A series of explosions ripped through the island nation of Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, killing 207 people and injuring at least 450 in the worst terrorist attacks since a lengthy civil war ended a decade ago.
Eight bombs exploded, several of them detonated by suicide bombers, at luxury hotels, churches, and other locations. In a response by police and security forces, eight people were arrested and three police officers were killed, Reuters and the BBC reported.
Many foreign nationals were among the victims, including several from the U.S., USA Today reported, citing U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
In a statement, Pompeo said, “The United States condemns in the strongest terms the terror attacks in Sri Lanka on Easter morning. 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.”
Sri Lanka Prime Minister Prime Minister Ranil Wickremsinghe tweeted: “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.”
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Officials ordered a curfew in the capital city of Colombo and blocked access to social media sites, including Facebook and WhatsApp, according to Reuters.
The first wave of attacks struck at the heart of the country’s minority Christian community during busy Easter services at churches in the cities of Colombo, Negombo and Batticaloa on Sunday morning.
Additional blasts ripped through three high-end hotels, the Shangri La, Cinnamon Grand and Kingsbury, all in capital city Colombo.
As of this writing, no group had yet claimed responsibility.
The attacks began at about 8:45 a.m. local time, in the first of a series of six explosions. Heavy casualties were reported at St. Anthony’s in the Kochchikade district of Colombo, and at the Cinnamon Grand, Shangri-La, and Kingsbury hotels. Later, the Zion Church in Batticaloa and St. Sebastian’s church in Negombo also were targeted.
Two more blasts occurred near the Dehiwala Zoo in Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia and at a private house in Mahawila Gardens, in Dematagoda, according to CNN.
At the conclusion of Easter Sunday services in Rome, Pope Francis expressed his “loving closeness to the Christian community, targeted while they were gathered in prayer, and all the victims of such cruel violence,” the AP reported.
The Archbishop of Colombo, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, called on officials to punish those behind the attack “mercilessly because only animals can behave like that,” according to USA Today.
After arriving at two bombing sites, Sri Lanka’s economic reforms minister, Harsha de Silva, described “horrible scenes,” according to CNN. “We took multiple casualties to hospital. Hopefully saved many lives,” De Silva said.
The targets appear to have been the country’s Christian minority, who comprise 7.4% of the population, CNN said.
A 26-year civil war, which ended in 2009, left 70,000 people dead.