UPDATES WITH VAN FOUND, DRIVER ARRESTED
By Dilrukshi Handunnetti
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AA) – Multiple explosions targeting churches and hotels in Sri Lanka killed at least 207 people and left 450 others wounded on Easter Sunday, local media reported citing police spokesman.
According to Sri Lanka’s state-run Daily News, a total of eight explosions — six of them on Sunday morning and the remaining two later in the day — were reported in and just outside the country’s capital Colombo.
In the morning, churches in Kochchikade, Negombo and Batticaloa cities, as well as Kingsbury, Cinnamon Grand and Shangri La hotels in Colombo were targeted.
Following the explosions, special police forces were deployed to Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo to thwart any possible attack there.
The Sri Lankan police said a van allegedly used to transport suspects and explosives to Colombo was found and its driver was arrested in the western city of Wellawatte later on Sunday, according to local Daily Mirror.
Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena called on his citizens to keep their calm and said he “instructed the authorities to urgently step into action. ”
Meanwhile, Dinendra Ruwan Wijewardene, Sri Lanka's state minister of defense, announced a countrywide curfew for 12 hours, effective as of 6.00 p.m. local time (1230GMT).
He described the series of bombings as “a terrorist attack organized by extremists. ”
Also, social media sites and messaging applications were blocked across the country to prevent misinformation and rumors, according to the Daily News.
– Foreigners among dead
Minister of Education Akila Viraj Kariyawasam announced that the schools would remain closed for the next two days, the daily said.
Later, the seventh explosion targeted a three-star hotel near the zoological garden in Dehiwala.
The eighth blast took place in a house located in Colombo city’s Dematagoda suburb when the security officials attempted to raid a house in line with explosion investigations, according to the local media.
Local broadcaster Derana reported citing police sources that several suspects were apprehended following the bombings.
Sri Lanka’s foreign minister announced that at least 27 foreigners were confirmed killed in the attacks, while five were reported missing.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks.
Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has called a meeting of the National Security Council at his home.
“I strongly condemn the cowardly attacks on our people today. I call upon all Sri Lankans during this tragic time to remain united and strong,” he said in a Tweet.
Sri Lanka security forces waged war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a guerilla organization that fought for a separate Tamil state in the island’s north and parts of the east, which ended in May 2009.
Some 1.5 million Christians, majority of whom are Catholics, are estimated to live in the country, corresponding to some 7 percent of the total population.
*Ali Murat Alhas has contributed to this story from Ankara.