Ninth bomb found, 207 killed at churches and hotels
WARNING: Graphic content
A NEW bomb has been found at Sri Lanka's main airport after eight blasts that have killed - and injured - hundreds of people, with Australians caught up in the tragedy.
Sri Lanka is reeling the co-ordinated terror attacks that targeted luxury hotels and churches where at least 207 people were killed and hundreds more were hospitalised with injuries.
The attacks are the worst the South Asian country has seen since its civil war ended a decade ago and forced it into lockdown.
It is understood 13 suspects have been arrested so far.
With a curfew imposed, police and Sri Lankan Special Task Force personnel conducted a search operation on the outskirts of Colombo, where the latest of the eight blasts took place.
The country's main international airport has been put into lockdown as well after a two-metre long pipe bomb was found.
It has since been diffused but has sparked increased security with passengers told to arrive four hours earlier to navigate their way through more security checkpoints.
It comes amid reports there was a warning about a terror attack 10 days ago.
Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said at a press conference he was not kept informed about the information and that it is one of the issues that must be looked into.
"For now the priority is to apprehend the attackers," he added.
The memo that contained the warning was dated April 11 and was signed by Sri Lanka's deputy inspector general of police.
Sri Lankan Minister of Telecommunication Harin Fernando tweeted a picture of the memo on Sunday.
"Some intelligence officers were aware of this incidence. Therefore there was a delay in action. What my father heard was also from an intelligence officer. Serious action need to be taken as to why this warning was ignored. I was in Badulla last night," he wrote.
Some intelligence officers were aware of this incidence. Therefore there was a delay in action. What my father heard was also from an intelligence officer. Serious action need to be taken as to why this warning was ignored. I was in Badulla last night pic.twitter.com/ssJyItJF1x— Harin Fernando (@fernandoharin) April 21, 2019
HOW THE ATTACK UNFOLDED
Yesterday, after police moved into Dematagoda, at least two more blasts occurred, with the occupants of a safe house apparently blasting explosives to prevent arrest.
Reuters reports that three police officers have been killed during a raid on a house in Colombo.
More than 560 have been injured so far with the death toll expected to rise.
Around 35 foreigners are said to be among the dead.
The first wave of attacks hit Sri Lanka's country's minority Christian community during busy Easter services at churches in the cities of Colombo, Negombo and Batticaloa.
Three luxury hotels, the Shangri La, Cinnamon Grand and Kingsbury Hotel were then targeted in the capital city of Colombo.
A seventh and eighth blast, at a hotel in front of the Dehiwala Zoo in Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia and at a private house in Mahawila Gardens, in Dematagoda, later occurred.
The blast sites reported so far include:
- St Anthony's Shrine, Kochchikade
- St Sebastian's Church, Negombo
- Zion Church, Batticaloa
- Cinnamon Grand, Colombo
- Shangri-La Hotel, Colombo
- The Kingsbury Hotel, Colombo
- Near Dehiwala Zoo in Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia
- A house in Mahawila Gardens, Dematagoda
"A TERRORIST INCIDENT"
Defence Minister Ruwan Wijewardena described the attacks as a terrorist incident.
No one has claimed responsibility for what Sri Lankan officials have described as a terrorist attack by religious extremists.
Muslims make up about 10% of Sri Lanka's population of 23 million.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said he feared the violence could trigger instability in the country and its economy.
Two of the blasts were suspected to have been carried out by suicide bombers, a senior official told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak with reporters. Worshippers and hotel guests were among the dead, the official said.
A National Hospital spokesman, Dr. Samindi Samarakoon, told The Associated Press that they received 47 dead there, including nine foreigners, and were treating more than 200 wounded.
Local media reported police have arrested one suspect in Dehiwala following the blast there.
An Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesperson said the agency was working to see if any Australians have been caught up in the blasts.
"Following several bomb blasts in Sri Lanka, the Australian High Commission in Colombo is making urgent inquiries with local authorities to determine the welfare of any Australians affected," the spokesperson told News Corp Australia.
A police official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said at least 45 people had been killed in Colombo, where three hotels and a church were hit.
Another 67 were killed in an attack on a church in Negombo north of the capital, with another 25 dead at a church in the town of Batticaloa, in the east of the country.
Daily News says more than 500 others have been taken to hospital with injuries caused by the blasts.
