Dhaka, Apr 22 (UNB) - The death toll in Sri Lanka has soared to 290 after a wave of blasts hit churches and luxury hotels across the country on Easter Sunday, reports BBC.
Police said that 24 arrests have now been made, but the government has not yet identified who carried out the attacks.
About 500 people are injured and dozens of foreigners are among the dead.
The country is in shock after the bombings, the deadliest violence since the end of the civil war in 2009.
There are reports of social media networks being temporarily restricted to try and stop misinformation spreading.
Popular messaging services like WhatsApp and Facebook are said to be unavailable to many.
How did the attacks unfold?
The first reports of explosions came at about 08:45 (03:15 GMT) local time - with six blasts reported within a small space of time.
Three churches in Negombo, Batticaloa and Colombo's Kochchikade district were targeted during Easter services and blasts also rocked the Shangri-La, Kingsbury and Cinnamon Grand hotels in the country's capital.
As police hunted those responsible, two further explosions were reported.
One blast hit near the zoo in Dehiwala, southern Colombo, and an eighth was reported near the Colombo district of Dematagoda during a police raid, killing three officers.
Late on Sunday, the air force said an improvised explosive device had been found and disposed of close to the country's main airport in the capital, Colombo.
"A PVC pipe which was six feet [1.8m] in length containing explosives in it was discovered," spokesman Gihan Seneviratne told local media.
What's known about the attackers?
It remains unclear who was behind the attacks, but 24 arrests were made by police.
The government has said they believe suicide bombs were used at some of the sites.
During a news conference on Sunday evening, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe addressed rumours that officials had had prior intelligence of forthcoming attacks.
"We must look into why adequate precautions were not taken. Neither I nor the Ministers were kept informed," he said.
"For now the priority is to apprehend the attackers," he added.
Who are the victims?
The vast majority of those killed are thought to be Sri Lankan nationals, including scores of Christians who died at Easter church services.
The country's Ministry of Foreign Affairs says it believes 36 foreign nationals are among the dead, with most still unidentified at a Colombo morgue.
The international victims include:
At least five British citizens - including two with joint US citizenship
Three Danish citizens
One Portuguese citizen and three Indian nationals, according to Sri Lankan officials
Two engineers from Turkey, according to Turkish news outlet Anadolu
One person from the Netherlands
One person from Japan, according to Japanese media citing government sources
How has the world responded?
World leaders have been offering their shock and condolences to Sri Lanka over the deadly blasts.
Several prominent international monuments, including the Eiffel Tower, were dimmed or lit in Sri Lanka's colours in solidarity on Sunday night.
Pope Francis, in his traditional Urbi et Orbi speech at the Vatican, condemned the attacks as "such cruel violence" targeting Christians celebrating Easter.
A spokesperson for UN Secretary General António Guterres said he was "outraged" by the attacks, and expressed his hope the perpetrators would be "swiftly brought to justice".
India's Narendra Modi condemned the attacks as "barbaric" while Pakistan's leader Imran Khan also offered his "profound condolences" to Sri Lanka.
UK PM Theresa May wrote in a tweet that the "acts of violence against churches and hotels in Sri Lanka are truly appalling".
US President Donald Trump tweeted "heartfelt condolences" for the "horrible terrorist attacks".
The leader of New Zealand, where deadly mosque attacks killed 50 last month, labelled the bombings "devastating".
"Collectively we must find the will and the answers to end such violence," Jacinda Ardern said.
What is Sri Lanka's recent history?
Sunday's attacks are the deadliest seen in Sri Lanka since the end of the country's civil war in 2009.
The civil war ended with the defeat of the Tamil Tigers, who had fought for 26 years for an independent homeland for the minority ethnic Tamils.
The war is thought to have killed between 70,000 and 80,000 people.
The nation has seen some sporadic violence since. In March 2018 a state of emergency was declared after members of the majority Buddhist Sinhala community attacked mosques and Muslim-owned properties.
Religion in Sri Lanka
Theravada Buddhism is Sri Lanka's biggest religious group, making up about 70.2% of the population, according to the most recent census.
It is the religion of Sri Lanka's Sinhalese majority, is given primary place in the country's laws and is singled out in the constitution.
Hindus and Muslims make up 12.6% and 9.7% of the population respectively.
Sri Lanka is also home to about 1.5 million Christians, according to the 2012 census, the vast majority of them Roman Catholic.
Sri Lanka, Apr 22 (AP/UNB) — Police in Sri Lanka said Monday the investigation into the Easter Sunday bombings will examine reports that the intelligence community failed to detect or warn of possible suicide attacks before the violence.
