Colombo (dpa) - The devastating suicide attacks on churches and luxury hotels in Sri Lanka go in the government's estimation to the account of a local radical Islamic group.
The government is convinced, however, that the suspected group National Thowheeth Jamaath may have perpetrated the attacks of Easter Sunday only with the support of an international network, a spokesman said.
The total of eight bomb explosions killed at least 290 people, there were more than 500 injured. Among the more than 30 foreigners killed is a German-American, as the Foreign Office announced. According to current information, there are no other German victims, said a spokeswoman on Monday. 14 foreigners are still missing, according to the Sri Lanka Foreign Ministry.
The country's government announced emergency regulations to come into effect at midnight on the night of Tuesday (local time). The government security council has decided to give the military and police far-reaching powers, Maithripala Sirisena's office said on Monday night.
Sirisena also summoned a three-man team to investigate the strike series. The team will present a first report in two weeks. The international police organization Interpol announced the dispatch of a team of experts. It will consist of specialists with expertise in crime scene investigation, explosives, counterterrorism and victim identification.
Cabinet spokesman Rajitha Senaratne said there had been clues to the group's attack plans prior to the attacks. Initial information about possible attacks on churches and tourist destinations had already been submitted to the police on 4 April. "We do not believe that these attacks were perpetrated by a group of people who were limited to this country," he said. "There was an international network without which these attacks would not have succeeded."
The motives of the assassins were still unclear on Monday morning. Police arrested 24 suspects who were being interrogated. Islamist terrorist attacks had so far not existed in the tropical island state. Only about ten percent of Sri Lanka's population are Muslims. About seven percent of Sri Lanka's population is Christian. The majority of the 20 million inhabitants are Buddhists.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said that Sri Lanka, with the help of the international community, wanted to get to the bottom of the possible connections of the assassins abroad. In his words, all the arrested were from Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan intelligence had been evidence of a possible attack. It had to be examined why no such measures had been taken.
The explosions in three churches and three luxury hotels had occurred almost simultaneously on Sunday morning (local time) - they were committed by a total of seven suicide bombers, according to a forensic defense forensic officer. Whether they were counted among the 290 dead, was still unclear on Monday. At the time of the explosions, Easter church services were taking place in the churches. There were the most victims. For two later detonations in another hotel and a residential area in suburbs of the capital Colombo, there were initially no details.
On Sunday evening, near the largest airport on the island, about 30 kilometers from Colombo, an explosive device was found and defused, as a spokesman for the Air Force announced. An explosive device was found in a parked car near one of the affected churches on Monday. Bomb blasters blew up the vehicle near St. Anthony's Church in the capital, Colombo, after an explosive device was discovered, the police said. At another point in the city, 87 detonators were secured at a bus stop.
One man was reportedly arrested in the area around the church. Detonation of the explosive device and detonation caused a panic in the area, as videos in social media showed. Witnesses also reported on Twitter that the police had to protect the arrested from an angry crowd.
More than a week before the series of attacks, the country's police had indications of possible attacks on churches. Deputy Chief of Police Priyalal Dissanayake wrote a letter on April 11 warning of attacks by a local radical Islamic group on Catholic churches and the Indian embassy in Sri Lanka. Specifically named suspects had rushed after the attack on two mosques in March in New Zealand Christchurch against other religions, it was said.
The cabinet spokesman confirmed the authenticity of the addressed to several police units letter that Telecommunications Minister Harin Fernando had published on Twitter. Premier Wickremesinghe was not informed.
Senaratne, who is also Minister of Health, criticized the strained relationship between Wickremesinghe and the security services under President and Secretary of Defense Sirisena. Sirisena had unexpectedly dismissed and replaced Wickremesinghe at the end of last year. Wickremesinghe but won the power struggle and remained in office. "This is the only country where, when the Prime Minister calls the Security Council, they (meaning their members) do not appear," says Senaratne.
Deputy Defense Minister Ruwan Wijewardene announced a nationwide nocturnal curfew. In addition, according to his statements, the government temporarily blocked access to social media. Even after the end of the lock, the schools and universities initially remained closed.
The South Asian island nation in the Indian Ocean with its tropical beaches is a popular tourist destination, also for Germans and other Europeans. There had been no major attack for years. In 2009, a 26-year civil war had come to an end.
The series of attacks caused international horror. Pope Francis remembered the victims in front of tens of thousands of believers in Rome. UN General Secretary António Guterres was "shocked at the terrorist attacks on churches and hotels on Easter Sunday, a holy day for Christians around the world". Heads of State and Government - including US President Donald Trump, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Chancellor Angela Merkel - strongly condemned the attacks.
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Place of attack in Sri Lanka:
- St. Anthony's Church in Colombo is located near the port in the northwest of the capital. The church is a well-known pilgrimage site.
- The St. Sebastian Church in Negombo is located about 35 kilometers north of the capital. Negombo has about 140,000 inhabitants and is mostly Catholic.
- The Zionskirche in Batticaloa is located about 280 kilometers east of the capital Colombo. The evangelical free church in the 90,000-inhabitant city was founded in 1974.
- Shangri-La has over 500 rooms and suites and 41 apartments.
- The Cinnamon Grand Hotel also has over 500 rooms and suites.
- Kingsbury Hotel has 229 rooms and suites.
Another explosion occurred in a small hotel in Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia, a suburb of Colombo.
The eighth explosion was reported from a residential area in Dematagoda, another suburb of Colombo.
Bandaranaike is the largest airport on the island, located about 30 kilometers from Colombo.