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Series of explosions in Sri Lanka churches and hotels kills dozens

Eight blasts were reported in the country on Easter Sunday, killing more than 200 people and injuring hundreds more

More than 200 people were killed Sunday in a string of blasts at hotels and churches in Sri Lanka as worshippers attended Easter services, a police official told AFP.

The fatalities include people killed in Colombo, where three hotels and a church were hit, and in the town of Batticoloa, 250 km (155 miles) east of the capital, where a church was attacked, and two later explosions in two Colombo suburbs.

Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera later said the death toll had risen to at least 207, with more than 450 people wounded and that three people had been arrested.

The first explosions were reported at St. Anthony’s Church in Colombo and St. Sebastian’s in the town of Negombo just outside the capital.

A police official said at least 67 people were killed in the St. Sebastian’s blast.

At least 160 people injured in the St. Anthony’s blast had been admitted to the Colombo National Hospital by mid-morning, an official told AFP.

“A bomb attack to our church, please come and help if your family members are there,” read a post in English on the Facebook page of the St. Sebastian’s Church at Katuwapitiya in Negombo.

Another explosion was reported at the Zion church in the town of Batticaloa, in the east of the country, where at least 25 people were killed.

Shortly after those blasts were reported, police confirmed three hotels in the capital had also been hit, the Shangri-La, the Cinnamon Grand and the Kingsbury.

At least one of the victims was killed in the Cinnamon Grand Hotel, near the prime minister’s official residence, where the blast ripped through a restaurant, a hotel official told AFP.

The hotel chain later confirmed the report, tweeting that the blast occurred in a restaurant located on the ground floor of the Cinnamon Grand Colombo. The company did not specify which location, and the hotel’s website lists seven restaurants and bars.

“Medical evacuation was activated immediately for the injured. The area has been isolated for investigations and security clearance,” Cinnamon Hotels said.

A manager at the Cinnamon Grand said a suicide bomber blew himself up at the hotel’s restaurant.

“He came up to the top of the queue and set off the blast,” he told AFP.

The Shangi-La said in a Facebook post that an explosion took place in the hotel’s Table One Restaurant around 9:05 a.m., but gave no information on casualties.

An official at the Batticaloa hospital told AFP more than 300 people had been admitted with injuries following the blast there.

Graphic photos circulating on social media showed the roof of one church had been almost blown off in the blast.

The floor was littered with a mixture of roof tiles, splintered wood and blood.

Several people could be seen covered in blood, with some trying to help those with more serious injuries.

The images could not immediately be verified.

A seventh explosion was reported in the afternoon at a hotel in the southern Dehiwala suburb, while an eighth was reported in the northern suburb of Orugodawatta some time later.

A police source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a suicide bomber detonated his explosives when police entered a house to carry out a search.

The upper floor of the house collapsed in the blast, killing three police officers, a police source said.

At least 35 foreigners were said to be among the casualties, including American, British, Dutch and Portuguese citizens who were killed and Chinese and Japanese nationals who were injured.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks, but police said they appeared coordinated, the New York Times reported.

The government has blocked some social media platforms and ordered an immediate curfew.

Sri Lanka’s police chief made a nationwide alert 10 days earlier that suicide bombers planned to hit “prominent churches,” according to the warning seen by AFP.

Police chief Pujuth Jayasundara sent an intelligence warning to top officers on April 11 setting out the threat.

“A foreign intelligence agency has reported that the NTJ (National Thowheeth Jama’ath) is planning to carry out suicide attacks targeting prominent churches as well as the Indian high commission in Colombo,” said the alert.

The NTJ came to notice last year when it was linked to the vandalization of Buddhist statues.

Only around six percent of mainly Buddhist Sri Lanka is Catholic, but the religion is seen as a unifying force because it includes people from both the Tamil and majority Sinhalese ethnic groups.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

With reporting from AFP

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