Sun, 26 May 2019

A Sri Lankan official says a local militant group, with help from an 'international network' is responsible for the Easter Sunday attacks on churches and hotels in Sri Lanka that killed 290 people and injured 500 others.

The country's health minister, Rajitha Senaratne, said Monday that the National Thowfeed Jamaath organization is responsible for the suicide bombings. He added, 'There was an international network without which these attacks could not have succeeded.'

Senaratne said the attacks at six locations three churches and three hotels were carried out by seven suicide bombers. All of the suicide bombers were Sri Lankan citizens, Senaratne said.

A van exploded Monday near one of the churches that was bombed Sunday. Police attempted to defuse the bombs found in the van, but the bombs exploded. No injuries have been reported.

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena is scheduled to declare a nationwide emergency as of midnight Monday. The president's media office said the emergency measures would be confined to dealing with terrorism and would not hinder freedom of expression.

News reports say 24 suspects have been detained in connection with the blasts.

Sri Lanka has reimposed a curfew across the island nation Monday in the aftermath of the explosions.

The curfew runs from 8 p.m. Monday until 4 a.m. Tuesday.

An initial curfew that had been imposed shortly after the blasts was lifted Monday morning.

Sri Lanka Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said Sunday there was prior knowledge about the possibility of attacks. 'Information was there,' he told reporters. He said an investigation would be conducted to determine 'why adequate precautions were not taken.'

Officials said about 30 foreigners were among the victims, including American, British, Indian, Chinese, Japanese and Portuguese nationals.

Six blasts were reported early Sunday at three churches and three hotels.

Two more blasts were reported hours after the initial explosions -- one in Dehiwala and the other in Dematagoda, near the capital, but those were not aimed at big crowds.

Later an improvised explosive device was defused near Colombo's main airport.

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe expressed his condolences to the families of the victims. 'I see this as a major crisis that will lead the country and its economy towards instability. I strongly condemn these attacks that targeted religious sites and luxury hotels. All of us must uphold the law of the land,' he told reporters.

Authorities say one of the churches, Saint Anthony's, and all of the hotels hit by the first blasts were in Colombo.

The other churches include Saint Sebastian's in Negombo, outside of Colombo, and Zion church in Batticaloa.

Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Ranjith, who leads the St. Sebastian's and St. Anthony's churches, called on authorities to find those behind the blasts.

'I condemn, with the utmost of my capacity, this act that has caused so much death and suffering to the people. I would 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,' Ranjith said.

There has been no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks.

A spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the U.N. chief is 'outraged by the terrorist attacks' on 'a sacred day for Christians around the world.'

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