COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — At least 359 people were killed and hundreds more injured in eight blasts that rocked churches and hotels in and just outside Sri Lanka’s capital on Easter Sunday, officials said. Sri Lanka’s prime minister is warning there are more explosives and militants “out there.”
Ranil Wickremesinghe made the comment Tuesday at a news conference, and said some officials will likely lose their jobs over intelligence lapses surrounding the attack.
Wickremesinghe acknowledged there was a prior warning, and said India’s embassy was eyed as a possible target.
Here’s the latest:
- Eight bombs have detonated, with a ninth bomb diffused at Colombo International Airport, and two other bombs being diffused at two houses in the Kandana area of Sri Lanka.
- At least 359 people have been killed and 500+ hurt, including 38 foreign nationals
- The death toll is expected to rise as hospitals report further casualty figures
- The Islamic State group is claiming responsibility for the Easter attacks in Sri Lanka, but offered no evidence.
- Reports say 58 people have been arrested in connection to the terror attacks.
- The office of New Zealand’s prime minister says she is aware of comments linking Sri Lanka’s Easter bombings to the mosque attacks in Christchurch, though it hasn’t “seen any intelligence upon which such an assessment might be based.”
- Sri Lanka’s minister of defense says, with no evidence, that the Easter Sunday bombings were “carried out in retaliation” for attacks on mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, on March 15.
- Most of the dead were locals but 38 foreigners are believed to have been killed. Five British citizens have been confirmed to have lost their lives (including two who also hold US citizenship), as well as three people from India, one from Portugal and two from Turkey. The Dutch foreign minister said one of the country’s citizens was also killed. Britons were among the injured, the British high commissioner to Sri Lanka said.
- No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks but several arrests have been made and Sri Lanka’s defence minister, Ruwan Wijewardene, said the culprits were religious extremists. He said seven people had been apprehended, while a police spokesman said three had been arrested with others questioned. The arrests were made as police raided a housing complex in in the Dematagoda neighbourhood of Colombo, three hours after the initial six blasts. Another blast occurred during the operation killing three police officers.
- The government imposed a curfew of indefinite duration and also shut down social media and messaging services. Schools will not reopen until Wednesday at the earliest.
- Before shutting down social media, government ministers urged people not to foster “racial disharmony”. In recent years, social media has been used in Sri Lanka to spread rumours about minorities, inciting violence. There were six initial blasts, at three hotels and three churches, before two more explosions some time later. One was during the police raid and the other was at a guest house.
- The prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, condemned the “cowardly” attacks and urged people to remain “united and strong”. He convened Sri Lanka‘s top military officials at an emergency meeting of the national security council.
- The archbishop of Colombo, Cardinal Ranjith, called it “a very sad day” and urged the government to identify the attackers and “punish them mercilessly because only animals can behave like that”.
- There has been condemnation of the attacks from around the world, including from Narendra Modi, Imran Khan, Theresa May and Donald Trump. May called the violence “truly appalling” and said that “no one should ever have to practice their faith in fear”.
- Pope Francis denounced the “cruel violence” of the Easter Sunday attacks in Sri Lanka and said he would pray for all those affected.He added his condemnation at the end of his traditional Easter Sunday blessing in St Peter’s Square.
- There were six suicide bombers involved in the explosions. So far, 24 people have been arrested in connection to the attacks.
- The FBI and Interpol are among the global agencies who are stepping in to assist the investigation.
- The government may have had information about the attacks prior to the bombings. A Sri Lankan government minister claimed that US and Indian governments had warned of “something terrible,” but it’s unclear if any action was taken.
- The prime minister warned on Tuesday that several suspects armed with explosives were still at large.
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Defense Minister Ruwan Wijewardena, who described the blasts as a terrorist attack by religious extremists, told reporters Sunday evening that seven suspects had been arrested, though no one immediately claimed responsibility for the blasts. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said he feared the violence could trigger instability in the country and its economy.
Since the end of the nation’s 26-year civil war, in which the Tamil Tigers, a rebel group from the ethnic Tamil minority, sought independence from ethnic Sinhala Buddhist majority Sri Lanka, the country has seen sporadic ethnic and religious violence.
But the scale of Sunday’s bloodshed recalled the worst days of the war, when the Tigers and other rebels set off explosions at Sri Lanka’s Central Bank in downtown Colombo, a busy shopping mall, an important Buddhist temple and tourist hotels.
Wickremesinghe said his government would “vest all necessary powers with the defense forces” to take action against those responsible” for Sunday’s attacks, “regardless of their stature.”
The nearly simultaneous first six blasts Sunday morning toppled ceilings and blew out windows at a famous Catholic church in Colombo, the capital, and at three luxury hotels in the city. The other two occurred at St. Sebastian Catholic church in Negombo, a majority Catholic town north of Colombo where footage showed people dragging the injured out of blood-splattered pews, and at the Protestant Zion church in the eastern town of Batticaloa.
