Death Toll in Sri Lankan Easter Attacks Rises to 321

Investigators at the scene of a suicide bombing at St. Sebastian Church in Negombo, Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka’s prime minister is warning there are more explosives and militants “out there” after the Easter suicide bombings that killed over 320 people.

Ranil Wickremesinghe made the comment at a news conference. The country remains on high alert, with several bomb scares over the past days.

Wickremesinghe said some officials will likely lose their jobs over intelligence lapses surrounding the attack. He acknowledged there was a prior warning, and said India’s embassy was eyed as a possible target.

The toll from the coordinated bombings at churches, luxury hotels and other sites now stands at 321 dead and 500 wounded. He said a planned attack at a fourth hotel failed and that the leader of a local militant group blamed for the assault may have led the attacks and been killed.

Sri Lanka’s minister of defence said the bombings were “carried out in retaliation” for attacks on mosques in Christchurch on March 15. The prime minister’s office here in New Zealand said it hasn’t “seen any intelligence upon which such an assessment might be based.”

Meanwhile, the Islamic State group is claiming responsibility for the attacks, via its news agency. It later released a photo of the man the Sri Lanka government has identified as the leader of the Easter attacks, Mohammed Zahran, also known as Zahran Hashmi.

But the group, which has lost all the territory it once held in Iraq and Syria, has made a series of unsupported claims of responsibility.

As a state of emergency took effect giving the Sri Lankan military war-time powers, police arrested 40 suspects, including the driver of a van allegedly used by suicide bombers and the owner of a house where some of them lived, officials said.

Sri Lanka’s president gave the military a wider berth to detain and arrest suspects, powers that were used during the 26-year civil war but withdrawn when it ended in 2009.

The six near-simultaneous attacks on three churches and three luxury hotels and three related blasts later Sunday were the South Asian island nation’s deadliest violence in a decade. The government blocked most social media to curtail false information.

Even after an overnight, nationwide curfew was lifted, the streets of central Colombo remained mostly deserted and shops closed as armed soldiers stood guard.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said he feared the massacre could unleash instability and he vowed to “vest all necessary powers with the defense forces” to act against those responsible.

In an indication of the tensions, three explosions caused panic but apparently no injuries Monday as police were defusing bombs inside a van parked near one of the stricken churches. Dozens of detonators were discovered near Colombo’s main bus depot, but officials declined to say whether they were linked to the attacks.

A Sri Lankan woman living near St. Anthony's shrine runs for safety with her infant after police found explosive devices in a parked vehicle in Colombo.
A Sri Lankan woman living near St. Anthony’s shrine runs for safety with her infant after police found explosive devices in a parked vehicle in Colombo.

At Bandaranaike International Airport outside of Colombo early Tuesday morning, police walked explosive-sniffing dogs outside as inside cheery video advertisements of gamblers and snorkelers played. At a roadside checkpoint at the airport, security officials checked car trunks and questioned drivers.

The lack of social media access was contributing to the confusion and doing little to reassure residents and visitors that the danger had passed.

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Source: Stuff