At least 290 people were killed and hundreds injured on Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka as attackers unleashed an allegedly coordinated series of suicide bombings that simultaneously targeted Christian churches and luxury hotels, sparking a wave of terror.
Eight explosions separated miles, three in Christian churches holding Easter Sundays, and three in hotels, some of which were frequently used by Western tourists. According to the police, Colombo Hospital and St. Sebastian's Church, at least 450 people were killed.
According to the Sri Lankan Ministry of Defense, most of the explosions were detonated by suicide bombers.
The attacks killed at least eleven foreigners, including two victims who were dual citizens of the United States and the United Kingdom. An American was also missing, officials said.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirmed on Sunday that "several US citizens were among those killed".
All foreigners died in attacks on hotels in Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, an island nation off the southern tip of India in the Indian Ocean.
President Donald Trump sent his condolences early in the morning from his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, where he is spending his Easter vacation.
"The United States sends its sincere condolences to the great people of Sri Lanka," tweeted the president. "We are ready to help!"
In Sri Lanka, 138 people were killed in a terrorist attack on churches and hotels, and more than 600 were seriously injured. The United States sends its sincere condolences to the great people of Sri Lanka. We are ready to help!
– Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 21, 2019
The White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, said in the statement that "the United States strongly condemns the terrible terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka that have claimed so many valuable lives on this Easter Sunday."
"Our sincere condolences go to the families of more than 200 people killed and hundreds of injured," Sanders said in the statement. "We stand with the Sri Lankan Government and the people when they bring the perpetrators of these vile and pointless deeds to justice."
There were eight simultaneous explosions at 8:45 local time. A video from the St. Sebastian Church in Negombo, a coastal city about 40 kilometers north of Colombo, showed the immediate aftermath of a bomb attack as worshipers who were praying for peace were surrounded by devastation, death and chaos.
At the Easter Mass in St. Sebastian there were about 500 people, as the explosion took place, so the representatives of the church. The parishioners, many bleeding, were trying to carry heavily injured people from the church, littered with overturned chairs, broken glass, and rubble falling from the ceiling.
A statue in the sanctuary of Jesus Christ was left pockmarked and spattered with blood, but stopped.
The shrine of St. Anthony, a Catholic church in Colombo, and the Zion Church in Batticaloa were also attacked. Colombo is on the west side of Sri Lanka, while Batticaloa on the east coast is about 200 miles from the capital.
I want to express my closeness to the Christian community[vonSriLanka[ofSriLanka[vonSriLanka[ofSriLanka
The Shangri-La Hotel, Cinnamon Grand Hotel and Kingsbury Hotel, all located in Colombo and popular with tourists, were attacked during the bombings. There was an explosion near Dematagoda near Colombo near an overpass, the Associated Press reported.
Hours after the first bombings, a ninth explosion exploded in a guesthouse in Colombo, killing at least two people, according to the police.
On Sunday evening at 10:15 local time, a meter long was discovered on a road near the international airport Colombo. The air force of the country initiated a controlled explosion, said the spokesman for the Air Force Gihan Seneviratne to ABC News.
Police chief warned of an attack
The wave of bombing came after the Sri Lankan police chief issued a nationwide warning ten days ago that suicide bombers had planned to attack "prominent churches," several reports said.
"Some intelligence officers were aware of the incident, so there was a delay in the action, and what my father heard was from an intelligence officer, too, and it has to be taken seriously why this warning was ignored," said MP Harin Fernando in Sri Lanka, tweeted on Sunday and attached a document that he says is the security warning.
Some intelligence agents were aware of this incident. Therefore, there was a delay of the action. What my father heard was also from a secret service agent. It must be taken seriously why this warning was ignored. I was in Badulla last night pic.twitter.com/ssJyItJF1x
– Harin Fernando (@fernandoharin) April 21, 2019
Pope Francis prays for the sacrifice
After the Easter Mass in St. Peter's Square in the Vatican, Pope Francis condemned the "cruel violence" that "caused sorrow and grief."
"I want to express my closeness to the Christian community [of Sri Lanka]"Wounded, when it was gathered in prayer, and to all the victims of this cruel violence," said Pope Francis. I entrust to the Lord all those who have tragically been killed, and I pray for the injured and all who suffer as a result of this tragic event. "
Officers who spoke with ABC News were able to confirm that at least 24 people were killed in St. Anthony's Church, 27 died in Batticaloa's Zion Church and 81 in St. Sebastian's Church.
The explosions were followed by the siren chirping of emergency vehicles to the numerous bombings.
Ruwan Gunasekara, a police spokesman, said that in addition to the 207 killed, about 450 people were injured, which overwhelmed hospitals throughout the island nation.
The National Hospital in Colombo reported that 66 people had died there and 260 were treated there, Gunasekara said. In the Negombo hospital 104 people died and 100 wounded were treated, he said.
