Breaking Sri Lanka attacks: Mass funeral on day of mourning

Mourners attended a funeral near St Sebastian Church in Negombo

The first mass funeral has begun in Sri Lanka as the country marks a day of mourning for the victims of Sunday’s bomb blasts.

The death toll of the attacks on churches and hotels has increased to 310, police said on Tuesday.

The country has observed three minutes of silence and a state of emergency is in effect to prevent further attacks.

Sri Lanka’s government has blamed the blasts on local Islamist group National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ).

Police have now detained 40 suspects in connection with the attack, a spokesman said Tuesday.

The mass funeral is taking place at St Sebastian’s church in Negombo, north of Colombo, which was one of the places targeted in Sunday’s blasts.

Earlier, a moment of silence was observed at 08:30 (03:00GMT), reflecting the time the first of six bombs detonated.

Flags were lowered to half mast and people bowed their heads in silence in respect to the victims as well as the 500 people injured during the attacks.

Mourners in Sri Lanka
The death toll has risen to 310 victims and around 500 injured

The state of emergency gives police and the military sweeping powers to detain and interrogate suspects without court orders – powers that were last used during the nation’s civil war.

The government blocked access to Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram after the blasts.

NTJ, the group named by the government as the main suspect, has no history of large-scale attacks but came to prominence last year when it was blamed for damaging Buddhist statues.

However, neither NTJ, nor any other group, has admitted carrying out Sunday’s bombings.

Warnings ignored

Since Sunday, scrutiny has fallen on the rifts in Sri Lanka’s leadership, after it emerged authorities were warned about an imminent threat.

Security agencies had been watching the NTJ jihadist group, reports said, and had notified police about a possible attack.

But the prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, and the cabinet were not informed, ministers said.

Police in front of St. Anthony's church
Authorities have declared a state of emergency

A rift between Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and President Maithripala Sirisena was why Mr Wickremesinghe has not been receiving security briefings, cabinet spokesman Rajitha Senaratne said.

It was not clear on Monday whether Mr Sirisena had been made aware of the warnings. “Our understanding is that it was correctly circulated among security and police,” Shiral Lakthilaka, a senior adviser to Mr Sirisena, told the BBC.

He said that the president had appointed a special committee led by a supreme court judge to investigate what had happened.

How did the attacks unfold?

The first reports of explosions came at about 08:45 local time on Sunday with six blasts reported within a small space of time.

How the Sri Lanka attacks unfolded

21 April 2019

Six near-simultaneous explosions at luxury hotels and churches holding Easter mass

08:45 local time-09:05 (03:15-03:35 GMT)

Blast damage at St Sebastian's Church in Negombo.
Blast damage at St Sebastian’s Church in Negombo.Image copyright byReuters

Three churches in Negombo, Batticaloa and Colombo’s Kochchikade district are targeted during Easter services and blasts also rock the Shangri-La, Kingsbury and Cinnamon Grand hotels in the country’s capital.

Sri Lankan government closes school for two days.

Five hours after the initial attacks, a blast is reported near the zoo in Dehiwala, southern Colombo. This is the seventh explosion.

An eighth explosion is reported near the Colombo district of Dematagoda during a police raid, killing three officers.

A member of the Sri Lankan Special Task Force (STF) pictured outside a house during a raid

Sri Lankan government shuts down access to major social media messaging services

Sri Lanka’s government declares an islandwide curfew from 18:00 local time to 06:00 (12:30 GMT-00:30).

Reuters reports a petrol bomb attack on a mosque and arson attacks on two shops owned by Muslims in two different parts of the country, citing police.

Nationwide curfew is lifted.

A “homemade” bomb found close to the main airport in the capital, Colombo, has been made safe, police say.

Death toll leaps

At least 290 people, including many foreigners, are now confirmed to have died. More than 500 are injured.

Another curfew is imposed from 20:00 local time to 04:00 23 April as a precautionary measure.

Police in Colombo have recovered 87 low-explosive detonators from the Bastian Mawatha Private Bus Station in Pettah,

People flee after new explosion

About 16:18 local time (10:48 GMT)

Video footage from St Anthony’s Shrine, shared by Guardian journalist Michael Safi, showed people running from the area in panic. According to BBC Sinhala’s Azzam Ameen, the blast happened while “security forces personnel… tried to defuse a newly discovered explosives in a vehicle”.

Police did not release a breakdown of how many people were killed and wounded at each location.

All the attacks were carried out by suicide bombers, officials said.

Who were the victims?

Most of those who died were Sri Lankan nationals, including scores of Christians attending Easter Sunday church services.

The ministry of foreign affairs said it had identified 31 foreign nationals among the dead, with 14 unaccounted for. The death toll included at least eight British citizens and at least eight citizens of India.

Monique Allen was killed in one of the Sri Lanka attacks

They include three of the children of Danish billionaire Anders Holch Povlsen, a family spokesman confirmed to the BBC. Mr Povlsen owns the Bestseller clothing chain and holds a majority stake in clothing giant Asos.

British lawyer Anita Nicholson died alongside her two children, Alex, 14, and Annabel, 11, when a suicide bomber detonated a device in the breakfast queue at the Shangri-La hotel in Colombo.

Her husband, Ben Nicholson, survived and praised his “wonderful, perfect wife” and “amazing, intelligent” children.

China on Tuesday issued an advisory to its citizens not to travel to Sri Lanka in the near future while the US State Department had already on Sunday warned of possible further attacks in a travel advisory.