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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 22 October 2019

Sri Lanka Easter bombings live: Blasts during church services in Colombo

Hundreds of people have been killed and wounded in eight explosions, with three of the detonations wrecking five-star hotels in the capital

Sri Lanka was rocked by multiple bombings on Sunday, including three blasts on church services celebrating Easter.

Three of Colombo's high-end hotels were also targeted in quick succession, police and security services said.

Hospital and police sources said at least 207 people have been killed in the eight blasts across the country and hundreds more taken to hospital including foreign tourists. Follow the latest updates below. All times UTC+4

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23:00

The churches were full on Sunday morning as Christians in Sri Lanka gathered for one of the most important religious holidays of the year, what unfolded next would shake the nation and shock the world.

A little before 9 am, what appears to have been several suicide bombers detonated explosives at three churches across the country. Within minutes, scores were dead and hundreds wounded.

The 200-year old-year-old Roman Catholic Church of St. Sebastian's Church in the small town of Negombo north of the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo was torn apart. Images of the aftermath show the wooden pews tossed aside, rubble filling the central aisle and blood staining the walls. The blast would leave at least 62 people dead.

The scene was repeated at the church of St. Anthony's Shrine in Colombo and the Zion Church in the eastern town of Batticaloa.

N. A. Sumanapala was near the church of St. Anthony’s when the blast happened. "I ran inside to help. The priest came out and he was covered in blood," he said. "It was a river of blood."

When the initial reports came in, officials said 20 were dead and scores wounded. Within hours that had shot passed 200 with over 450 wounded.

For the full report, click here.

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20:23 Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed expresses his disgust

Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, issued a tweet calling the bombings "cowardly", and offered his condolences to all those affected by the violence.

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19:46 Dashcam footage shows St Anthony's Shrine explosion

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19:02 Dubai church to hold special mass for Sri Lankan community

Father Lennie Connully, who is the parish priest of St Mary’s Church, Dubai, tells The National his church will hold a special mass for the UAE's Sri Lankan community. "We will take care of them," he said. “All we can do know is listen to people, and find out who has done this and why."

The attack illustrated how countries everywhere are vulnerable to terrorism, he said. “Nobody is immune to this, and anyone can be a victim at any time," he said. “We rely on the security that is provided by the nation, we can’t protect ourselves.”

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18:47 UN secretary general is outraged by the attacks

The United Nations Secretary General António Guterres is outraged by the terrorist attacks on churches and hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, his spokesman said.

"He hopes the perpetrators will be swiftly brought to justice," spokesman Stéphane Dujarric said in a statement.

"The Secretary-General expresses his deepest condolences to the families of the victims, the people and the Government of Sri Lanka, and wishes a speedy recovery to the injured. He commends the leadership demonstrated by the authorities and unity of the people of Sri Lanka in the wake of the attacks."

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18:42 Tourists can travel to the airport during curfew hours

Passengers flying out of Sri Lanka can still travel to the airport during the imposed curfew, but must show tickets and passports at security checkpoints.

The curfew will be in effect from 6pm until 6am tomorrow and may be extended.

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18:06 UAE foreign ministry advises against travel to Sri Lanka

In a tweet, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation advised UAE nationals not to travel to Sri Lanka at the present time. It also asked Sri Lankan citizens to leave and call its contact centre on 0097180044444

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17:30 Death toll passes 200

The death toll has risen again to 207, police say, with 450 wounded in Sunday's explosions that targeted at least three churches and three luxury hotels.

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16:30 Reaction from Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid

Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, condemned the attack in a tweet:

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15:50 Seven suspects arrested

Sri Lankan Special Task Force members raid a house in a northern suburb of Colombo following a string of bombings left more than 160 people dead. AFP

Sri Lanka's defence minister said seven suspects have been arrested following the string of Easter Sunday bombings in the country. A junior defence minister confirmed that three police officer were killed by a suicide bomber during the raid on the house in Dematagoda, northern Colombo.

Meanwhile, the death toll from the eight explosions has risen to at least 207. More than 450 people were injured in the attacks.

