Death toll from Easter Sunday terror attacks in Sri Lanka nears 300

/ CBS/AP

Church and hotels targeted in Sri Lanka bombings on Easter Sunday

At least nine bombs that tore through churches and hotels in three Sri Lankan cities on Easter Sunday. The death toll had risen to at least 290, with more than 500 others wounded, by Monday morning. Defense Minister Ruwan Wijewardene described the coordinated blasts as a terrorist attack by religious extremists, but no group had claimed responsibility more than 24 hours after the attack.

Here is what we know

A view of St. Sebastian's Church damaged in blast in Negombo, north of Colombo, Sri Lanka, Sunday, April 21, 2019. AP

Intelligence "ignored?"

Sri Lankan police said Monday that they were examining reports that intelligence agencies had prior warnings of possible attacks before the deadly bombings in churches and hotels.

Police chief Pujuth Jayasundara issued an intelligence alert to top officers on April 11, according to French news agency AFP, warning that suicide bombers from a radical Muslim group linked to the vandalization of Buddhist statues was planning to attack "prominent churches."

While no group has claimed responsibility for the Easter attack, AFP quoted law enforcement sources as saying all 24 people arrested since the blasts were suspected members of an "extremist" group. The sources did not specify which group, and it remained unclear whether those in custody were suspected members of the National Thowheeth Jama'ath (NTJ) group, which was the focus of the warning issued on April 11 by Jayasundara.

Two government ministers have alluded separately to intelligence failures. Telecommunications Minister Harin Fernando tweeted, "Some intelligence officers were aware of this incidence. Therefore there was a delay in action. Serious action needs to be taken as to why this warning was ignored."

Mano Ganeshan, the minister for national integration, said his ministry's security officers had been warned by their division about the possibility that two suicide bombers would target politicians. The police's Criminal Investigation Department, which is handling the investigation into the blasts, will look into those reports, Gunasekara said.

SRI LANKA-ATTACKS
Security personnel inspect inside St. Sebastian's Church in Negombo, Sri Lanka, April 22, 2019, a day after the church was hit in series of bomb blasts targeting churches and luxury hotels in the country. Getty

Death toll reaches at least 290 people

At least 290 people were killed and hundreds more injured in the blasts, pitching the South Asian island nation into the worst chaos it has seen since a bloody civil war ended a decade ago. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said he feared the violence could trigger instability in the country and its economy.

Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara said at least 500 more people were wounded in the blasts.

Eiffel Tower to pay tribute to Sri Lanka victims

The Eiffel Tower's Twitter page announced it would turn off its lights "to pay tribute to the victims of the Sri Lanka attacks."

Ce soir, je m'éteindrai dès 00h00 pour rendre hommage aux victimes des attentats du Sri Lanka🇱🇰
Tonight, from 12:00 am, I will turn my lights off to pay tribute to the victims of the Sri Lanka attacks🇱🇰 #SriLanka pic.twitter.com/a3tv8b58wn

— La tour Eiffel (@LaTourEiffel) April 21, 2019

Witness describes chaos in bombing's aftermath

Witness to Sri Lanka bombings describes chaos in aftermath

A witness to one of the bombings, at a hotel by the zoo in Colombo, told CBSN about the chaotic aftermath that unfolded after the explosion. Asela Waidyalankara described hearing a large blast and rushing to see what had happened.

"Suddenly, near my residence, we heard a strong sound of an explosion, so I rushed up to my rooftop to observe what was going on, and I observed a small building from a location about 1 kilometer or less away from us," Waidyalankara said by phone. "The closest landmark is the National Zoo of Sri Lanka, and we noticed within a few minutes there was a helicopter that approached the location and within a few more minutes we could hear ambulances and firetrucks coming into the area."

"At that moment we realized this was probably a larger attack in connection to the chain of attacks that we witnessed," he continued. "Incidentally so, the newswires picked it up, and said that two people had died in that particular explosion."

"We as Sri Lankans are shocked and heartbroken," Waidyalankara said. "But yet we will persevere."

Pompeo says Americans are among those killed

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo condemned the attack in a statement Sunday morning and confirmed that "several U.S. citizens were among those killed."

"Attacks on innocent people gathering in a place of worship or enjoying a holiday meal are affronts to the universal values and freedoms that we hold dear, and demonstrate yet again the brutal nature of radical terrorists whose sole aim is to threaten peace and security," Pompeo said. "The U.S. Embassy is working tirelessly to provide all possible assistance to the American citizens affected by the attacks and their families."

24 suspects arrested in connection with the blast

Defense Minister Ruwan Wijewardena described the blasts as a terrorist attack by religious extremists, and police said at least 24 suspects were arrested — all Sri Lankan nationals.

There has been no claim of responsibility for the attacks. Wijewardena said most of the bombings were believed to have been suicide attacks. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said he feared the violence could trigger instability in the country and its economy.

Wickremesinghe said his government would "vest all necessary powers with the defense forces" to take action against those responsible" for Sunday's attacks, "regardless of their stature."

Arrests following blasts in Sri Lanka

At least 27 foreigners among the dead

The Sri Lanka government confirmed at least 11 foreigners were among the deceased. An additional 19 foreign nationals have been injured. According to the Sri Lanka Foreign Ministry, those killed include:

First published on April 22, 2019 / 4:37 AM

CBS/AP

Sri Lanka Church Blasts SRI LANKA-ATTACKS

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