The death toll in a string of blasts on Sunday at churches and hotels in Sri Lanka has risen to around 160, including 35 foreigners, a police official told AFP.
A fresh blast hit a hotel in Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo, killing at least two people, a police spokesperson said, after a string of explosions at churches and hotels.
The eighth blast was carried out by a suicide bomber and killed three police officers, a police source said.
The source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the suicide bomber detonated his explosives when police entered a house in a northern suburb of the capital Colombo to carry out a search.
The upper floor of the house collapsed in the blast, killing the police officers.
Police spokesperson Ruwan Gunasekera said the blast hit a hotel in the southern Colombo suburb of Dehiwala. It was the seventh attack to hit the country on Sunday, with police saying more than 150 people have been killed.
A hospital source said Americans, British and Dutch citizens were among those killed in the six blasts, which also injured hundreds of people.
A police official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said at least 42 people were killed in Colombo, where three hotels and a church were hit.
Another 10 people were confirmed dead in the town of Batticaloa, in the east of the country, where another church was targeted.
There were also reports of casualties in a blast at a church north of the capital, and the toll was expected to rise.
The nature of the blasts was not immediately clear, and there were no immediate claims of responsibility.
President Maithripala Sirisena in an address said he was shocked by the explosions, and appealed for calm.
Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera, writing on his verified Twitter account, said the attacks had killed “many innocent people” and appeared to be a “well-coordinated attempt to create murder, mayhem & anarchy.”
Easter Sunday bomb blasts in churches & hotels, killing many innocent people seems to be a well coordinated attempt to create murder,mayhem & anarchy.All those who cherish democracy,freedom & economic prosperity must unite now with nerves of steel to defeat this heinous attempt.
— Mangala Samaraweera (@MangalaLK) April 21, 2019
Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe condemned the blasts as “cowardly”, and said the government was working to “contain the situation.”
“I strongly condemn the cowardly attacks on our people today,” he said in a tweet from his verified account.
“I call upon all Sri Lankans during this tragic time to remain united and strong … The government is taking immediate steps to contain this situation.”
The first explosions were reported at St Anthony’s Shrine, a church in Colombo and St Sebastian’s Church in the town of Negombo just outside the capital.
Dozens of people injured in the St Anthony’s blast flooded into the Colombo National Hospital by mid-morning, an official told AFP.
“A bomb attack to our church, please come and help if your family members are there,” read a post in English on the Facebook page of the St Sebastian’s Church at Katuwapitiya in Negombo.
Shortly after those blasts were reported, police confirmed three hotels in the capital had also been hit, along with a church in Batticaloa.
An official at one of the hotels, the Cinnamon Grand Hotel near the prime minister’s official residence in Colombo, told AFP that the blast had ripped through the hotel restaurant.
He said at least one person had been killed in the blast.
An official at the Batticaloa hospital told AFP more than 300 people had been admitted with injuries following the blast there.
“Emergency meeting called in a few minutes. Rescue operations underway,” Sri Lanka’s Minister of Economic Reforms and Public Distribution, Harsha de Silva, said in a tweet on his verified account.
He said he had been to two of the attacked hotels and was at the scene at St Anthony’s Shrine and described “horrible scenes.”
“I saw many body parts strewn all over,” he tweeted, adding that there were “many casualties including foreigners.”
“Please stay calm and indoors,” he added.
Photos circulating on social media showed the roof of one church had been almost blown off in the blast.
Pray For Sri Lanka ???????? ????
160 dead and over 300 injured and hospitalized following 6 blasts in churches and hotels in Sri Lanka – Hospital sources.
Stay Safe Sri Lanka❗#LKA #SriLanka #EasterSundayAttacksLK #Colombo #PrayForSriLanka #EasterAttackSL pic.twitter.com/ns8A27rsRD
— Sri Lanka Tweet ???????? (@SriLankaTweet) April 21, 2019
The floor was littered with a mixture of roof tiles, splintered wood and blood.
Several people could be seen covered in blood, with some trying to help those with more serious injuries.
The images could not immediately be verified.
Only around six percent of mainly Buddhist Sri Lanka is Catholic, but the religion is seen as a unifying force because it includes people from both the Tamil and majority Sinhalese ethnic groups.
The Sri Lanka police chief was allegedly warned of possible suicide attacks before the tragic Sunday blasts, according to a document received by AFP.
Sri Lanka’s defence ministry initially ordered a night-time curfew, but government has since imposed a nationwide curfew that police said would go into effect immediately and would last “until further notice”.