Sri Lanka attacks death toll rises to 290

The police said they had arrested 24 people, but it is still not clear who was behind the attacks

Army personnel walk past bodies of the dead covered with sheets at St Anthony's Shrine in Colombo (Photo: Ishara S Kodikara/AFP)
Army personnel walk past bodies of the dead covered with sheets at St Anthony's Shrine in Colombo (Photo: Ishara S Kodikara/AFP)

The death toll following the blasts in several churches and hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday has risen to 290.

Sri Lanka’s foreign affairs ministry said it believed 36 foreign nationals are among the dead, with most of these remaining unidentified.

The police said they had arrested 24 people, but it is still not clearly known who carried out the attacks.

Eight explosions took place over the course of the morning, with the first six being reported at around 8.45am local time (5.15am CET).

Three churches in Negombo, Batticaloa and Colombo’s Kickchikade district were targeted as people attended Easter mass, and explosions also rocked the Shangri-La, Kingsbury and Cinnamon Grand luxury hotel’s in the Sri Lankan capital.

Later, a blast hit near a zoo in Dehiwala in southern Colombo, and an eight was reported in Dematagoda during a raid by police, killing three officers.

An improvised explosive device was also discovered on Sunday evening close to the main airport in Colombo, and was safely disposed of by police.

"A PVC pipe which was six feet in length containing explosives in it was discovered," Gihan Seneviratne spokesperson Gihan Seneviratne told the press.

No definite information on who was behind attacks

The police have released no information on the identity of the 24 people arrested and it remains unknown who was behind the attacks.

The government said that suicide bombs were likely used for some of the attacks.

A BBC correspondent in Colombo, Azzam Ameen, has said that the authorities think the attackers are part of a “radical extremist Islamist group”.

Therevada Buddhism - the state religion of Sri Lanka - is practised by 70.2% of the population. Hindus and Muslims make up around 12.6% and 9.7% of the population respectively, while 7.4% are Christian, with 6.1% of these being Roman Catholic.

A statue of the Virgin Mary broken in two after the attacks at St Anthony's Shrine (Photo: Reuters)
A statue of the Virgin Mary broken in two after the attacks at St Anthony's Shrine (Photo: Reuters)

Easter Sunday’s attacks were the deadliest Sri Lanka has suffered since the country’s civil war ended in 2009. The civil war ended when the Tamil Tigers, who had fought for two and a half decades for an independent homeland for the Tamils ethnic minority, were defeated.

Around 70,000 to 80,000 people are estimated to have been killed in the war.

Despite the country's recent violent past, it appears the authorities were unprepared for the deadly attacks.

Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe acknowledged late on Sunday that the government was "aware of information regarding a possible attack". "We must also look into why adequate precautions were not taken," Wickremesinghe said.

Al Jazeera described these statements as a jibe at President Maithripala Sirisena, who heads the security forces.  

In October, Sirisena had removed Wickremesinghe from his post, but this decision was later overturned by the Supreme Court, after a weeks-long political crisis.

Regarding the people who were arrested, the Prime Minister said "the names that have come up are local", adding that the investigators would also be probing whether the attackers had any "overseas links".

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