Another 37 were declared dead in the hospitals of Kalubowila, Batticaloa and Brown. Gunaskekara said that eighty-nine people were treated in these medical facilities.
The authorities confirmed that three British citizens were in addition to the two with dual American citizenship, one Portuguese citizen, three Indian and two Turkish nationals among the dead.
"It is a very, very sad day for all of us, so I would like to express my deepest sympathy and compassion to all the innocent families who have lost someone, and also to those who are hurt and destitute." Malcolm Ranjith told the archbishop of Colombo at a press conference. "I urge everyone to pray that all wounded can soon be healed and that all those families who have lost someone can be comforted.
"I condemn this act, which has brought so much death and suffering to people, to the utmost of my abilities," Ranjith said. "I ask all people in Sri Lanka not to take the law into their own hands and to maintain peace and harmony in this land, and I also ask all who can donate blood to help these injured people, and then I appeal also to the doctors to help us. "
Several suspects arrested
US Secretary of State Pompeo said the US embassy in Sri Lanka is working to help American citizens affected by the attacks, including their families.
"These vile attacks are a clear reminder of why the United States is determined in our fight against counter-terrorism," Pompeo said in his statement. "We stand with the Sri Lankan Government and the people when confronted with violent extremism and have helped us to work for the persecution of the perpetrators."
Buddhism is the most common religion in Sri Lanka. The Sri Lanka National Christian Evangelical Alliance documented the growing number of attacks on Christians in 2018, with 67 from January to September.
Sec Defense and I are in the Kochchikade Church. Was also in ShangriLa n Kingsbury. PM is on its way from Bentota. The emergency conference called in a few minutes. Rescue operations underway. Please stay calm and indoors. Many victims, including foreigners.
– Harsha de Silva (@HarshadeSilvaMP) April 21, 2019
Nobody took responsibility for the attacks. Police spokesman Gunasekara said at a press conference that several people had been arrested. A previous Associated Press report made it clear that seven suspects had been arrested. By early Monday, 24 people had been arrested.
Gunasekara also said that several raids had been carried out as the police worked to identify those responsible for the slaughter.
Gunasekara said it was too early to say who was behind the attack, or to comment on a possible motive.
Sri Lanka was at times one of the most dangerous places in the world for terrorist attacks. A civil war that ended decades ago between the ruling government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam – colloquially referred to as the Tamil Tigers or LTTE – ended in 2009 officially ended, but some conflicts have continued. According to the US U.N. Between 1982 and 2009, 100,000 people were killed in the civil war.
The UK government warns travelers of the risks posed by visitors to the country.
"Terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka can not be ruled out," the government advises on its website. "Attacks can be indiscriminate, even in places visited by foreigners."
The US cites Sri Lanka as a Tier 1 country, the lowest risk that warns travelers against normal precautions.
The country was also split by a constitutional crisis in late 2018, when Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was deposed by the country's president in October and should not be reinstated until December.
"I strongly condemn the cowardly attacks on our people today," Wickremesinghe said in a tweet. "I call on all Sri Lankans to remain united and strong in this tragic time, please avoid spreading unchecked reports and speculation, and the government is taking immediate steps to stem this situation."
Security has been increased in Sri Lanka, including Colombo International Airport. The authorities also imposed an indefinite curfew from 18.00. at 6 am, temporarily blocking key social media and messaging services, including Facebook and WhatsApp, to curb the proliferation of information that government officials called disinformation.
US security increased
The bombings sent shock waves to the United States, where the security of the churches was strengthened from coast to coast.
In California, the Los Angeles Police Department stepped up patrols around the places of worship. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo ordered the state police to increase security in churches and prayer houses across the state.
"New York is mourning the victims of the terrible attacks on Easter Sunday in churches and hotels in Sri Lanka," Cuomo said in a statement. "On behalf of all New Yorkers, I extend my sincere condolences to the people of Sri Lanka, the families who have lost loved ones and those who mourn all over the world.
"In the wake of these despicable acts of violence and a wealth of caution, I instruct the state police to increase patrols around churches and churches across the country today," Cuomo said. "In these troubled times we are not intimidated by cowardly acts of violence and will continue to do everything in our power to ensure the safety of all New Yorkers."
An American intelligence bulletin issued last week by ABC News raised continuing grave concerns that US prosecution awaits in anticipation of high-profile holidays or gatherings, notably Easter, Passover and Ramadan. However, the bulletin said there was no evidence of a confirmed attack planned in the US or other US facilities.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation, the National Center for Counter-Terrorism and the Department of Homeland Security "have no concrete, credible threats related to the upcoming religious holiday season, but note that earlier attacks had little or no warning" News bulletin issued on Thursday.
"Religious holiday assemblies are an attractive destination for HVEs [homegrown violent extremists] and domestic extremists because they offer the opportunity to capitalize on large crowds and increased symbolism of the goal, "states the Bulletin.
ABC News "Kirit Radia, Josh Margolin and Alex Stone contributed to this report.