Three police officers were killed while conducting a search operation at a suspected safe house in Dematagoda, on the outskirts of Colombo, where the last of eight blasts took place.
After police moved into Dematagoda, at least two more blasts occurred, with the occupants of a safe house apparently blasting explosives to prevent arrest.
Shops were closed and streets deserted in Colombo even before the government imposed a nationwide curfew from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.
Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara said 207 people were killed and 450 wounded in the blasts.
Two of the blasts were suspected to have been carried out by suicide bombers, a senior official told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak with reporters. Worshippers and hotel guests were among the dead, the official said.
Sri Lanka’s foreign secretary, Ravinath Aryasinghe, said the bodies of 27 foreigners were recovered from the blast sites.
Countries around the world condemned the attacks, and Pope Francis added an appeal at the end of his traditional Easter Sunday blessing to address the massacre.
Speaking from the loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica, Francis said, “I want to express my loving closeness to the Christian community, targeted while they were gathered in prayer, and all the victims of such cruel violence.”
“I entrust to the Lord all those who were tragically killed and pray for the injured and all those who are suffering as a result of this dramatic event,” the pope added.
Sri Lanka, a small island nation at the southern tip of India, has a long history with Christianity. Christian tradition holds that St. Thomas the Apostle visited Sri Lanka and southern India in the decades after the death of Christ.
The majority of the island’s Christians are Roman Catholic.
St. Anthony’s Shrine and the three hotels where the blasts took place are frequented by foreign tourists.
Local TV showed damage at the Cinnamon Grand, Shangri-La and Kingsbury hotels.
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.
Alex Agieleson, who was near St. Anthony’s Shrine, said buildings shook with the blast, and that a number of injured people were carried away in ambulances.
The Archbishop of Colombo, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, called on Sri Lanka’s government to launch a “very impartial strong inquiry” and to punish those found responsible “mercilessly because only animals can behave like that.”
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern condemned the “devastating” attacks, and referred to the March 15 shootings at two mosques in her country’s city of Christchurch in which 50 people died.
“New Zealand condemns all acts of terrorism and our resolve has only been strengthened by the attack on our soil,” Ardern said. “New Zealand rejects all forms of extremism and stands for freedom of religion and the right to worship safely.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called the blasts “an assault on all of humanity,” while Russian President Vladimir Putin denounced them as “cruel and cynical.”
British Prime Minister Teresa May said on Twitter, “We must stand together to make sure that no one should ever have to (practice) their faith in fear.”
Foreign tourists on the Classic Sri Lankan tour hurriedly took to their cellphones to text family and loved ones around the world that they were OK after the blasts.
The group was on a 15-day tour of the tropical island nation, seeing sites including huge Buddhist monuments, tea plantations, jungle eco-lodges and famed sandy beaches.
The tour started last week in Negombo, a majority Catholic town north of Colombo where one of the blasts hit a church. It was to end in Colombo, but tour operators said the group may change its itinerary and decide to skip Colombo in light of the attacks.
As the nearest major town to the country’s main airport, Negombo is a gateway for many travelers visiting Sri Lanka. Although not among the country’s top beach destinations, it is home to plenty of hotels and resorts popular with foreign visitors.
“Having experienced the open and welcoming Sri Lanka during my last week travelling through the country, I had a sense that the country was turning the corner, and in particular those in the tourism industry were hopeful for the future,” said Peter Kelson, 41, a technology manager from Sydney. “Apart from the tragedy of the immediate victims of the bombings, I worry that these terrible events will set the country back significantly.”
Sri Lankan security forces in 2009 defeated Tamil Tiger rebels who had fought to create an independent homeland for the country’s ethnic minority Tamils. The U.N. initially estimated the death toll from 26 years of fighting to be about 100,000 but a U.N. experts’ panel later said some 45,000 ethnic Tamils may have been killed in the last months of the fighting alone.
Government troops and the Tamil Tigers were both accused of grave human rights violations, which prompted local and international calls for investigations.
‘American Taliban’ John Walker Lindh Released From Prison After 17 Years
John Walker Lindh, the first person to be convicted of a crime in the “War on Terror,” left prison a free man Thursday after 17 years behind bars, his lawyer confirmed.
The Northern California native was captured months into the fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan, a war that has now lasted longer than his incarceration. The revelation that a young American had joined the group that harbored the 9/11 terrorists was a national shock.
Lindh pleaded guilty in 2002 to aiding the Taliban and carrying weapons. Prosecutors were unable to prove, however, that he went beyond fighting the Taliban’s Afghan enemies by aiding terrorists or trying to kill Americans.
“I did not go to fight against America, and I never did,” Lindh told U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III in Alexandria at the time. “I have never supported terrorism in any form, and I never will. . . . I made a mistake by joining the Taliban. Had I realized then what I know now, I would never have joined them.”
