Sri Lanka attack death toll rises to 290
The Sri Lankan government has admitted it failed to act on multiple warnings before a coordinated series of attacks ripped through churches and hotels on Easter Sunday, and said it feared an international terror group might have been behind the atrocities.
A government spokesman, Rajitha Senaratne, said multiple warnings were received in the days before the attacks, which killed 290 people and injured at least 500 more. CNN understands that at least one warning referred to Nations Thawahid Jaman (NTJ), a little-known local Islamist group which has previously defaced Buddhist statues.
Senaratne, who is also health minister, said he did not believe a local group could have acted alone. “There must be a wider international network behind it,” he said.
There were also fears of more devices following the attack. A ninth improvised explosive device (IED) was defused near the capital’s Bandaranaike International Airport on Sunday evening. And on Monday, police found 87 detonators in a private terminal of the main bus station in the capital Colombo.
Sri Lankan police performed a controlled detonation Monday of a suspicious van near St. Anthony’s church, which was one of the churches targeted in Sunday’s coordinated attacks in Colombo.
CNN’s Ivan Watson is at the scene and described the explosion as “a very big blast” which “knocked down a security officer” and blew out the windows in the street.
Police have pushed onlookers back and established a cordon around the site.
Britain's Queen Elizabeth has released a message expressing her sadness over the Sri Lanka Easter Sunday attacks.
Here's the 93-year-old monarch's full statement:
“Prince Philip and I were deeply saddened to learn of the attacks in Sri Lanka and send our condolences to the families and friends of those who have lost their lives.
I pay tribute to the medical and emergency services who are providing support to those who have been injured. Our thoughts and prayers are with all Sri Lankans at this difficult time.
It should have been a normal Sunday service. Hundreds had turned out for Easter Sunday and Sanjeewa Appuhamy, an assistant priest at St. Sebastian's church, was almost the end of morning's celebrations. Then a bomb exploded.
"I heard a big noise,” Appuhamy told CNN. He did not see the bomb but when the dust cleared, the church looked like a disaster site.
“Broken glass, dust, all of a sudden covered all the church. People were shouting, weeping, we didn’t know what was happening," the priest added.
Appuhamy added: “We can build up our church but we cannot build up their lives.”
Sri Lankan authorities investigating the devastating blasts across the country on Easter Sunday have found 87 detonators in the capital.
Ruwan Gunasekara, assistant superintendent of police and spokesperson, told CNN that police found the detonators in a private terminal of the Central Bus Stand in Colombo Monday.
Pope Francis has reiterated his “spiritual and paternal closeness” to the people of Sri Lanka as he concluded an address in St. Peter’s Square, Vatican City, on Monday.
“I hope that everyone condemns this act of terror -- inhumane acts that are never justifiable,” the Pope said.
“I pray for the many victims and injured and I ask everyone to not hesitate to offer all the necessary help in front of this dear nation,” he added.
Pope Francis said he was very close to Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the Archbishop of Colombo.
In the aftermath of the attack on Sunday, Cardinal Ranjith told reporters: “I’d also like to ask the government to hold a very impartial, strong inquiry and find out who is responsible behind this act and also to punish them mercilessly, because only animals can behave like that.”
The Pope first offered prayers for victims of the Sri Lanka bombings in his traditional "Urbi et Orbi" address on Sunday.
Sri Lanka has declared a state of emergency will come into effect on Monday from midnight until Tuesday, according to a press release from the president’s media division.
The decision was made by Sri Lanka’s National Security Council, which referenced clauses in the prevention of terrorism under Emergency Regulations.
The government has also proclaimed Tuesday would be a national day of mourning.
The series of deadly attacks in Sri Lanka could deal a significant blow to one of Asia's fragile economies, which depends heavily on tourism.
Bomb blasts rocked churches and luxury hotels on Easter Sunday, killing at least 290 people and injuring hundreds more.
The island nation in the Indian ocean sees around 2.5 million international travelers enter each year. Data from the World Travel and Tourism Council show that the industry is one of the biggest contributors to the country's economy, supporting about 1 million jobs. It is also the third largest source of foreign currencies, according to research firm Capital Economics.
Tourism's importance has grown rapidly in the last 10 years, after the Sri Lankan government defeated the rebel Tamil Tigers organization to end nearly three decades of civil war.
"Tourism has been a big success story for Sri Lanka over the last decade," said Alex Holmes, Asia economist at Capital Economics.
But international tourists are now likely to stay away. "The violence is likely to hit the tourism industry hard, at least in the short term," Holmes added.
Read more from CNN Business here:
When the first wave of blasts rocked St. Sebastian Church on Easter Sunday, more than 1,000 people had gathered to celebrate the holiest day in the Christian calendar.
As details start to emerge and the investigation gets underway, residents reveal their shock at being targeted.
No one in this small, close knit Christian community had any reason to expect they might be attacked, or even experienced much hostility ahead of the bombing.
Minuri, 26, said she was outside the church when the explosion occurred and saw glass and other debris outside the church.
“We saw people being carried out, the injured,” she said. “We all knew the people who had died, everyone in the community.”
A local resident living opposite the shrine, who declined to give his name, said his windows were blown out by the blast.
I’m still in shock,” he said. “These were innocent people.”
He said there had not been any threats or other intimidation of the predominantly Christian community here in Katuwapitiya. “It came out of the blue, completely out of the blue,” he added.