April 21 (UPI) — Eight bomb blasts across Sri Lanka killed at least 207 people and injured 450 others Sunday morning in high-end hotels and churches, including during Easter services.
At least 20 foreigners are among the dead in Colombo, according to hospital Director General Anil Jasinghe in a CNN report. Blasts occurred in Kochchikade, Negombo, Batticaloa, Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia and Dematagoda in the south Asian island country in the Indian Ocean,
No one so far has claimed responsibility for the suspected terrorist attacks but seven people have been detained in connection with the attacks, according to the economics minister.
“I have given instructions to take very stern action against the persons who are responsible for this conspiracy,” President Maithripala Sirisena said.
Police in Sri Lanka imposed an island-wide curfew starting at 6 p.m. local Sunday. And an emergency meeting involving the heads of the army, air force and navy was convened, according to Sri Lanka’s economic reforms minister, Harsha de Silva.
In an attempt to curb misinformation, Sri Lanka also blocked major social media and messaging services, including Facebook and WhatsApp, according to the president’s secretary, Udaya Seneviratne.
At about 8:45 a.m., blasts struck at least three churches and three five-star hotels favored by foreigners,
“You can see pieces of flesh thrown all over the walls and on the sanctuary and even outside of the church,” Father Edmond Tillekeratne, social communications director for the Archdiocese of Colombo, said CNN from St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo, one of the locations targeted.
He said that the blast took place after Easter Mass, where he estimated more than 1,000 people had come “because it is a special day.”
Tillekeratne said the ground was covered in rubble and shattered glass with about 30 bodies lying in the church area.
Other churches attacked were St. Anthony’s Shrine in Kochchikade and Zion Church in Batticaloa.
“It was a river of blood,” said N. A. Sumanapala, a shopkeeper near St. Anthony’s Shrine where he had run inside to help told The New York Times. “The priest came out and he was covered in blood.”
Hotels affected were the Cinnamon Grand and Shangri-La Hotel as well as the Kingsbury Hotel, all in Colombo. Also, an area near Dehiwala Zoo in Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia and a house in Mahawila Gardens, Dematagoda, were attacked.
“Horrible scenes, I saw many body parts strewn all over,” de Silva, the economic reforms minister told CNN after visiting the Kochchikade church and Shangri-La Hotel in Colombo. “We took multiple casualties to hospital. Hopefully saved many lives.”
In Sri Lanka, less then 10 percent of the 21.4 total population are Christians, according to census data. Of those, about 82 percent are Roman Catholics.
“I learned with great sadness the news of the serious attacks that, today, on Easter they brought mourning and pain to some churches and other Sri Lankan hangouts,” Pope Francis said during his Easter address in Rome. “I wish to show my affectionate closeness to the Christian community, hit while gathered in prayer, and to all the victims of such cruel violence. I entrust to the Lord those who have tragically been lost and I pray for the wounded and all those who suffer because of this dramatic event.”
In Paris, where the iconic Notre-Dame Cathedral sustained a devastating fire last week, the Archbishop of Paris, Michel Aupetit, began Easter Mass in Saint Eustache church, saying “we’re thinking of our brothers in Sri Lanka, who were slaughtered this morning.”
President Donald Trump, from his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla., posted on Twitter before attending church servbices: “The United States offers heartfelt condolences to the great people of Sri Lanka. We stand ready to help!”
Sri Lanka has had a decade of minimal violence after the end of its 25-year civil war in 2009 when terrorist bombings were common.