The explosions all occurred roughly at the same time, around 8.45am local time (1.15pm AEST), authorities said.
A security official said at least the two of the church blasts were carried out by suicide bombers.
According to CNN News 18, top Intel sources have identified one of the suicide bombers and they revealed he wanted to attack the Indian High Commission in Colombo on April 4.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has convened Sri Lanka's top military officials at an emergency meeting of the National Security Council.
The violence is the worst since Sri Lanka's bloody civil war ended a decade ago.
Earlier, Wickremesinghe tweeted that "the government is taking immediate steps to contain the situation."
Sri Lanka's government imposed a nationwide curfew that police said would go into effect immediately and would last "until further notice".
Sri Lanka's defence ministry initially said the curfew would be imposed overnight, but the police subsequently said it would go into effect straight away.
BLOOD ON CHURCH PEWS AND FLOOR
One of the churches targeted was St Anthony's in Colombo.
The other two were St Sebastian's in Negombo, a Catholic majority town 30km from the capital, and Zion Church in Batticaloa, 250km east of the capital.
St. Sebastian's posted pictures of destruction inside the church on its Facebook page, showing blood on pews and the floor, and requested help from the public.
The explosion ripped off the roof and knocked out doors and windows at St. Sebastian's.
Father Edmond Tillekeratne, social communications director for the Archdiocese of Colombo, said that the St. Sebastian's Church blast took place after Easter Mass, and that there were about 30 bodies lying in the area of the church.
He said three priests had been celebrating the mass at the time of the blast. Two of them were badly injured by flying glass and debris, and one was only lightly injured because he was behind the altar.
He estimated that more than a thousand people had come to the church for Easter Sunday "because it is a special day." Many came from villages, he said.
He described the ground as covered in rubble and shattered glass.
"You can see pieces of flesh thrown all over the walls and on the sanctuary and even outside of the church," he told CNN.
The Archbishop of Colombo has demanded that those responsible for the Easter Sunday blasts in Sri Lanka to be punished "mercilessly."
Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, in a strong statement, urged the government to launch a "very impartial strong inquiry" and to punish those found responsible "mercilessly because only animals can behave like that."
The blasts were reported from at least two luxury hotels and a church in Colombo, and two other churches in Katana and in Negombo, north of Colombo.
Officials have not spoken of a terrorist attack, but the blasts appeared to target religious places and the economy, according to initial local media reports.
Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera said that the injured were being evacuated while security forces have cordoned off the areas and search operations are underway.
Alex Agieleson, who was near the shrine, said buildings shook with the blast, and that a number of injured people were carried away in ambulances.
There were no immediate claims of responsibility.
The injured included foreigners staying at the three five-star hotels - the Cinnamon Grand, Kingsbury and the Shangri-La, located in the heart of Colombo.
The Shangri-La's second-floor restaurant was gutted in the blast, with the ceiling and windows blown out. Loose wires hung and tables were overturned in the blackened space.
A police magistrate was at the hotel to inspect the bodies recovered from the restaurant. From outside the police cordon, three bodies could be seen covered in white sheets.
AUSTRALIAN TOURISTS CAUGHT UP IN BLASTS
Brisbane couple Steve and Amanda Brown are currently on their honeymoon in Sri Lanka.
Close family friend Peta Gannon who has been in contact with the couple said that they are trying to register their whereabouts with DFAT's Smart Traveller but poor internet connection is proving to be a challenge.
The couple are planning to travel to Kandy but are not sure if they will be allowed to leave their hotel due to the current curfews.
"They love the people and say it's just horrible for them," Ms Gannon said.
Melbourne woman Megan Anderson is staying in the Galle Face Hotel in Colombo with her husband and said she was shaken.
"All Aussies here are a little frightened," she told The Daily Telegraph.
"We found out from another Aussie guy here who came back to the hotel after being on the street.
"There are still no updates from Australian officials and it's three hours since the explosions.
"We are remaining in the hotel grounds away from the front of the building.
"Explosions were heard by some of our fellow Aussie guests. My husband and I are safe. The hotel staff don't say much - you need to understand that tourism is all this country has and they are scared now too.
"I can tell you the three hotels hit - the Cinnamon Grand, Shangri-La and the Kingston are all 5-star resorts on the main drag of Colombo and there will definitely be Australians in those hotels.
