Easter Day bombs kill 359 in attacks on Sri Lankan churches, hotels
Easter Day bomb blasts at three Sri Lankan churches and three luxury hotels killed 359 people and wounded more than 500, hospital and police officials said, following a lull in major attacks since the end of the civil war 10 years ago. In just one church, St Sebastian's in Katuwapitiya, north of Colombo, more than 50 people had been killed, a police official said, with pictures showing bodies on the ground, blood on the pews and a destroyed roof. Media reported 25 people were also killed in an attack on a church in Batticaloa in Eastern Province. There were no immediate claims of responsibility for the attacks in a country that was at war for decades with Tamil separatists until 2009, during which bomb blasts in the capital were common.
The Catholic Shrine of St. Anthony in Kotahena, Colombo, was the first to be hit, followed by the Catholic Church of St Sebastian in Negombo. Sri Lankan news media reported at least 93 people killed at St Sebastian's.
The Zion Church in Batticaloa, a Protestant congregation, was also bombed. Local news reported at least 27 killed in Batticaloa, with nine of these reported by a police official to be tourists. A hospital official in the region said that more than 300 people had been admitted following the explosion. The BBC reported that the suicide bomber had attempted to enter the church under the guise of filming it but was denied access because of the ongoing mass. Instead, he detonated his bomb in the churchyard, killing many children from the attached Sunday school who were taking a drinks break in the yard.
Three 5-star hotels on the beachfront in central Colombo were attacked around the same time as the churches: the Shangri-La Hotel, the Cinnamon Grand Hotel and The Kingsbury.
The Shangri-La bomber struck at 8h57 hours during breakfast in the Table One Restaurant on the hotel's third floor, which was reportedly full of foreign tourists who made up the bulk of the hotel's clientele. The suicide bomber who struck at the Taprobane restaurant in the Cinnamon Grand hotel checked into the hotel with a fake name the night prior, under the false pretence of a business trip. Carrying a plate, the bomber entered the queue of the packed restaurant's breakfast buffet the next morning and detonated explosives strapped to his back as he was about to be served. One of the hotel's managers who was present welcoming guests was among those killed instantly.
The reception hall of a guest house, the Tropical Inn in Dehiwala, was also attacked later in the day, with two deaths reported.
More bombings occurred later in the day when police began to search suspects' houses in the suburbs of Colombo; a suicide bombing was carried out at a housing complex in Dematagoda killing three police officers: a sub-inspector and two constables.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe called a national security council meeting at his home later in the day.
The death toll from the Easter Sunday suicide bombing attacks on churches and hotels in Sri Lanka rose to 359, police said on Wednesday without providing any further details.
Police spokesperson Ruwan Gunasekera released the toll but did not give a breakdown of casualties from the three churches and four hotels hit by suicide bombers. The toll had been put at 321 on Tuesday, with about 500 people also wounded.
The attacks were claimed on Tuesday by the Islamic State militant group, which said they were carried out by seven attackers but gave no evidence to support the claim. If the Islamic State claim is true, that would make it one of the worst attacks carried out by the group outside Iraq and Syria.