COLOMBO, April 21: At least 156 people were killed and more than 400 injured when suicide bombers exploded themselves in three luxury hotels and three churches in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday in the island's bloodiest day since the civil war ended a decade ago.
The mayhem began in the morning at the St Anthony's Shrine at Kochchikade in Colombo when hundreds were gathered for the Easter Mass, and within half hour similar explosions ripped through the St Sebastian's Church in Negombo, 30 km from here, and the Zion Church in the eastern district of Batticaloa, 250 km east of Colombo.
Almost simultaneously, suicide bombers also killed themselves amid Easter crowds in three luxury hotels in the heart of Colombo: Cinnamon Grand, near the official residence of the Sri Lankan Prime Minister, The Shangri La and Kingsbury Hotel, raining death and destruction.
Authorities said that 35 foreigners were among the dead but their nationalities were not immediately known.
Photos circulating on social media showed the roof of one church had been almost fully blown away in the blast. The floor was littered with a mixture of roof tiles, splintered wood and blood, media reports said.
An Al Jazeera report said: "Several people could be seen covered in blood, some trying to help those with more serious injuries."
No one claimed responsibility for the bloodbath but AFP reported that Sri Lankan Police chief Pujuth Jayasundara had issued a nationwide alert 10 days ago warning that suicide bombers planned to hit prominent Catholic churches.
"A foreign intelligence agency has reported that the NTJ (National Thowheeth Jama'ath) is planning to carry out suicide attacks target prominent churches as well as the Indian High Commission in Colombo," the alert said.
The NTJ is a Muslim group in Sri Lanka that came to notice in 2018 when it was blamed for the vandalization of Buddhist statues.
Minister of Economic Reforms Harsha de Silva, who visited some attack sites, described the carnage.
"Horrible scenes. I saw many body parts strewn all over. Emergency crews are at all locations in full force. (...) We took multiple casualties to hospital. Hopefully saved many lives," the Minister said.
President Maithripala Sirisena, in a special message read out on local news channels, urged the public to remain calm and cooperate with the authorities to conduct swift investigations into the blasts, reported Xinhua news agency.
"I am shocked and saddened by the situation that has occurred. Investigations have been launched to look into what conspiracy is behind these heinous acts. Please remain calm and do not be fooled by rumours," Sirisena said.
Christians in Sri Lanka had been celebrating the Easter Sunday, an important festival marking the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the culmination of week-long festivities.
Although Christians form only around 7 per cent of the Sri Lanka's mainly Buddhist population, they are found both in the majority Sinhalese and minority Tamil communities.
Sri Lanka's dragging civil war ended in May 2009 when the government troops crushed the Tamil Tigers, leading to a decade of peace. - IANS