"We have a flight home at midnight tonight."
Another Australian woman, Donna, took to social media to reassure her friends she was safe after she was placed into lock down.
"I'm safely locked in a hotel until the government says it's safe for foreigners to go out again," she wrote.
"There are now armed guards in the hotel foyer and sniffer dogs going through all cars as they come into the hotel."
LEADERS REACT, CONDEMN ATTACKS
Scott Morrison condemned the explosions in Sri Lanka, saying Australian diplomatic staff had been confirmed as safe while warning it was too early to provide updates on the situation.
"We have been in contact with our mission staff in Sri Lanka and been able to confirm their safety, but as I said there are many Australians who do travel in this area and the information that is coming out of Sri Lanka is very confused at this point, as you'd expect it to be after such an horrific incident," Mr Morrison said from Sydney.
"As the day passes and night passes and we move into the next few days, I'm sure the information will becomes even more sickeningly real, and the devastating nature of this horrific attack on innocent lives simply going about their day, going to worship on the holiest of days on the Christian calendar is just absolutely devastating."
Earlier the PM condemned the attacks on social media.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten also condemned the blasts, describing it as an assault on "our common humanity".
In a joint statement released tonight with Labor's foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong, Mr Shorten said the attack appeared to be deliberately targeted.
"We note authorities are still investigating and no group has yet claimed responsibility," he said.
"But whoever is responsible and for whatever motive, Labor, and all Australians, reject such acts of hatred and terror.
"We will continue to stand with all peace-loving people of faith around the world and we will not let hate divide us."
Mr Shorten thanked Australia's High Commissioner and urged anyone concerned for the welfare of family and friends to contact DFAT's Consular Emergency Centre.
Earlier he tweeted Australia's solidarity with Sri Lanka.
Australian Catholic Bishops Conference president Archbishop Mark Coleridge also condemned the attacks.
"Attacks such as this are always atrocious," he said, "but especially when worshippers are the target and it's the Resurrection they're celebrating.
"We don't know who planned the attack or what their motive may have been. But we do know that whoever's responsible, this attack has something demonic about its planning and execution. We also know that violence like this won't have the last word.
That's what Easter is about."
Pakistan's PM, former cricketer Imran Khan, condemned the attacks on "precious lives".
Pakistan and Sri Lanka enjoy close relations. Pakistan helped train Sri Lankan army officers in the civil war battle against Tamil rebels.
There was a similar reaction from British Prime Minister Theresa May who described the killings as "truly appalling".
French president Emmanuel Macron condemned the attacks as "odious".
German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged that the "religious hate and intolerance that have showed themselves in such a terrible way today must not win".
"It is shocking that people who gathered to celebrate Easter together were consciously targeted in this malicious attack," Merkel said in a condolence telegram published by a spokeswoman on Twitter.
Pope Francis expressed his sadness and said he stood with the victims of "such cruel violence."
"I learned with sadness the news of the attacks which today, Easter Sunday, brought mourning and pain," Francis said in his traditional Easter address at the Vatican.
"I want to express my affectionate closeness with the Christian community, attacked while it was at prayer, and to all the victims of such cruel violence."
Sri Lanka's foreign ministry says the nationalities of 11 foreigners killed in the Easter Sunday blasts have been verified.
They include three Indians, one Portuguese national, two Turkish nationals, three British nationals and two holding US and British nationalities.
A Dutch national and a Chinese national also have been reported among the victims.
The statement also says nine foreigners are reported missing.
US President Donald Trump offered his "heartfelt condolences".
"Heartfelt condolences from the people of the United States to the people of Sri Lanka on the horrible terrorist attacks on churches and hotels," he tweeted. "We stand ready to help!"
The US leader erroneously wrote that "138 million people" were killed in the attacks, AFP reports.
Several Americans were among those killed on Sunday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said.
"While many details of the attacks are still emerging, we can confirm that several US citizens were among those killed," he said in a statement.
"The US Embassy is working tirelessly to provide all possible assistance to the American citizens affected by the attacks and their families."
Australians concerned for the welfare of family and friends in the area should attempt to contact them directly. If you cannot contact them and have fears for their safety, DFAT's Consular Emergency Centre can be contacted on 1300 555 135 (within Australia) or +61 2 6261 3305 (from overseas).