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15:20 Cinnamon hotel attack carried out by suicide bomber

A hotel official at the Cinnamon Grand hotel, one of three in the capital that were hit by explosions, said a suicide bomber blew himself up in front of people at the one of the hotel's restaurants.

"He came up to the top of the queue and set off the blast," the hotel workers said.

The nature of the other blasts has not yet been confirmed, however police said the eighth blast in a house in the northern suburb of the capital Colombo, was caused by a suicide bomber who detonated his explosives when police entered the residence to search it.

The explosion brought down the upper level of the house and killed three police officers, the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

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15:00 Sri Lanka Easter attacks: What we know

Here's the key facts for today's bombings in Sri Lanka:

  • Eight bombs have targeted at least three churches and four hotels on Easter Sunday and while the death toll is rising quickly it stands at over 150 dead and nearly 400 wounded
  • At least four of the bombs were caused by suicide attacks.
  • Among the targets were upscale hotels frequented by tourists and foreign nationals. Police confirmed that 35 foreigners were killed in the attack but the vast majority of the victims were Sri Lankan nationals.
  • The government has blocked social media sites including Facebook and restricted WhatsApp to prevent fake news and panic. The government also imposed a curfew from 6 pm local time “until further notice”.
  • Flights from the UAE continue to operate.
  • There has been no claim of responsibility.

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14:40 Pope Francis: Sri Lanka Easter attacks 'such cruel violence'

Pope Francis delivers the Urbi et Orbi blessing to the city and to the world from the balcony of St Peter's basilica after the Easter Sunday Mass in the Vatican. AFP

Pope Francis condemned attacks that killed at least 138 people in three churches and four hotels in Sri Lanka as "such cruel violence" and said he was close to the Christian community, hit while celebrating Easter.

"I learned with sadness and pain of the news of the grave attacks, that precisely today, Easter, brought mourning and pain to churches and other places where people were gathered in Sri Lanka," Pope Francis told tens of thousands of people in St Peter's Square to hear his Easter Sunday message.

"I wish to express my affectionate closeness to the Christian community, hit while it was gathered in prayer, and to all the victims of such cruel violence.

"I entrust to the Lord those who have tragically died and I pray for the wounded and for all those who are suffering as a result of this dramatic event."

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14:30 Police: Eighth attack was suicide bombing

Three people were killed in the eighth blast - a suicide bombing - in Dematagoda, north of Colombo police said.

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14:20 Social media ban and nationwide curfew

Sri Lanka's police said it will impose a nationwide curfew immediately. The government announced earlier that the curfew would begin at 6pm local time, but police subsequently said it would go into effect straight away.

It would last "until further noticed", police said.

The Sri Lankan government said it would also be imposing a 'temporary' social media ban.

The government has decided to block all social media platforms in order to prevent incorrect and wrong information being spread. This is only a temporary measure" Udaya R. Seneviratne, secretary to the president said in a statement.

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14:15 The National editorial: The world stands united behind Sri Lanka

Relatives of people killed in church blasts mourn as they wait outside the mortuary of a hospital in Colombo. Eranga Jayawardena / AP

There will be painful questions to be asked over the coming days and weeks about the perpetrators and how they were able to mount such a devastating attack, as a nation in mourning buries the victims. The scars of past traumas are still fresh in Sri Lanka and having made so much progress in such a short time, it cannot be allowed to slip back into the sectarian violence that traumatised a generation, nor can the scourge of extremism be allowed to flourish again – otherwise the triumphs of the past decade risk being lost. That is surely what the perpetrators want. They must not be allowed to win.

Read the editorial

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13:45 World leaders express horror and sadness

European leaders are expressing horror at the attacks on churches and hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday.

British Prime Minister Teresa May has condemned what she called the "truly appalling" attacks. Russian President Vladimir Putin denounced the bombings as "cruel and cynical". EU commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker expressed his "horror and sadness". EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the attacks marked "a truly sad day for the country and for the world".

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has condemned the "devastating" attacks and referred to the March 15 Christchurch mosque terror shootings.

