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At least 207 killed in Easter Sunday attacks on churches and hotels

Photo: The Washington Post

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka - Suicide bombers struck churches and hotels in Sri Lanka in a highly coordinated attack on Easter Sunday morning, killing more than 200 people and injuring 450.

No group claimed responsibility for the attacks, the worst violence in Sri Lanka since the end of the civil war a decade ago. Thirteen people have been arrested, police said, and three police officers were killed in a raid on a house as they attempted to interrogate an individual.

Video: Moment blast strikes church caught on camera

The dead included "several" Americans, Secertary of State Mike Pompeo said; he blamed "radical terrorists."

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe told reporters that elements of the government had prior intelligence about the attacks. He did not elaborate.

"Information was there," he said at a news conference. "That is a matter that we need to look into."

Wickremasinghe said the suspects were "local."

Blasts ripped through three churches in the cities of Colombo, Negombo and Batticaloa at approximately 8:45 a.m. as worshipers were gathering for services, police said. Bombers also struck three hotels and a banquet hall in Colombo, the nation's capital.

Ruwan Wijewardene, Sri Lanka's minister for defense, said the attacks were carried out by suicide bombers. The explosions at the churches and hotels occurred between 8:45 and 9:30 a.m.

Video: Coordinated explosions targeting churches and hotels in Sri Lanka on April 21 killed more than 200 people and injured more than 450. (JM Rieger/The Washington Post)

Ruwan Wijewardene, Sri Lanka's minister for defense, said the attacks were carried out by suicide bombers. The explosions at the churches and hotels occurred between 8:45 and 9:30 a.m.

An eighth blast occurred later Sunday at a home under a flyover in the city.

Sri Lanka is a predominantly Buddhist nation but is also home to significant Hindu, Muslim and Christian communities. Easter is the holiest day of the Christian calendar.

At least 66 people were killed in Colombo and 104 in the nearby town of Negombo, officials said. Twenty-eight people were killed in the eastern city of Batticaloa.

Three police officers were killed in a "scuffle" at a house in the Demtagoda area of Colombo, police said. They had gone to the house to interrogate an individual.

At least 11 of the dead at National Hospital in Colombo were foreigners, including two who held U.S. and British citizenship, according to the foreign ministry.

Pompeo condemned the attacks "in the strongest terms."

"Attacks on innocent people gathering in a place of worship or enjoying a holiday meal are affronts to the universal values and freedoms that we hold dear, and demonstrate yet again the brutal nature of radical terrorists whose sole aim is to threaten peace and security," he said in a statement.

Others foreigners identified by Sri Lankan officials included three from Britain, three from India, two from Turkey and one from Portugal. Nine more foreigners were reported missing. The unidentified bodies of 25 people believed to be foreigners were at the Colombo Judicial Medical Officer's Mortuary.

The SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks extremist activity online, reported Sunday that Islamic State supporters were portraying the attacks as revenge for strikes on mosques and Muslims. Sri Lankan officials did not identify suspects or discuss potential motives for the attacks.

The deadliest attack was at St. Sebastian's Church in Negombo, a beach town about 22 miles north of Colombo. Negombo, known as "little Rome," is dotted with Catholic churches.

Another attack targeted St. Anthony's Kochchikade, the largest Catholic congregation in Colombo. Images from inside the church showed shattered wooden pews and floors stained with blood.

A third explosion took place at Zion Church in Batticaloa, where 28 people were killed.

Blasts also struck three luxury hotels in Colombo.

Two people at the Shangri-La Hotel in Colombo described a powerful explosion that made the ground shake just before 9 a.m. Photos showed broken windows and shattered glass on a street next to the hotel.

At the Cinnamon Grand Hotel, the blast took place in a restaurant on the ground floor, the hotel wrote on Twitter. It said the injured were promptly evacuated.

Explosions were also reported at the Kingsbury Hotel and the New Tropical Inn.

Sri Lankan authorities announced a nationwide curfew, effective immediately. They also blocked Facebook and the messaging application WhatsApp to stop the spread of false and inflammatory messages.

Wickremesinghe, the prime minister, condemned "the cowardly attacks on our people today" and urged the country to remain "united and strong."

Harsh de Silva, a government minister wrote on Twitter that he had seen "horrible scenes" after the explosions and that there were "many casualties including foreigners." He urged people to stay indoors.

Sri Lanka, a popular tourism destination, has been largely peaceful since the end of its long-running civil war a decade ago. The country has seen intermittent conflict between religious groups, but nothing remotely on the scale of Sunday's attacks.

The bombings were the worst violence to hit Colombo since 1996, when a blast at the country's Central Bank killed nearly 100 people. That attack was carried out by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or Tamil Tigers, which waged a war for a separate Tamil homeland in Sri Lanka's north for more than thirty years.

Messages of condolence and condemnation poured in from around the world.

Pope Francis during his Easter address called the attacks "horrendous" and expressed "heartfelt closeness to the Christian community, attacked while gathered in prayer, and to all the victims of such a cruel act of violence."

Video: Pope Francis reacts after Sri Lanka bombings

"I entrust to the Lord all who so tragically died, and I pray for the wounded and all those who suffer because of this traumatic event," Francis said.

India, Sri Lanka's neighbor, strongly condemned what it called a "ghastly and heinous act" and said it stood with the people of Sri Lanka "in this hour of grief."

The Church of England posted a prayer for the people of Sri Lanka on Twitter.

This article was written by Joanna Slater, a reporter for The Washington Post.

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