The nine bombings of churches, luxury hotels and other sites was Sri Lanka's deadliest violence since a devastating civil war in the South Asian island nation ended a decade ago. Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara said Monday the death toll, which was 207 late Sunday, had risen overnight but the figure wasn't immediately released.
Two government ministers have alluded to intelligence failures. Telecommunications Minister Harin Fernando tweeted, "Some intelligence officers were aware of this incidence. Therefore there was a delay in action. Serious action needs to be taken as to why this warning was ignored." He said his father had heard of the possibility of an attack as well and had warned him not to enter popular churches.
And Mano Ganeshan, the minister for national integration, said the security officers within his ministry had been warned by their division about the possibility two suicide bombers would target politicians.
Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara said the Criminal Investigation Department investigating the blasts will look into the reports.
Defense Minister Ruwan Wijewardena previously described the blasts as a terrorist attack by religious extremists, and police said 13 suspects were arrested, though there was no immediate claim of responsibility. Wijewardena said most of the bombings were believed to have been suicide attacks.
The explosions — mostly in or around Colombo, the capital — collapsed ceilings and blew out windows, killing worshippers and hotel guests in one scene after another of smoke, soot, blood, broken glass, screams and wailing alarms. Victims were carried out of blood-spattered pews.
"People were being dragged out," said Bhanuka Harischandra, of Colombo, a 24-year-old founder of a tech marketing company who was going to the Shangri-La Hotel for a meeting when it was bombed. "People didn't know what was going on. It was panic mode."
He added: "There was blood everywhere."
Most of those killed were Sri Lankans. But the three bombed hotels and one of the churches, St. Anthony's Shrine, are frequented by foreign tourists, and Sri Lanka's Foreign Ministry said the bodies of at least 27 foreigners from a variety of countries were recovered.
The U.S. said "several" Americans were among the dead, while Britain, India, China, Japan and Portugal said they, too, lost citizens.
The Sri Lankan government lifted a curfew that had been imposed during the night. But most social media remained blocked Monday after officials said they needed to curtail the spread of false information and ease tension in the country of about 21 million people.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said he feared the massacre could trigger instability in Sri Lanka, and he vowed to "vest all necessary powers with the defense forces" to take action against those responsible.
The Archbishop of Colombo, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, called on Sri Lanka's government to "mercilessly" punish those responsible "because only animals can behave like that."
The scale of the bloodshed recalled the worst days of Sri Lanka's 26-year civil war, in which the Tamil Tigers, a rebel group from the ethnic Tamil minority, sought independence from the Buddhist-majority country. The Tamils are Hindu, Muslim and Christian.
Sri Lanka, off the southern tip of India, is about 70 percent Buddhist. Scattered incidents of anti-Christian harassment have occurred in recent years, but nothing on the scale of what happened Sunday.
There is also no history of violent Muslim militants in Sri Lanka. However, tensions have been running high more recently between hard-line Buddhist monks and Muslims.
Two Muslim groups in Sri Lanka condemned the church attacks, as did countries around the world, and Pope Francis expressed condolences at the end of his traditional Easter Sunday blessing in Rome.
"I want to express my loving closeness to the Christian community, targeted while they were gathered in prayer, and all the victims of such cruel violence," Francis said.
Six nearly simultaneous blasts took place in the morning at the shrine and the Cinnamon Grand, Shangri-La and Kingsbury hotels in Colombo, as well as at two churches outside Colombo, according to a Sri Lankan military spokesman, Brig. Sumith Atapattu.
A few hours later, two more blasts occurred just outside Colombo, one of them at a guesthouse, where two people were killed, the other near an overpass, Atapattu said.
Also, three police officers were killed during a search at a suspected safe house on the outskirts of Colombo when its occupants apparently detonated explosives to prevent arrest, authorities said.
The Shangri-La's second-floor restaurant was gutted, with the ceiling and windows blown out. Loose wires hung down and tables were overturned in the blackened space. From outside the police cordon, three bodies could be seen covered in white sheets.
Sri Lankan forces defeated the Tamil Tiger rebels in 2009, ending a civil war that took over 100,000 lives, with both sides accused of grave human rights violations.
Harischandra, who witnessed the attack at the Shangri-La Hotel, said there was "a lot of tension" after the bombings, but added: "We've been through these kinds of situations before."
He said Sri Lankans are "an amazing bunch" and noted that his social media feed was flooded with photos of people standing in long lines to give blood.
Havana, Apr 22 (AP/UNB) — An official newspaper in Cuba reports that officials are restricting electricity use at a time the economy is being squeezed by a series of setbacks, including reduced fuel shipments from Venezuela and tighter U.S. sanctions.