"New Zealand condemns all acts of terrorism and our resolve has only been strengthened by the attack on our soil," Ms Ardern said. "New Zealand rejects all forms of extremism and stands for freedom of religion and the right to worship safely."

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13:26 Government declares curfew with immediate effect

The curfew will begin on Sunday night at 6pm local time (4.30pm UAE) and run until 6am, the Defence ministry said.

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13:19 Archibishop of Colombo calls for attackers to be 'mercilessly punished'

The Archbishop of Colombo is calling for those responsible for the Easter Sunday blasts in Sri Lanka to be punished "mercilessly."

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith called on Sri Lanka's government to launch a "very impartial strong inquiry" and to punish those found responsible "mercilessly because only animals can behave like that."

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13:17 Eighth blast in Sri Lanka

Police have confirmed an eighth blast in the suburb of Dematagoda, north Colombo. There were no further details on what was targeted.

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12:55 Sri Lanka prime minister meets security body

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has convened Sri Lanka's top military officials at an emergency meeting of the National Security Council following a series of Easter Sunday blasts.

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12:53 Seventh bombing reported south of Colombo

At least two people have been killed in a seventh blast at a hotel in Dehiwala, south of Colombo.

The blast took place at an hotel opposite a zoo.

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12:50 Sri Lankans in UAE 'in shock' after church and hotel bombings

Sri Lankans working in the UAE say they are in "complete shock" after a series of bomb blasts hit their home country on Easter Sunday.

“St Anthony’s is a very big church and there would have been a lot of people there this morning,” said Mary, who did not want to give her real name – a Sri Lankan maid working in Jumeirah, Dubai.

“If I was in Sri Lanka now, I would have been attending that church [to mark Easter], so to find out what has happened there is a huge shock.

Read full reaction

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12:12 UAE denounces attack

 Locals and police gather at the site of the bombing at the church in  Batticaloa, eastern Sri Lanka. EPA

The UAE has condemned the series of terrorist attacks that targeted churches and hotels in Colombo.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs affirmed the UAE’s stance against all forms of violence and terrorism that targets religions and races, according to WAM the UAE state news agency.

The UAE also stands with the government and people of Sri Lanka in the face of violence and radicalism, WAM reported. The ministry also sends condolences to the families of the victims and wished a quick recovery for the injured.

Meanwhile, the Catholic Church in the Holy Land voiced support for Sri Lanka's Christians.

A statement issued in Jerusalem said the blasts were particularly sad as they "came while Christians celebrate Easter".

"We pray for the souls of the victims and ask for speedy recovery of the injured, and ask God to inspire the terrorists to repent of their killing and intimidation," the statement said.

"We also express our solidarity with Sri Lanka and all its inhabitants in their various religious and ethnic backgrounds."

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12:00 Toll rises to 156 - including 35 foreign nationals

A hospital source said Americans, British and Dutch citizens were among those killed in the six blasts

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11:25 Flights from Dubai to Colombo running normal schedule

Emirates confirmed to The National that all flights from Dubai to Sri Lanka continue to run to the normal schedule.

A flydubai spokesperson said: "We are saddened to hear about the news in Sri Lanka. Our double daily flights to Colombo are operating to schedule this evening. We continue to monitor the situation."

Read more on Sri Lanka travel advisories

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11:15 Four Chinese nationals injured

The English language service of state-run China News Service reported that four Chinese nationals were injured in the blasts on Sunday and were being treated in hospital. It gave no other information.

Quoting an unnamed official, AFP news agency reported that nine foreign nationals were among the dead.

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11:05 Prime minister calls on Sri Lankans to unite

Ranil Wickremesinghe, the prime minister, condemned the cowardly attacks and urged Sri Lankans to "remain united".

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10:50 Sri Lanka's police chief warned of suicide attacks

Sri Lanka's police chief made a nationwide alert 10 days before Sunday's bomb attacks in the country, according to a document warning seen by AFP.

Police chief Pujuth Jayasundara sent an intelligence warning to top officers on April 11 setting out the threat of suicide bombers planning to hit "prominent churches".

