22 Apr 2019

Sri Lanka blasts: Arrests, police dead in raids

9:37 am on 22 April 2019

Thirteen people have been arrested in Sri Lanka in police raids that killed three officers, after coordinated bombings at hotels and churches that have killed more than 200 people across the country.

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Photo: AFP

There were six near-simultaneous attacks on Sunday morning followed by a seventh explosion at a hotel opposite the national zoo in the early afternoon and an eighth on the outskirts of the capital Colombo shortly after.

They hit four hotels and three churches during services on Easter Sunday, killing at least 207 people and injuring at least 450.

Three police officers were later killed during a security forces raid on a house in the Sri Lankan capital several hours after the attacks, many of which officials said were suicide bomb explosions. Police reported an explosion at the house.

Thirteen arrests have been made, all of whom are Sri Lankans, police said.

"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 spokesperson Ruwan Gunasekera said.

Police reported on Sunday night there had also been a petrol bomb attack on a mosque in the northwestern district of Puttalum and arson attacks on two shops owned by Muslims in the western district of Kalutara.

International response

Government officials said that 32 foreigners - including five from Briton, three from India, two from Denmark, two from Turkey, one from Portugal and others from China and the Netherlands - were dead.

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Photo: AFP

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

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

The country's President Maithripala Sirisena issued a statement calling for people to remain calm.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said all of the arrested suspects were Sri Lankans. He said the attacks were cowardly and urged unity.

Mr Wickremesinghe also said there was prior information about a possible terror attack, but cabinet ministers were not told of it.

The New York Times reported a top Sri Lankan police official issued a letter on 11 April warning government security officials of possible suicide attacks planned at Catholic churches.

Deputy inspector general Priyalal Dassanayake cited foreign intelligence officials and identified the group suspected of planning attacks as National Thowheeth Jama'ath. The letter also named individual members of the group.

New Zealand responds

New Zealand's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that as of this morning, 214 New Zealanders were registered as being in Sri Lanka, after another 100 people logged themselves into the Safetravel.govt.nz website.

The ministry advised New Zealanders travelling in Sri Lanka to be extremely cautious in public areas, follow safety advice being given by local authorities, and register their presence on the website.

The attacks have been widely condemned internationally, but there have been no claims of responsibility yet. New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the country rejects all forms of extremism and stands for freedom of religion and the right to worship safely.

Before today's incidents the MFAT website did not carry additional warnings for travellers to the country, but said a higher military presence was visible in northern Sri Lanka, in the aftermath of the civil conflict that ended in 2009.

The country was at war for decades with Tamil separatists until 2009, a time when bomb blasts in the capital were common.

Sri Lanka has a total population of about 22 million people, with about 70 percent Buddhist, 12.6 percent Hindu, 9.7 percent Muslim and 7.6 percent Christian, according to the country's 2012 census.

- ABC / Reuters

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