Toll in Sri Lanka bombings rises to 359

Toll in Sri Lanka bombings rises to 359
Colombo (AFP/Reuters): The toll in a series of suicide bomb blasts on Easter Sunday targeting hotels and churches in Sri Lanka has risen to 359, police said Wednesday.

The additional deaths were the result of the wounded dying of their injuries. At least 500 people were injured in the attacks.

Three churches and four hotels were hit by suicide bombers on Sunday morning, killing people and sending shockwaves through an island state that has been relatively peaceful since a civil war ended a decade ago.

Sri Lankan security forces arrested 18 suspects linked to the country’s deadly Easter bombings in overnight raids, police said Wednesday.

Spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera said the suspects were held in a search operation carried out by police and security forces using emergency powers introduced since attacks.

“Based on the information, we raided three locations and arrested 17 suspects,” Gunasekera said. “Another suspect was arrested at a fourth location.”

Police say they have so far taken 58 people into detention since Sunday.

Gunasekera said the raids were part of security operations to track down any individuals linked to suicide bombing strike against three churches and three hotels which the Islamic State group has claimed.

In addition to arming security forces with powers to detain suspects for up to three months, the authorities have also imposed a night-time curfew since Sunday´s deadly attacks.

Daesh claim responsibility

Daesh on Tuesday claimed responsibility for a devastating series of suicide attacks against churches and hotels in Sri Lanka that killed people.

The claim, accompanied by a photo and video of the men the group said had unleashed the carnage, emerged more than two days after the near-simultaneous blasts ripped through three high-end hotels popular with foreigners and three churches packed with Christians celebrating Easter.

‘Hard to bear’

The country observed a national day of mourning Tuesday, beginning with a three-minute silence, as the bereaved began to bury their dead.

Flags were lowered to half-mast on government buildings, and liquor shops were ordered closed for the day.

More than 1,000 people gathered at St Sebastian’s Church in Negombo, north of the capital, which was among those devastated in the blasts, to pay tribute to the dead.

An elderly man wept uncontrollably by the coffin bearing the body of his wife, while relatives of other victims stood aghast and silent.

Coffins were carried into the church grounds one by one for services, and then to a newly-established cemetery on church land.

“It’s very hard to bear,” said Father Suranga Warnakulasuriya, who had come from another parish to help conduct funerals.

The attacks were the worst ever against the country’s small Christian minority, who make up just seven per cent of the 21 million population.

President Maithripala Sirisena, who is also defence and law and order minister, said he will carry out a complete reorganisation of the security forces and the police in the wake of the attacks.

“I hope to make major changes in the leadership of the security forces in the next 24 hours,” Sirisena said in a nationwide address.

Identifying the dead

Work was continuing to identify foreign victims in the blasts.

A Danish billionaire lost three of his children in the attacks, a spokesman for his company said.

Eight Britons, 10 Indians, four Americans and nationals from Turkey, Australia, Japan and Portugal, were also reported killed.

The United Nations said at least 45 children, Sri Lankans and foreigners, were among those who lost their lives.

Of the three churches targeted, two are in the Colombo region and one is in the eastern city of Batticaloa.