"A foreign intelligence agency has reported that the NTJ [National Thowheeth Jama'ath] is planning to carry out suicide attacks targeting prominent churches as well as the Indian high commission in Colombo," said the alert.

The NTJ is a radical group in Sri Lanka that came to notice last year when it was linked to the vandalisation of Buddhist statues.

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10:42 Death toll rises to 137

A police official has said the death toll from the six blasts has risen to 137.

  • 42 people killed in the four blasts in Colombo
  • 62 people killed in the church attack in Negombo, north of the capital
  • 25 people killed in the curcg attack in Batticaloa, east of the country

Nine of the dead of foreigners. At least 400 people have been wounded.

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10:30 Sri Lanka president calls for calm

President Maithripala Sirisena in an address said he was shocked by the explosions and appealed for calm.

"I am shocked and saddened by the situation that has occurred. Investigations have been launched to look into what conspiracy is behind these heinous acts. Please remain calm and do not be fooled by rumours," he said.

Priests walk into the St Anthony's Shrine. Reuters

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10:26 Travel advisory issued by Sri Lankan Airlines

Sri Lanka's national carrier said that security has been tightened at Colombo's main airport and has urged passengers flying out of Bandaranaike International Airport to arrive four hours before departure.

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10:17 death toll hits 52

The death toll from bomb attacks that hit churches and hotels in Sri Lanka on Sunday has risen to at least 52, a police official has said.

The fatalities include at least 42 people killed in Colombo, where three hotels and a church were hit, and another 10 dead in the town of Batticoloa, where a church was attacked.

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10:14 What we know so far

Six near simultaneous explosions ripped through three churches holding Easter services on Sunday as well as three up-market hotels in Sri Lanka leaving nearly 300 wounded and at dozens dead.

An official says they suspect the blasts at two churches were carried out by suicide bombers.

Colombo National Hospital Director Samindi Samrakoon said she knew of at least 20 deaths and 280 people injured while the police said the death toll was up to 42.

For full story visit here: six near simultaneous explosions rip through Easter weekend

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10:02 'Horrible scenes. I saw bodies all over'

Sri Lankan security personnel stand next to an ambulance outside St Anthony's Shrine in Kochchikade. AFP

Harsha de Silva, a Sri Lankan member of parliament, was at the scene of the attack on St Anthony's Shrine.

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09:55 Hospitals urge blood donors to come forward

Hundreds of people have been taken to hospitals in Colombo and Batticaloa in the east of the island nation.

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09:50 'Sri Lanka's still at war'

Renowned British-Tamil musician and rapper M.I.A responds to the news of multiple blasts in Colombo

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09:45 Airport buildings open to passengers only

Roel Raymond, a Sri Lankan journalist, reports:

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09:35 At least 42 killed in blasts

Police have raised the death toll to 42 including one person killed in the blast at the Grand Cinnamon Hotel in Colombo.

Hundreds of people have admitted to hospital in the attack on Batticaloa in the east of the country. Local media say at least 24 people have been killed in that explosion.

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09:30 Simultaneous attacks

A secuirty official said the six blasts happened nearly simultaneously.

The official says they suspect the blasts at two churches were carried out by suicide bombers.

One church, St Anthony's Shrine, and the three hotels are in Colombo and are frequented by foreign tourists. The other two churches are in Negombo, a Catholic majority town north of Colombo, and the eastern town of Batticaloa.

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09:22 Map: Multiple explosions in Sri Lanka

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09:00 Blasts reported in Colombo

One of the explosions was at St Anthony's Shrine in Kochchikade of the capital, Colombo. Another church in Katuwapitiya, Katana, was also hit.

Sri Lankan military officials stand guard in front of the St Anthony's Church. Reuters

Photos circulating on Twitter shows a disoriented Easter Sunday congregation at St Anthony's Shrine and rubble from tiles of the roof strewn over the floor.

Police also reported explosions at the Shangri-La Hotel, Cinnamon Grand Hotel and Kingsbury Hotel in the capital.

Updated: April 21, 2019 11:38 PM