Sri Lanka attack death toll rises to 290
The US State Department has issued a revised travel notice about Sri Lanka, warning that “terrorist groups continue plotting possible attacks in Sri Lanka," and reminding travelers to exercise caution.
Read the full statement:
Exercise increased caution in Sri Lanka due to terrorism.
Terrorist groups continue plotting possible attacks in Sri Lanka. Terrorists may attack with little or no warning, targeting tourist locations, transportation hubs, markets/shopping malls, local government facilities, hotels, clubs, restaurants, places of worship, parks, major sporting and cultural events, educational institutions, airports, and other public areas.
Read the Safety and Security section on the country information page.
If you decide to travel to Sri Lanka:
- Be aware of your surroundings when traveling to tourist locations and crowded public venues.
- Follow the instructions of local authorities.
- Monitor local media for breaking events and adjust your plans based on new information.
- Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive Alerts and make it easier to locate you in an emergency.
- Follow the Department of State on Facebook and Twitter.
- Review the Crime and Safety Report for Sri Lanka.
- US citizens who travel abroad should always have a contingency plan for emergency situations. Review the Traveler’s Checklist.
No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, and the police investigation is ongoing.
Sri Lanka's Sajith Premadasa, Minister of Housing Construction and Cultural Affairs, described the Sunday attacks as a "brand new type of terrorism," after a decade of relative calm.
Sri Lanka's long civil war between the separatist Tamil Tigers and the government ended in 2009, after claiming between 70,000 and 80,000 lives. Handling that conflict had prepared the government to deal with terrorism, Premadasa said.
"During the 30-year terrorist war there were indiscriminate attacks on all institutions, they (the Tamil Tigers) did not spare any in their path towards a separatist state, but we were victorious in defeating terrorism," he added.
A small group of Buddhist monks in saffron robes arrived at St Anthony’s Shrine in Kochchikade today, where a crowd of onlookers had gathered outside a police and army perimeter. Damage from Sunday blast could still be seen outside the church.
Sri Lanka is a country of great religious diversity that crosses ethnic lines, and the monks’ presence was a sign of this. While Sri Lanka does not have a history of interfaith violence, there have been attacks against Muslims by extremist Buddhist groups in the past.
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.
Akshat Saraf, 30, was in Colombo's Shangri-La Hotel with his wife and infant daughter when the explosions struck. They could hear blasts from their room on the 25th floor, the Indian national told CNN.
“First blast was very loud and our room started shaking. At first I thought it was a thunderstorm and I didn’t pay too much attention. It had been raining in Sri Lanka for some time,” he said.
“It was the second blast when I sensed that something was not right.”
He and his family grabbed their passports and took the emergency exit to head to the ground floor.
When we reached the 4th floor we saw blood on the stairs,” Saraf said. “When we evacuated that’s when we saw a lot of ambulances and hotel staffs helping the injured guests outside.”
“It was a horrific sight. When I saw injured guests, they seemed very serious. Some of them [had] junks of glass stuck in their body. I could see some of the chefs in white aprons covered in blood.”
Police, army and emergency services personnel began arriving within five minutes, Saraf said. Guests were evacuated offsite, and then to a nearby shelter with a few hours, he added.
An improvised explosive device was discovered near the road leading to Sri Lanka’s Bandaranaike International Airport last night, Air Force spokesman Gihan Seneviratne told CNN.
The device was found at around 10:15 pm local time, and defused by authorities. Seneviratne said it was packed inside a PVC pipe, and estimated the bomb’s size to be 5.5 to 6 feet long.
Speaking to CNN outside St Anthony’s Shrine, Sister Ramoshini Fernando, a Catholic nun, said that several of her friends and parishioners died in the attack.
Her father had been near the explosion when it took place, and has been hospitalized with shrapnel wounds, she said.
Fernando said she hoped all Catholics would pull together in the attacks' aftermath. Wearing a blue robe and a prominent crucifix, Fernando said she was aware she could be a target and did not feel safe.
“I am not afraid to die,” she said, adding she has dedicated her life to religious service. “But to kill innocents with families is appalling.”
Speaking outside St Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo, Sri Lanka’s Minister of Housing Sajith Premadasa said the Easter attacks were shocking for the country.
Since the end of the war in 2009, we have not experienced this type of attack so we are extremely disturbed and concerned about this," he said.
“It’s a shock and we will apply shock therapy,” he added later.
Premadasa acknowledged apparent security oversights in the run up to the attacks and said that would be a key part of the investigation now taking place.
Responding to reports of reprisal attacks against Sri Lanka’s Muslim community he said such activity was not widespread and was confident that the “rule of law will prevail.”
The explosion at the shrine appeared to be the work of one suicide bomber, he said.
Twenty-four people have been arrested in connection with the attacks, Superintendent of Police Ruwan Gunasekara told CNN.
On Monday, two men were arrested for "behaving suspiciously" at a hotel in the town of Dambulla, in the center of the country. In response to questions from CNN, Gunasekara said the arrests were connected to Sunday's bombings.
Television chef Shantha Mayadunne and her daughter Nisanga Mayadunne were killed in the explosion at the Shangri-La Hotel, Colombo, say two immediate family members.
In Facebook photo apparently posted just before the explosion, Nisanga showed herself and several others eating breakfast at the hotel. The photo caption read "Easter breakfast with family 😊"