Death toll rises to 207 in Sri Lanka Easter Sunday bombings

A pipe bomb has been diffused at Colombo International Airport in Sri Lanka's capital as the death toll from Easter Sunday's (NZT) bombings at churches and luxury hotels climbs to 207.

Seven people were arrested and three police officers were killed during a security forces raid on a house in the Sri Lankan capital several hours after the attacks, many of which were suicide bomb explosions, officials said.

Air force personnel discovered the six-foot long pipe bomb during a routine patrol.

"A PVC pipe which was six feet in length containing explosives in it was discovered," Air Force Spokesman Gihan Seneviratne told the Sri Lankan Sunday Times.

The government declared a curfew in Colombo and blocked access to social media and messaging sites, including Facebook and WhatsApp. It is unclear when the curfew will be lifted.

"Altogether, we have information of 207 dead from all hospitals. According to the information as of now we have 450 injured people admitted to hospitals," police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera told reporters.

Three churches in various parts of the country and four hotels in Colombo were hit.

A bombed out building
Photo credit: AAP

Up to 32 of the dead were foreigners, including five British people, two of whom had dual US citizenship, and three Indians, according to officials in those countries.

Also among the fatalities were three people from Denmark, two from Turkey, and one from Portugal, officials said. There were also Chinese and Dutch among the dead, according to media reports.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said US nationals were among those killed, but did not give details.

There are 25 unidentified bodies, believed to be of foreigners, at the Colombo Judicial Medical Officer's mortuary, Sri Lanka's foreign ministry said.

There were no immediate claims of responsibility for the attacks in a country which was at war for decades with Tamil separatists until 2009, a time when bomb blasts in the capital were common.

A soldier guards a church.
A soldier guards one of the bombed churches. Photo credit: Reuters

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremsinghe acknowledged that the government had some "prior information of the attack" though ministers were not told.

He said there wasn't an adequate response and there needed to be an inquiry into how the information was used.

He also said the government needs to look at the international links of a local militant group.

French news agency Agence France Presse reported that it had seen documents showing 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". He cited a foreign intelligence service as reporting that a little-known Islamist group was planning attacks.

Local Christian groups have said they faced increasing intimidation from some extremist Buddhist monks in recent years.

Last year, there were clashes between the majority Sinhalese Buddhist community and minority Muslims, with some hardline Buddhist groups accusing Muslims of forcing people to convert to Islam.

Dozens were killed in one of the blasts at St. Sebastian's Gothic-style Catholic church in Katuwapitiya, north of Colombo. Gunasekera said the police suspected a suicide attack there. Pictures from the site showed bodies on the ground, blood on the church pews and a destroyed roof.

Local media reported 25 people were also killed in an attack on an evangelical church in Batticaloa in Eastern Province. One of the explosions was at St Anthony's Shrine, a Catholic church in Kochcikade, Colombo, a tourist landmark.

The hotels hit in Colombo were the Shangri-La, the Kingsbury, the Cinnamon Grand and the Tropical Inn near the national zoo. There was no word on casualties in the hotels.

The first six explosions were all reported within a short period in the morning just as church services were starting.

The explosion at the Tropical Inn happened later and there was an eighth explosion at a house in Colombo. Police and media said that three officers were killed and seven people detained during a raid on this location.

The military was deployed, a military spokesman said, and security stepped up at Colombo's international airport.

Reuters/Newshub

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