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Sri Lanka: Warnings Were Received Weeks Before Attacks

Death toll hits 290 in church, hotel bombings
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 22, 2019 4:42 AM CDT

(Newser) – The death toll in the Sri Lanka Easter Sunday bombings jumped to 290 Monday amid rising public anger over reports that intelligence officials had warned of possible attacks. Rajitha Senaratne, the country's health minister, said the chief of national intelligence had warned officials on April 4 about potential attacks and had provided the names of suspects five days later, the Guardian reports. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe "was not informed by these letters and revelations," Senaratne said. Authorities say more than 500 people were injured in six apparently coordinated morning bombings at churches and hotels. There were two more blasts later Sunday, including one that killed two people at a Colombo-area hotel. In other developments:

  • Suicide bombers. A government forensic investigator says analysis of body parts shows that the first six bombings were carried out by seven suicide bombers, with two striking at the Shangri-La hotel in Colombo, the AP reports. At least 13 arrests have been made, authorities say, and three police officers were killed when a suspect apparently trying to avoid arrest at a "safe house" detonated explosives.

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  • Islamist group named. An April 11 intelligence report seen by the Washington Post warned that an Islamic extremist group called National Thowheeth Jama’ath was plotting suicide attacks at Catholic churches. The report named Mohamed Zaharan as the group's alleged leader.
  • Airport bomb defused. Authorities say a pipe bomb packed with 110 pounds of explosives was found and defused on the road to Colombo's international airport Sunday night, the AP reports. The bomb was big enough to have caused destruction in a 400-yard radius, police say.
  • The victims. Most of the victims were Sri Lankan, but dozens of foreign nationals from countries including the US, the UK, Australia, and the Netherlands are among the dead, the BBC reports. Sri Lankan celebrity chef Shantha Mayadunne was killed, as were three children of Danish billionaire Anders Holch Povlsen. The Cinnamon Grand hotel says at least four staff members were killed.

  • "This was supposed to be the mass of the children." At one of the targets, St. Sebastian's church in Negombo, the Guardian spoke to angry and bewildered priests. "We cannot explain this," said Father Danushka Fernando. "This was supposed to be the mass of the children, so lots of women and children were present." Another priest added: "If this is done by who I suspect—is this their religion? This is insanity."
  • Government tensions. In what the New York Times calls a "sign of the recent frictions within the government hierarchy," Wickremesingh said he and other ministers had not been told of the warnings. "We must look into why adequate precautions were not taken," he said.
  • Nationwide emergency. Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena's office says a nationwide emergency will be declared from midnight Monday following the worst violence since the country's civil war ended a decade ago, Reuters reports.
(Social media sites were blocked after the bombings.)

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