Sri Lanka blocks social media, messaging apps after deadly attack

Brenda Watkins
April 22, 2019

Over 200 people were killed and at least 450 injured in bomb blasts that ripped through churches and luxury hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, the first major attack on the Indian Ocean island since the end of a civil war 10 years ago. No group immediately claimed responsibility.

The staff at the mission have been confirmed safe but the information coming out of Colombo is "confused", the prime minister said, and it's still unclear if any Australians have been caught up in the six blasts.

The blasts hit the churches when they were full of worshippers gathered for Easter services.

But the three bombed hotels and one of the churches, St. Anthony's Shrine, were frequented by foreign tourists, and Sri Lanka's Foreign Ministry said the bodies of at least 27 foreign visitors from a variety of countries were recovered.

The injured included foreigners staying at the three five-star hotels - the Cinnamon Grand, Kingsbury and the Shangri-La, located in the heart of Colombo. Seven people have been arrested so far in connection with the blasts probe.

More than 50 people had been killed there, a police official said, with pictures showing bodies on the ground, blood on the pews and a destroyed roof. Later, a seventh explosion struck a hotel near the National zoo in Dehiwala, while an eighth blast rocked a house during a security operation.

"New Zealand condemns all acts of terrorism, and our resolve has only been strengthened by the attack on our soil on the 15th of March".

Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has condemned the attacks saying it is "an attempt to make the country and its economy unstable". "The government is taking immediate steps to contain this situation".

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The spokeswoman said anyone concerned about friends and family in Sri Lanka should contact their loved ones directly and, if that fails, contact DFAT. As for the country's small Christian minority: While there have been scattered incidents of anti-Christian harassment in recent years, there has been nothing on the scale of what happened Sunday.

He wrote: "I've been speaking this afternoon with Brits in hospital who have been affected by today's senseless attacks".

Out of Sri Lanka's total population of around 22 million, 70 percent are Buddhist, 12.6 percent Hindu, 9.7 percent Muslim and 7.6 percent Christian, according to the country's 2012 census.

Canada is home to roughly 150,000 people of Sri Lankan or mixed Sri Lankan descent, majority in Ontario, according to 2016 figures from Statistics Canada.

Christian groups have also complained of increased harassment from hardline Buddhist groups.

According to the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka, there were 86 verified incidents of discrimination, threats, and violence against Christians a year ago. "No one should be targeted due to their faith", the prime minister said in a statement.

"Our people are engaged in evacuating the casualties", a Reuters' source said at St Anthony's.

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