A wave of attacks in Sri Lanka left more than 250 people dead and hundreds more injured on Easter Sunday after a series of explosions tore through churches and hotels on what should have been a day of rest and worship.
By Sunday afternoon, there were eight blasts and the government had announced an island-wide curfew starting at 6 p.m. local (8:30 a.m. ET Sunday) until the following morning. Social media sites were also blocked as investigations took place.
“These are certainly acts of terror,” the High Commissioner of Sri Lanka to the UK Manisha Gunasekera told CNN on Sunday.
“This is an attack against the whole of Sri Lanka because Sri Lanka is very multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural country and the whole country comes together in celebration of Easter Sunday.”
There were almost simultaneous explosions on Sunday morning, which hit busy Easter services at churches in three separate cities.
Targets included St. Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo, St. Sebastian’s Church more than 22 miles north in Negombo, and the evangelical Zion Church in Batticaloa, 196 miles away from Colombo on Sri Lanka’s east coast.
Additional explosions occurred on Sunday morning at high-end hotels in Colombo: the Cinnamon Grand, Shangri-La Hotel and The Kingsbury.
By the afternoon, a seventh and eighth blast occurred at a hotel in front of the Dehiwala Zoo in Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia and at a private house in Mahawila Gardens, in Dematagoda, while police officers conducted a house raid.
Four days after the coordinated attacks, the Sri Lankan Health Ministry revised the death toll, saying 253 people had died. That toll is significantly lower than the 359 initially reported to CNN by a Colombo police spokesman this week. The health ministry cited the condition of remains and the difficulty in identifying them for the discrepancy.
Who carried out the attacks?
It is still unclear who caused the attacks. What is known is at least seven people have been arrested in connection with the bombings and three police officers were killed during a house raid in connection to the attacks.
“The Colombo crime division… went to a house at [Mahawila Gardens] in Dematagoda, in relation to information received with regard to these hotels explosions,” Police Spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara, said at a press conference.
“When crime division officials started questioning the people in the house, two explosions occurred, One sub inspector and two constables of police have been killed and one constable was taken to the national hospital with wounds,” he added.
High Commissioner Gunasekera, told CNN they had information that the attacks were suicide bombings.
Who was targeted?
Sri Lanka’s minority Christian community appeared to be the main target of the seemingly coordinated attacks. Christianity is a minority religion in Sri Lanka, accounting for less than 10% of the total population of 21.4 million.
According to census data, 70.2% of Sri Lankans identify as Buddhist, 12% Hindu, 9.7% Muslim, and 7.4% Christian.
It is estimated that 82% of Sri Lankan Christians are Roman Catholic
Tourists were also targeted in the attacks, Sri Lanka High Commissioner Gunasekera told CNN.
Among the hundreds killed were about 30 foreigners, according to government officials. The toll included two Turkish citizens, one Dutch national and two Chinese cousins.
Some British citizens were also “caught in the blast,” said British High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, James Dauris.
The tourism industry is a major source of income for the country, which turned itself into a popular tourist destination a decade since the end of its civil war. Last year, it won the title of best place in the world to visit in 2019 by travel guide publisher Lonely Planet.
Update: This story has been updated to reflect the death toll has been revised by the Sri Lankan Health Ministry.