BRITS are believed to be among 156 killed in an Easter Sunday terror attack on churches and five-star hotels in Sri Lanka.
Nearly 500 are thought to have been injured when the blasts ripped through six buildings in Colombo – where tourists were staying and worshippers had gathered for morning mass.
Stunned witnesses are calmed by people following an explosion in Colombo[/caption]
More than 100 people have been killed in the devastating blasts on Easter Sunday[/caption]
Inside St Anthony’s Shrine after an explosion hit the church in Kochchikade in Colombo[/caption]
Among the dead are 35 foreigners, local reports say, including nationals from the UK, US, Netherlands and Portugal.
Three churches and three hotels were targeted in the devastating attack.
Now reports are emerging of a seventh blast at a hotel near the city zoo – killing two people.
Two of the six blasts – carried out as Christians attended Easter mass – were carried out by suicide bombers, according to a security official.
Hotels frequented by tourists, the luxury Shangri-La Hotel, Cinnamon Grand and The Kingsbury Colombo, were also targeted in the deadly series of attacks.
Stunned witnesses reported seeing injured people being carried out from the rubble of the gutted hotels this morning.
With the exact number of Brits caught up in the horrifying attacks unknown at this stage, a spokesman from the Foreign Office said: “We are aware of reports of a number of explosions in Sri Lanka, including Colombo, and we are urgently seeking information from the local authorities.
“British nationals in Sri Lanka should follow the instructions of the local authorities and check FCO travel advice for updates.”
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Worshippers were also attacked at St Anthony’s Shrine, a Catholic Church in Kochchikade, Colombo, St Sebastian’s Church in Negombo, a majority Catholic town north of Colombo, and at Zion Church in the eastern town of Batticaloa – where more than 300 people are thought to have been injured.
Shocking images from inside St Sebastian’s show bloodied pews, a destroyed roof and bodies scattered on the ground – all Easter services planned for this evening in the city are reportedly now cancelled.
It has emerged Sri Lanka’s police chief warned of suicide bombers planning to hit “prominent churches” 10 days before today’s attack.
Pujuth Jayasundara reportedly 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”.
The NTJ is a radical Muslim group in Sri Lanka that was linked last year to the destruction of Buddhist statues.
There has been no immediate claims of responsibility for the attacks in a country which was at war for decades with Tamil separatists until 2009, during which bomb blasts in the capital were common.
Last year, there were 86 verified incidents of discrimination, threats and violence against Christians, according to the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (NCEASL).
And reports of clashes between Sinhalese Buddhist and Muslim communities, with some hardline Buddhist groups accusing Muslims of forcing people to convert to Islam.
EASTER SUNDAY MASSACRE
Today Security officials told how six near simultaneous blasts hit three churches and three hotels popular with tourists.
It is the worst violence in Sri Lanka since the country’s bloody civil war ended a decade ago.
The death toll in the shocking attack has risen to 156, according to AFP, with Reuters earlier reporting “about 100” have died – with just one of the church attacks said to have seen 300 victims.
Prime Minister Theresa May said: “The acts of violence against churches and hotels in Sri Lanka are truly appalling, and my deepest sympathies go out to all of those affected at this tragic time.
“We must stand together to make sure that no one should ever have to practise their faith in fear.”
The British High Commissioner to Sri Lanka condemned the “evil attacks”, saying he was in a church service which was cut short by the blasts.
James Dauris tweeted: “Our prayers for the victims of these evil attacks, and for their families. Our thoughts are with the medical staff, police and all involved in the response.”
All government schools will be closed and the airport locked down with only passengers allowed in the building, as the Sri Lankan Prime Minister calls for an emergency meeting.
Ranil Wickremesinghe wrote on Twitter: “I strongly condemn the cowardly attacks on our people today.
“I call upon all Sri Lankans during this tragic time to remain united and strong. Please avoid propagating unverified reports and speculation. The government is taking immediate steps to contain this situation.”
To target Christians on this their most sacred day is evil.
Jess Phillips, MP for Birmingham Yardley
Foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt tweeted: “I’m deeply shocked and saddened by the horrifying attacks on churches and hotels in Sri Lanka today.
“To target those gathered for worship on Easter Sunday is particularly wicked.
“My prayers are with the victims and their families, and with those assisting in the response.”
Jess Phillips, MP for Birmingham Yardley, added: “To target Christians on this their most sacred day is evil. Sending love to Sri Lankans caught in this terror.”
Sources from two of the hotels in Colombo confirmed the explosions but did not give any details, according to Reuters.
Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena urged people to stay calm, adding: “I am shocked and saddened by the situation that has occurred.”
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The Shangri-La’s second-floor restaurant was gutted in the blast, with the ceiling and windows blown out. Loose wires hung and tables were overturned in the blackened space.
A police magistrate was at the hotel to inspect the bodies recovered from the restaurant.
From outside the police cordon, three bodies could be seen covered in white sheets.
Wires hang from the roof of the luxury hotel Shangri-La after a suspected bomb attack[/caption]
The luxury Shangri-La Hotel in Colombo has been gutted by a bomb this morning
The inside of a church devastated by a blast this morning in Colombo[/caption]
Sri Lankan police officers clear the road as an ambulance drives through carrying injured of church blasts in Colombo[/caption]
A shoe is pictured in the street among shattered glass following the attacks in Sri Lanka[/caption]
Rubble and destroyed building fragments were blasted onto the street in suspected bombings[/caption]
A soldier picks through the destruction outside a church targeted in a horrifying attack[/caption]
Sri Lankan military officials stand guard in front of the St. Anthony’s Shrine, Kochchikade church[/caption]
Sri Lankan military officials stand guard in front of St Anthony’s Shrine[/caption]
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