Locals and police gather at Zion Church in Batticaloa on Sunday. Photo by EPA
April 21 (UPI) -- Eight bomb blasts across Sri Lanka killed at least 207 people and injured 450 others Sunday morning in high-end hotels and churches, including during Easter services.
At least 27 foreigners, including Americans, died in the bombings in the south Asian island country in the Indian Ocean, including the capital Colombo as well as Kochchikade, Negombo, Batticaloa, Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia and Dematagoda. Other victims were British, Chinese, Dutch and Portuguese nationals, The New York Times reported.
"These are certainly acts of terror," Manisha Gunasekera, the high commissioner of Sri Lanka to Britain, told CNN. "This is an attack against the whole of Sri Lanka because Sri Lanka is [a] multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural country and the whole country comes together in celebration of Easter Sunday."
No one so far has claimed responsibility for the terrorist attacks but seven people have been detained in connection with them, according to Ruwan Wijewardan, Sri Lanka's state minister for defense. He said the unnamed suicide bombers were believed to be part of a single group.
Three police officers were during a raid of a house in Colombo, according to police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara.
"I have given instructions to take very stern action against the persons who are responsible for this conspiracy," President Maithripala Sirisena said.
Police in Sri Lanka imposed an island-wide 12-hour curfew starting at 6 p.m. local time Sunday.
All evening Easter services were canceled in Sri Lanka.
And an emergency meeting involving the heads of the army, air force and navy was convened, according to Sri Lanka's economic reforms minister, Harsha de Silva.
All schools in Sri Lanka will be closed until Wednesday, according to official government news portal News.LK
In an attempt to curb misinformation, Sri Lanka also blocked major social media and messaging services, including Facebook and WhatsApp, according to the president's secretary, Udaya Seneviratne.
At about 8:45 a.m., blasts struck at least three churches and three five-star hotels favored by foreigners. In the afternoon there were more bombings, all in Colombo.
"You can see pieces of flesh thrown all over the walls and on the sanctuary and even outside of the church," Father Edmond Tillekeratne, social communications director for the Archdiocese of Colombo, told CNN from St. Sebastian's Church in Negombo, one of the locations targeted.
He said that the blast took place after Easter Mass, where he estimated more than 1,000 people had come "because it is a special day."
Tillekeratne said the ground was covered in rubble and shattered glass with about 30 bodies lying in the church area.
Other churches attacked were St. Anthony's Shrine in Kochchikade and Zion Church in Batticaloa.
"It was a river of blood," said N. A. Sumanapala, a shopkeeper near St. Anthony's Shrine where he had run inside to help told The New York Times. "The priest came out and he was covered in blood."
Hotels affected were the Cinnamon Grand and Shangri-La Hotel as well as the Kingsbury Hotel, all in Colombo. Also, an area near Dehiwala Zoo in Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia and a house in Mahawila Gardens, Dematagoda, were attacked.
"Horrible scenes, I saw many body parts strewn all over," de Silva, the economic reforms minister told CNN after visiting the Kochchikade church and Shangri-La Hotel in Colombo. "We took multiple casualties to hospital. Hopefully saved many lives."
In Sri Lanka, 7.4 percent of the 21.4 million total population are Christians, according to 2011 census data. Of those, about 82 percent are Roman Catholics. And 70.2 percent identity themselves as Buddhist, 12 percent as Hindu and 9.7 percent as Muslim.
"I learned with great sadness the news of the serious attacks that, today, on Easter they brought mourning and pain to some churches and other Sri Lankan hangouts," Pope Francis said during an Easter address to those gathered in St. Peter's Square in the Vatican. "I wish to show my affectionate closeness to the Christian community, hit while gathered in prayer, and to all the victims of such cruel violence. I entrust to the Lord those who have tragically been lost and I pray for the wounded and all those who suffer because of this dramatic event."
In Paris, where the iconic Notre-Dame Cathedral sustained a devastating fire last week, the Archbishop of Paris, Michel Aupetit, began Easter Mass in Saint Eustache church, saying "we're thinking of our brothers in Sri Lanka, who were slaughtered this morning."
President Donald Trump, from his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla., posted on Twitter before attending a church service: "The United States offers heartfelt condolences to the great people of Sri Lanka. We stand ready to help!"
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who said the United States "condemns in the strongest terms the terror attacks," confirmed Americans died in the bombings.
"While many details of the attacks are still emerging, we can confirm that several U.S. citizens were among those killed," Pompeo said in a statement. "The U.S. Embassy is working tirelessly to provide all possible assistance to the American citizens affected by the attacks and their families."
Pompeo said "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."
Sri Lanka has had a decade of minimal violence after the end of its 25-year civil war in May 2009 when terrorist bombings were common. In the conflict, more than 100,000 civilians and 50,000 fighters died.
In 2004, 30,957 people in Sri Lanka died and another 5,637 were missing from a tsunami that struck the Indian Ocean.