The Wire Staff, New Delhi, April 22, 2019
Seven people were arrested and three police officers were killed during a raid on a house in Colombo on Sunday (April 21) as the death toll from a rash of bombings at Churches and Hotels in Sri Lanka rose past 200, Police and local media said.
Among the dead are three Indian nationals, Indian Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj has confirmed.
“Altogether we have information of 207 dead from all hospitals. According to the information as of now we have 450 injured people admitted to hospitals,” Police Spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera told reporters in Colombo.
Curfew imposed, Social media blocked
The Sri Lankan government declared a curfew with immediate effect, junior defence minister Ruwan Wijewardene said on Sunday.
“A curfew will be imposed until things settle down,” he told reporters in Colombo.
Government officials also said major social media networks and messaging apps, including Facebook and WhatsApp, have been blocked inside the country to prevent misinformation and rumours.
Sri Lanka’s News1st Television channel quoted a Sri Lanka National Hospital Spokesperson as saying that Indian nationals were among the 35 foreigners killed. Other nationalities were from US, China Denmark, Japan, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Morocco.
After speaking with the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister, Swaraj announced that at least three Indian nationals were among the 207 dead.
Indian woman killed
Earlier before Swaraj’s announcement on Twitter, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan posted on Facebook that an Indian woman from Kasargod, identified as Raseena, had died in bomb blast in the church in Colombo.
“Steps are being taken to bring Raseena’s body back,” he wrote. State authorities are in touch with her relatives and Indian high commission, he added.
The first series of blasts occurred at around 8:45 am as Easter Sunday masses were in progress, police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera told Reuters.
There were no immediate claims of responsibility for the attacks in a country which was at war for decades with Tamil separatists until 2009 during which bomb blasts in the Capital were common.
Appeal for calm
President Maithripala Sirisena has appealed for calm. “I have been shocked by this totally unexpected incidents. The security forces haven been asked to take all action necessary,” Sirisena said.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe called a National Security Council meeting at his home later in the day. In a tweet, he called on “Sri Lankans during this tragic time to remain united and strong.”
“Please avoid propagating unverified reports and speculation. The government is taking immediate steps to contain this situation,” he tweeted.
Modi, Kovind send messages
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted Sunday afternoon that India stands in solidarity with the people of Sri Lanka.
Modi also spoke to both President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe.
The Indian President has also “condemned the terror attacks in Sri Lanka.”
One of the blasts hit Saint Anthony’s Church in Kochchikade of the Capital, Colombo.
The Colombo National Hospital spokesperson, Dr Samindi Samarakoon, said that more than 300 people have been admitted with injuries.
— Ashwin Hemmathagama (@AHemmathagama) April 21, 2019
Symptomatic of the deluge of unverified information on social media after the bomb blasts, Sri Lanka Red Cross had to deny rumours that its building had been attacked.
In a series of tweets, Harsha de Silva, the Sri Lankan Minister of Economic Reforms and public distribution said rescue operations were underway and asked people to “stay calm and indoors.”
According to Silva, foreign nationals were among those killed in the attacks.
Leader of Opposition and Veteran TNA leader R. Sampanthan also joined other Sri Lankan leaders in calling for unity in the island nation.
“Let us stay together and be strong so that these extremists will not be able to take this country backwards,” he tweeted.
Three explosions were also reported from the five-star hotels, the Shangrila, the Cinnamon Grand and the Kingsbury.
Saint Sebastian’s Church at Katuwapitiya in Negombo posted pictures of destruction inside the church on its Facebook page, showing blood on pews and the floor, and requested help from the public. More than 50 people were killed at that church, a police official told Reuters, with pictures showing bodies on the ground, blood on the pews and a destroyed roof.
“A bomb attack to our church, please come and help,” read the post from St. Sebastian’s Church.
India on Sunday said that it was closely monitoring the situation in Sri Lanka.
“Explosions have been reported in Colombo and Batticaloa today. We are closely monitoring the situation. Indian citizens in need of assistance or help and for seeking clarification may call the following numbers : +94777903082 +94112422788 +94112422789,” the Indian High Commission in Colombo tweeted.
“In addition to the numbers given, Indian citizens in need of assistance or help and for seeking clarification may also call the following numbers +94777902082 +94772234176,” the High Commission tweeted.
Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj has tweeted that she is in constant touch with the Indian High Commissioner in Colombo and is keeping a close watch on the situation.
The above Report and Pictures, which appeared in ‘The Wire,’ (thewire.in) Web Edition on April 21, 2019, have been reproduced here with the permission of Founding Editor Siddharth Varadarajan.