At least eight explosions targeting churches and hotels around Sri Lanka killed almost 200 people on Sunday, according to a medical official, in what the police said was a coordinated attack.
• The blasts happened about 8:45 a.m. at three Roman Catholic churches celebrating Easter Mass and at three five-star hotels.
• A health official at the National Hospital of Sri Lanka said that the death toll was 189 so far. Eleven foreigners are among the dead, she said.
• No group immediately claimed responsibility. A senior presidential aide said it appeared that the attacks had been carried out by suicide bombers.
Blasts erupt at churches and hotels on Easter Sunday
The attacks targeted worshipers celebrating Mass and five-star hotels frequented by foreigners.
Some of the victims were killed at St. Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo, the capital; St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo, about 20 miles north of Colombo; and Zion Church in the eastern city of Batticaloa.
Others were killed in explosions at high-end hotels in Colombo, the capital, including the Shangri-La, the Cinnamon Grand and the Kingsbury.
After celebrating Easter Mass in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis spoke of the sadness and pain he felt at the news of the bombings in Sri Lanka, which “brought mourning and sorrow.”
He expressed “affectionate closeness to the Christian community, struck while it was gathered in prayer, and to all the victims of such cruel violence.”
Extremism has grown in Sri Lanka
Brahma Chellaney, a professor of strategic studies at the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi, said that radical Islamist groups had been quietly growing in influence for years in Sri Lanka, in the nearby Indian state of Tamil Nadu and in the nearby island nation of the Maldives.
Mr. Chellaney said that it was unexpected that the attackers had the confidence to raid hotels in Sri Lanka, saying that the island’s hotels had tried to provide tight security during the island’s civil war and ever since.
“Hotels are on guard in Sri Lanka, so I’m surprised that three hotels still came under target,” he said.
Buddhist statues were defaced last year in Sri Lanka in what appears to have been an iconoclastic attack by Muslims, he said. In the Maldives, radical Muslims destroyed Buddhist archaeological finds in early 2012 at the country’s National Museum.
‘A lot of blood on the floor’
A witness, Sarita Marlou, who was at the Shangri-La hotel, wrote in a Facebook post that a blast occurred at 8:57 a.m. inside the Table One Restaurant on the third floor where people had gathered for brunch.
“Felt the blast all the way up to the 17th floor where we were sleeping,” she wrote. “Few minutes later, we were asked to evacuate the hotel. While running down the stairs, saw a lot of blood on the floor but we were still clueless as to what really happened.”
Ms. Marlou posted that the guests had been stuck outside for more than two hours before being ushered back inside as the sun got hot. But they still were not cleared to go back to their rooms, she wrote.
Social media is restricted and a curfew imposed
The government shut down access to major social media and messaging services, including Facebook and WhatsApp, and internet transmission slowed drastically.
The authorities took a similar step after sectarian violence last year. At that time, some of the violence has been instigated by Facebook postings that threatened attacks on Muslims, the government said.
There were also reports that the government had set a nationwide curfew from 6 p.m. Sunday to 6 a.m. Monday.
Wounds of past violence are still fresh in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka’s civil war ended almost 10 years ago, but memories of urban carnage are still fresh, particularly for residents of the capital. During the conflict, brutal bombings of airports, bus stations, banks, cafes, and hotels were not uncommon. The Cinnamon Grand, one of the hotels targeted on Sunday, had been blown up before, in 1984, when it was called the Hotel Lanka Oberoi.
The Roman Catholic Church in Sri Lanka traces its roots to the arrival of the Portuguese in the early 1500s and the subsequent influence of Portuguese, Dutch and Irish missionaries. Sri Lankan Catholics make up a significant minority of the country’s population, accounting for roughly 6 percent of the country and centered largely in the Colombo-Negombo area.
In 1995, Pope John Paul II traveled to Sri Lanka to canonize Joseph Vaz, an Indian-born priest and missionary. Thousands of people greeted the pope’s motorcade as it traveled from the airport in Negombo to Colombo.
World leaders condemned the attack
In a Twitter post, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe of Sri Lanka denounced the assaults and urged the public not to spread misinformation, which has fueled the country’s sectarian divide in the past.
India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, called the blasts “horrific” in a post on Twitter. “There is no place for such barbarism in our region,” he wrote. India is Sri Lanka’s closest neighbor and shares many cultural and economic ties with the island nation.
Prime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan said his country “stands in complete solidarity with Sri Lanka in their hour of grief.”
Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Union Commission, said that he had received news of the bombings “with horror and sadness.”
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey said in a post on Twitter that the attack was “an assault on all of humanity.”
Mangala Samaraweera, the Sri Lankan finance minister, called the attack “a well-coordinated attempt to create murder, mayhem and anarchy.”