A series of eight attacks in Sri Lanka against Christian churches and hotels in three cities killed at least 207 people and injured up to 450 more on Easter Sunday. Defense Minister Ruwan Wijewardene described the coordinated explosions as a terrorist attack by religious extremists. Here's what we know:
- At 8:45 on Sunday, the bombs destroyed three churches, one in the capital Colombo and two more in the cities of Negombo and Batticaloa.
- Four hotels in Colombo were also attacked: the Shangri-La, the Cinnamon Grand, the Tropical Inn and the Kingsbury. There was another explosion in a residential complex in Dematagoda.
- Those targeted were members of the Christian population of Sri Lanka and guests in the luxury hotels of the island.
- Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that "several US citizens" were among those killed.
- The Sri Lankan government has temporarily blocked social media services like Facebook and WhatsApp to prevent the spread of misinformation.
- The Sri Lankan defense minister said seven suspects were arrested and the attacks appear to have been carried out by suicide bombers.
- Sri Lanka experienced a ferocious 26-year civil war between its Sinhalese Buddhist majority and the Tamil Tamil ethnic minority that ended in 2009.
The witness describes the chaos in the consequences of the bombing
A witness to one of the attacks, in a hotel in the Colombo zoo, told the CBSN of the chaotic consequences that followed one after the explosion. Asela Waidyalankara described having heard a big explosion and was quick to see what had happened.
"Suddenly, near my residence, we heard a loud sound of an explosion, so I rushed to the roof to see what was happening, and I observed a small building from a position about 1 kilometer or so. less from us, "Waidyalankara said by telephone. "The nearest landmark is the Sri Lankan national zoo, and in a few minutes we noticed a helicopter approaching the place and in a few minutes we could hear ambulances and fireworks entering the area ".
"At that time we realized that it was probably a bigger attack in relation to the chain of attacks we saw," he continued. "Incidentally, the newswires picked it up and said that two people had died in that particular explosion."
"We, like Sri Lanka, are shocked and heartbroken," Waidyalankara said. "But we will continue to persevere."
The Sri Lankan government blocks social media
The Sri Lankan government has blocked the main social media networks and messaging apps, including Facebook and WhatsApp, in an attempt to prevent the spread of misinformation and rumors following the attacks. Jennifer Grygiel, assistant professor of communications at Syracuse University, spoke on Sunday with the CBSN of the reasons behind the decision.
"I think governments around the world have come to view social media as a risk," Grygiel said. "And platforms like Facebook and Facebook Inc., which also owns WhatsApp and Instagram, actually haven't launched a product safely or with enough content moderators or support to make sure these platforms aren't abused."
"When the tragedy strikes, I think governments are taking quick steps to make sure the rumors are not spread on some of these applications, for example," said Grygiel.
Pompey says the Americans are among those killed
The secretary of state condemned the attack in a statement on Sunday morning and stated that "several US citizens have been killed".
"Attacks against innocent people who gather in a place of worship or enjoy a holiday meal are at odds with the universal values and freedoms that are dear to us and once again demonstrate the brutal nature of radical terrorists whose sole purpose it is threatening peace and security "said Pompeo. "The American Embassy is working tirelessly to provide all possible assistance to US citizens affected by the attacks and their families."
World leaders condemn the attack
On Sunday, world leaders spoke and denounced the attacks. Speaking from St. Peter's Basilica, Pope Francis said: "I want to express my loving closeness to the Christian community, targeted as they were gathered in prayer, and all the victims of this cruel violence".
"I entrust to the Lord all those who have been tragically killed and pray for the wounded and for all those who suffer because of this dramatic event," the Pope added.
President Trump tweeted a message support Sunday: "The United States offers heartfelt condolences to the great people of Sri Lanka: we are ready to help!"
Also the former President Obama tweeted a message: "Attacks against tourists and Easter worshipers are an attack on humanity: on a day dedicated to love, redemption and renewal, we pray for the victims and be with the people of Sri Lanka" .
Russian President Vladimir Putin denounced the attacks as "cruel and cynical". Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called the explosions "an assault on all humanity".
Christians are an ethnic minority in Sri Lanka
The attacks took place during religious services on Easter Sunday, the most important feast of the Christian calendar.
Sri Lanka is an ethnically diverse country with a predominantly Buddhist population. Almost 70 percent of Sri Lankans are Buddhists, according to a 2012 census. 12% are Hindus, almost 10% are Muslim and 7% are Christians.
Seven suspects arrested in connection with the explosion
Wijewardene, the defense minister who described the explosions as a terrorist attack by religious extremists, told reporters on Sunday evening that seven suspects were arrested, although no one immediately claimed responsibility for the explosions. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said he feared that violence could trigger instability in the country and its economy.
Wickremesinghe said his government "will give all the necessary powers to the defense forces" to act against those responsible "for Sunday attacks", regardless of their stature. "
At least 27 foreigners among the dead
The Sri Lankan government has confirmed that at least 11 foreigners were among the deceased. Another 19 foreigners were injured. According to the Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry, those killed include:
- 3 people from India
- 1 person from Portugal
- 2 people from Turkey
- 3 people from the UK
- 2 people with U.S./U.K. dual nationalities
The death toll reaches at least 207 people
At least 207 people were killed and hundreds more were injured in the explosions, bringing the island nation of southern Asia into the worst chaos I've seen since a bloody civil war ended a decade ago. Wickremesinghe, the prime minister, said he feared that violence could trigger instability in the country and its economy.
Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara said at least 450 people were injured in the explosions.
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