Update: Reuters quoting police: Death toll from Sri Lanka’s eight explosions rises to 207; 450 injured, seven people arrested
Colombo: At least 160 people have been killed, including nine foreigners, and hundreds injured after explosions in three churches and three hotels in and around the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo, according to police sources.
The blasts hit several high-end hotels and a church in Colombo, while two other churches were targeted outside Colombo during Easter Mass, Sri Lanka police told news agency AFP.
The nature of the explosions, which happened at around 8:45 am local time, was not immediately clear and there were no immediate claims of responsibility.
Sri Lanka Prime Minister condemned the attack in a tweet, and appealed to citizens to stay strong and united. “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,” he tweeted.
The Sri Lanka government has called an emergency meeting, the Minister of Economic Reforms and Public Distribution, Harsha de Silva, said in a tweet. “Emergency meeting called in a few minutes. Rescue operations underway,” he tweeted.
President Maithripala Sirisena said he was shocked by the explosions and urged for calm.
The first explosions were reported at St Anthony’s Church in Colombo and St Sebastian’s Church at Katuwapitiya in the town of Negombo.
“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. Soon after the initial reports, four other blasts were confirmed by the police.
Three of those were at hotels, while another was reported from a church in the town of Batticaloa.
An official at the Batticaloa hospital told AFP more than 300 people had been admitted with injuries following the blast there.
In Colombo, the blasts hit the Cinnamon Grand Hotel, the Shangri-La and the Kingsbury.
At least one of the victims was killed in Colombo’s Cinnamon Grand Hotel, near the prime minister’s official residence, where the blast ripped through a restaurant, a hotel official told AFP.
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, responding to the explosions, said that she is in close touch with the Indian High Commissioner in Colombo and that the government was closely monitoring the situation in the neighboring country.
For Indian citizens in Sri Lanka requiring any assistance, the Indian embassy in Sri Lanka has tweeted out helpline numbers.
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.