The local Communist Party newspaper Invasor in Ciego de Avila province said Sunday that authorities across the island have been told to cut consumption to conserve fuel and avoid blackouts. It says a 10 percent cut is being imposed on Ciego de Avila itself. So far there haven't been reports of any widespread power outages.
The island has suffered shortages of some basic foods in recent weeks as the government copes with reduced aid from Venezuela, the end of a medical services deal with Brazil and poor performances in sectors including nickel, sugar and tourism.
Cairo, Apr 22 (AP/UNB) — The Arab League has pledged $100 million per month to the Palestinian Authority to make up for funds withheld by Israel because of payments made to the families of Palestinian attackers and prisoners.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas addressed the Arab League in Cairo on Sunday as part of a diplomatic effort to rebuff the Trump administration's Middle East peace plan, which American officials indicate could be released this summer.
Abbas says "the Arabs need to be engaging actively at this critical time."
Abbas says the Palestinians reject the deal and demand Israel fully withdraw from all occupied territories.
Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war. The Palestinians seek those territories for a future state.
Sudan, Apr 22 (AP/UNB) — The organizers of Sudan's protests said Sunday they have suspended talks with the ruling military council because it has failed to meet their demands for an immediate transfer to a civilian government following the overthrow of President Omar al-Bashir.
Mohammed al-Amin Abdel Aziz, a spokesman for the Sudanese Professionals Association, said Sunday that the political committee of the military council is too close to al-Bashir, who has been jailed in the capital, Khartoum.
"The military council is delaying its response to our proposals, saying that they are considering proposals from all political forces," he said.
He said the SPA is calling for more protests, and repeated its demand for an immediate transfer to a transitional civilian government that would rule for four years.
The SPA led four months of protests that eventually ended al-Bashir's 30-year reign, which was marred by multiple armed conflicts and widespread corruption. The umbrella group of unions says around 100 people were killed by security forces since December, when the protests were sparked by a hike in the price of basic goods.
The Sudanese military overthrew and arrested al-Bashir on April 11, and has appointed a military council that says it will rule for up to two years while elections are organized. The military has arrested senior officials from al-Bashir's government and sacked top judges and prosecutors.
Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, the head of the military council, told state TV Sunday that the council is "ready to hand over power tomorrow to a civilian government agreed by political forces."
He said the military is waiting for the various political factions behind the protests to submit the names of the proposed members of a transitional government, something the organizers had said they would do on Sunday. He said the military is considering the protesters' demands for a civilian council with a military representative.
"Our role is to complete the uprising and the blessed revolution," he added.
The protesters fear the military — which is still dominated by al-Bashir appointees — will cling to power or appoint another general in his place.
Mohammed al-Asam, a senior member of the SPA, told The Associated Press late Saturday that "we are ready with a clear plan for a transition with qualified names."
The association had said it would announce the names at a press conference Sunday outside the military's headquarters in Khartoum, where thousands of protesters have kept up a sit-in since April 6. It was not immediately clear whether the announcement had been cancelled or delayed.
"We want a civil council immediately with a military representation. This is our demand," said al-Asam, who was detained for more than three months before being released after al-Bashir's ouster. He was held in the Koper prison in Khartoum, where al-Bashir and other top officials now reside.
The 28-year-old doctor urged the international community to press the military to hand over power to civilians. He said the military council is becoming more powerful every day and that "this is dangerous to the revolution."
Burhan said the military council will send a delegation to the United States later this month for talks on removing Sudan from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terror, a designation that dates back to the early 1990s, when the country briefly hosted Osama bin Laden.
"We expect a breakthrough in this issue," he said.
The military has also reached out to the African Union, saying it is working to "create an environment so political forces can rule in a peaceful and democratic way," according to the state-run SUNA news agency.
SUNA said Lt. Gen. Omer Zain-al-Abdin, head of the political committee of the military council, met with AU commission chairman Moussa Faki in Khartoum on Saturday.
The African Union on Monday gave Sudan's military 15 days to hand over power to a "civilian-led political authority" or face suspension from AU activities. The AU said a civilian authority should hold elections "as quickly as possible."
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates meanwhile announced a $3 billion aid package for Sudan. The Saudi state-run news agency said Sunday that $500 million would be deposited in Sudan's central bank, while the remaining amount will be used to purchase food, medicine and fuel.
Burhan said authorities recently searched a presidential residence, where they found more than 7 million euros ($7.8 million) and $350,000 in U.S. currency. The protesters have accused al-Bashir and his family of pillaging state resources during his three decades in power.