The coordinated series of explosions targeted churches holding Easter services. The blasts also targeted four hotels, including the Shangri-La, Kingsbury and the Cinnamon Grand in Colombo. Most victims were Sri Lankan, but dozens of foreigners were also killed.
There were no immediate claims of responsibility for the attacks.
The nature of the blasts is not immediately clear, but documents seen by AFP show that Sri Lanka’s police chief Pujuth Jayasundara issued an intelligence alert to top officers 10 days ago.
In this he warned that suicide bombers planned to hit “prominent churches”.
The alert said: “A foreign intelligence agency has reported that the NTJ (National Thowheeth Jama’ath) is planning to carry out suicide attacks targeting prominent churches as well as the Indian high commission in Colombo.”
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The NTJ is a radical Muslim group in Sri Lanka that was linked last year to the vandalism of Buddhist statues.
The powerful blasts, six in quick succession and then two hours later wrought devastation.
One of the sites affected was St Anthony’s Shrine, a historic Catholic Church.
The prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, acknowledged that “information was there” about the prospect of possible terrorist attacks.
He said that investigations will take place into “why adequate precautions were not taken” while the government attempts to apprehend the perpetrators.
There were six initial blasts, at three hotels and three churches, before two more explosions some time later.
One was during a police raid and the other was at a guest house.
The Sri Lankan government has imposed an indefinite curfew and shut down social media and messaging services.
The government cites fears over the spread of misinformation and the incitement of racial disharmony.