrought devastation, including at the capital’s well-known St Anthony’s Shrine, a historic Catholic Church.
At least two of the explosions were carried out by suicide bombers, according to police sources and a hotel official.
A police official said that 35 foreigners were among the dead and hospital sources said British, Dutch and American citizens had been killed, with Britons and Japanese also injured. A Portuguese man and two Chinese citizens were among the dead, news agencies in their countries reported.
The Sri Lankan government declared a nationwide curfew with immediate effect, the Defence Minister Ruwan Wijewardene said.
There were no immediate claims of responsibility for the blasts, but documents seen by AFP show that Sri Lanka’s police chief, Pujuth Jayasundara, issued an intelligence alert to top officers 10 days ago, warning that suicide bombers planned to hit “prominent churches.”
“A foreign intelligence agency has reported that the NTJ (National Thowheeth Jama’ath) is planning to carry out suicide attacks targeting prominent churches as well as the Indian high commission in Colombo,” the alert said.
The NTJ is a radical Muslim group in Sri Lanka that was linked last year to the vandalisation of Buddhist statues.
The Archbishop of Colombo, Malcolm Ranjith, described those behind the attacks as “animals” and called on the authorities to “punish them mercilessly.”
Embassies in Colombo warned their citizens to shelter in place and Sri Lankan Airlines told customers to arrive at the airport four hours ahead of flights because of ramped-up security in the wake of the attacks.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe condemned the attacks, saying it is “an attempt to make the country and its economy unstable.”
He held an emergency meeting with the country’s top military officials of the National Security Council and called for an emergency meeting of the nation’s parliament on Monday.
President Muhammadu Buhari on Sunday condemned the Easter-day killing of Christians in Sri Lanka.
He described the attacks, believed to be the handiwork of terrorists, as “horrific” and “terrible.”
The Nigerian President urged the authorities in Sri Lanka to ensure that the killers were apprehended and punished for the crime.
In a condolence message issued in Abuja by Presidential spokesman, Mr Garba Shehu, the Nigerian President said his heart went out to the families of the victims and the government of Sri Lanka.
“On behalf of the government and people of Nigeria, the President extends deepest condolences to the families of those killed in the attacks and wishes speedy recovery to the injured.
“We stand with victims of terrorism all over the world because we know and understand this harrowing inhuman activity,” the Presidency stated.
It added that “Nigeria stands with the people of Sri Lanka at this terrible moment, President Buhari urges the authorities not to spare the wicked elements behind these mischievous attacks.”