Sri Lanka explosions: More than 150 dead in Easter Sunday attack

Sri Lankan military officials stand guard in front of the St. Anthony’s Shrine, Kochchikade church after an explosion in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on Sunday. (Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters)

By Amantha Perera and

Joanna Slater

April 21 at 7:26 AM

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — A series of coordinated explosions struck churches and hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, killing more than 150 people and injuring hundreds.

Blasts ripped through three churches in the cities of Colombo, Negombo and Batticaloa at approximately 8:45 a.m. as worshipers were gathering for services. Explosions also took place at four hotels within Colombo, the nation’s capital, police said, while an eighth blast occurred under a flyover within the city.

There has been no claim of responsibility for the bombings, which represent the deadliest violence in the country since the end of its civil war in 2009. Sri Lanka is a predominantly Buddhist nation but is also home to significant Hindu, Muslim and Christian communities. 

At least 50 people were killed in Colombo and 62 in the nearby town of Negombo, said Anil Jasinghe, director of the National Hospital in Colombo, the nation’s capital. Kaneshlingam Kala, a hospital official in the eastern city of Batticaloa, said 25 people were killed at Zion Church.

The dead included at least eight foreigners, including three Americans, according to doctors who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The death toll is expected to increase, officials said.

Images from inside St. Anthony’s Kochchikade, the largest Roman Catholic congregation in Colombo, showed shattered wooden pews and floors stained with blood.

Another deadly blast took place at St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo, a beach town about 20 miles north of the capital.

Two people at the Shangri-La Hotel in Colombo described a powerful explosion that made the ground shake just before 9 a.m. Photos showed broken windows and scattered glass on a street next to the hotel. At the Cinnamon Grand Hotel, the blast took place in a restaurant on the ground floor, the hotel wrote on Twitter. It said the injured were promptly evacuated. 

In the wake of the bombings, Sri Lankan authorities announced a nationwide curfew, effective immediately. They also blocked Facebook and the messaging application WhatsApp to stop the spread of false and inflammatory messages.

Ranil Wickremesinghe, Sri Lanka’s prime minister, condemned what he called “the cowardly attacks on our people today” and urged the country to remain “united and strong.”

Earlier on Sunday, Harsh de Silva, a minister in Sri Lanka’s government, wrote on Twitter that he had seen “horrible scenes” after the explosions and that there were “many casualties including foreigners.” He urged people to stay indoors.

Sri Lanka is a popular tourism destination and has been largely peaceful since the end of its long-running civil war a decade ago. Sunday’s bombings were the worst violence to hit Colombo since 1996, when a blast at the country’s Central Bank killed nearly 100 people. That attack was carried out by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), or Tamil Tigers, which waged a war for a separate Tamil homeland in Sri Lanka’s north for more than thirty years.

Messages of condolence and condemnation began to pour in from around the world.

President Trump tweeted: “The United States offers heartfelt condolences to the great people of Sri Lanka. We stand ready to help!”

The Church of England posted a prayer for the people of Sri Lanka on Twitter.India, Sri Lanka’s neighbor, strongly condemned what it called a “ghastly and heinous act” and said it stood with the people of Sri Lanka “in this hour of grief.”