13 arrested after 207 people killed in Sri Lanka attacks

13 people have been arrested in connection with a series of bombings which ripped through churches and luxury hotels in Sri Lanka.

207 people have been killed and 450 injured in the attacks, most of which were being blamed on suspected suicide bombers.

No one has taken responsibility for the killings, but officials say 13 suspects have been arrested and a safe house believed to have been used by the attackers has been located.

In Colombo, St Anthony’s Shrine and the Cinnamon Grand, Shangri-La and Kingsbury hotels were targeted in the first wave of explosions at shortly before 9am local time as worshippers attended morning services and tourists enjoyed their breakfasts.

Other blasts were reported at St Sebastian’s Church in Negombo, a majority Catholic town north of Colombo, and at Zion Church in the eastern town of Batticaloa.

After the near-simultaneous first set of attacks, there were further explosions in Dehiwala and Dematagoda on the outskirts of Colombo a few hours later.

(PA Graphics)

The country’s defence minister Ruwan Wijewardena described the bombings as a terrorist attack by religious extremists and said seven suspects had been arrested, though there was no immediate claim of responsibility.

Mr Wijewardena said most of the blasts were believed to have been suicide attacks.

The explosions collapsed ceilings and blew out windows, killing worshippers and hotel guests.

People were seen carrying the wounded out of blood-spattered pews.

Witnesses described powerful explosions, followed by scenes of smoke, blood, broken glass, alarms going off and victims screaming in terror.

“People were being dragged out,” 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.”

A Sri Lankan man walks across a deserted street during a curfew after the attacks (Eranga Jayawardena/AP)

He added: “There was blood everywhere.”

The three bombed hotels and one of the churches, St Anthony’s Shrine, are frequented by foreign tourists.

Sri Lanka’s foreign ministry said the bodies of at least 27 foreigners were recovered, and the dead included people from Britain, the US, India, Portugal and Turkey.

China’s Communist Party newspaper said two Chinese were killed.

The country’s prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said he feared the violence could trigger instability in Sri Lanka, a country of about 21 million people, and he vowed the government will “vest all necessary powers with the defence forces” to take action against those responsible for the massacre.

The government imposed a nationwide curfew from 6pm to 6am.

The Archbishop of Colombo, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, called on Sri Lanka’s government to “mercilessly” punish those responsible “because only animals can behave like that”.

Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara said 207 people were killed and 450 wounded.

Sri Lankan army soldiers secure the area around St Sebastian’s Church (Chamila Karunarathne/AP)

The scale of the bloodshed recalled the worst days of the nation’s 26-year civil war, in which the Tamil Tigers, a rebel group from the ethnic Tamil minority, sought independence from Sri Lanka, a Buddhist-majority country.

During the war, the Tigers and other rebels carried out a multitude of bombings.

The Tamils are Hindu, Muslim and Christian.

Sri Lanka is about 70% Buddhist, with the rest of the population Muslim, Hindu or Christian.

While there have been scattered incidents of anti-Christian harassment in recent years, there has been nothing on the scale of what happened on Sunday.

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

There is also no history of violent Muslim militants in Sri Lanka.

However, tensions have been running high more recently between hard-line Buddhist monks and Muslims.

Two Muslim groups in Sri Lanka condemned the church attacks, as did countries around the world, and Pope Francis expressed condolences at the end of his traditional Easter Sunday blessing in Rome.

“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 said.

The first six blasts took place nearly simultaneously in the morning at St Anthony’s Shrine, a Catholic church in Colombo, and three hotels in the city.

The two other explosions occurred after a lull of a few hours at St Sebastian Catholic church in Negombo, a majority Catholic town north of Colombo, and at the Protestant Zion church in the eastern town of Batticaloa.

Blood stains are seen on the wall and on a Jesus Christ statue at the St Sebastian’s Church (AP)

Three police officers were killed while conducting a search at a suspected safe house in Dematagoda, on the outskirts of Colombo.

The occupants of the safe house apparently detonated explosives to prevent arrest, Mr Wijewardena said.

Local TV showed damage at the Cinnamon Grand, Shangri-La and Kingsbury hotels.

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.

PA

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