Lindh’s plea agreement capped his sentence at 20 years; he was released early for good behavior. Although that credit is built into the law for all federal prisoners, Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.) has called for Lindh to be kept in prison and said he had President Trump’s support.
The family of CIA operative Johnny “Mike” Spann, who was killed in a riot at the Afghan prison where Lindh was held, has been vocal in denouncing his release, although prosecutors and Ellis have said there was no evidence Lindh was involved in Spann’s death.
In a letter to the court Monday, Spann’s father asked Ellis to investigate a 2016 intelligence report that, according to the publication Foreign Policy, said Lindh has “continued to advocate for global jihad and to write and translate violent extremist texts.”
NBC News on Wednesday reported that Lindh had written to a network affiliate in 2015 and said he believed the Islamic State was “doing a spectacular job.” The report said Lindh sent three letters to the station and in one said the terrorist group was “very sincere and serious about fulfilling the long-neglected religious obligation to establish a caliphate through armed struggle, which is the only correct method.”
Lindh has served his time in a unit of Terre Haute Federal Correctional Institution in Indiana, where interactions are highly restricted and monitored.
Officials would not say what time of day he would be released. The morning release was first reported by CNN.
“For safety, security and privacy reasons, we do not comment on individual release plans,” a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Prisons said. “Mr. Lindh is being released in accordance with applicable statutes and BOP regulations.”
In prison, he has remained religiously doctrinaire. Going by Yayyah Lindh, he successfully challenged a policy of strip-searching detainees in his unit before visits, because in Islam “a male person is prohibited from exposing the area of his body between the navel and the knees.”
He also won the right in court to cuff his pants above the ankles and participate in daily group prayer.
“This is mandatory and not optional,” he wrote in a 2009 letter to the prison authorities of his religious obligations.
Lindh now must serve three years of supervised release, during which he cannot hold a passport, use the Internet without monitoring, view extremist or terroristic material, communicate with known extremists or converse online in any language other than English without prior approval. He must undergo mental health treatment.
He initially opposed the imposition of those conditions but ultimately acquiesced without a challenge. They were requested by his probation officer, according to an order from Ellis, “given the rare nature of the defendant’s crime and his unique personal history and characteristics.”
Lindh’s family and attorneys declined to comment. But in a question-and-answer session after the guilty plea, defense attorney Tony West said Lindh wanted to get a college degree and doctorate.
West also said prosecutors initially wanted to bar Lindh from ever leaving the country again. Lindh refused to sign any agreement that prevented him from making a pilgrimage to Mecca.
“I would hope that he would make a good transition,” Paul McNulty, former U.S. attorney, said in advance of Lindh’s release, adding that it was understood at the time of the plea that the Taliban supporter would qualify for early release on good behavior. He said the Justice Department was “confident” in its initial, stronger charges against Lindh but thought the plea agreement was “a fair and just resolution of the case.”
Lindh’s attorney, William Cummings, said Lindh must reside in the Eastern District of Virginia to comply with probation. He said Lindh aims to lie low and keep out of trouble; his family has been concerned about death threats.
Lindh, 21 at the time of his arrest, was raised outside San Francisco by a Catholic father and Buddhist mother. He converted to Islam as a teenager after reading “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” and went to the Middle East to study Arabic and religion.
He became increasingly fundamentalist in his views. Living in Pakistan, he wrote his family, “really makes me look upon American society with pity.” At a madrassa there, he later told CNN, his “heart became attached” to the Taliban. He joined the group in Afghanistan, committing to the fight against the Northern Alliance for a “pure Islamic state.”
He trained at an al-Qaeda camp where he met Osama bin Laden, but he told the FBI he declined to join the group or participate in attacks on the United States and Israel. His jihad, he said, was in Afghanistan.
“Bin Laden’s terrorist attacks are completely against Islam,” he said at his sentencing, “completely contrary to the conventions of jihad and without any justification whatsoever. . . . Terrorism is never justified and has proved extremely damaging to Muslims around the world.”
This is a developing story.
(Reporting by Washington Post)
Gunmen Storm Five-Star Hotel In Pakistan, Killing At Least One
* Military says militants cornered in hotel staircase
* Gwadar is strategic port being developed with Chinese
* Chinese often stay at hotel, but none there during attack (Adds claim of responsibility)
QUETTA, Pakistan, May 11 (Reuters) – Three gunmen stormed a luxury hotel in Pakistan’s southwestern port city of Gwadar on Saturday, killing at least one guard and battling security forces inside, officials and the army said.
Balochistan Home Minister Ziaullah Langove said most guests had been evacuated from the five-star Pearl Continental Hotel, which helicopters circled as fighting was underway. He said there were reports of casualties, but did not give details.
The military said three gunmen killed a guard at the entrance to the hotel when they entered. Security forces had cordoned off the area and cornered the attackers in a staircase leading to the top floor, the military said in its statement
Balochistan Liberation Army, a group fighting for greater autonomy in Pakistan’s poorest province, claimed responsibility in an emailed statement.
Gwadar is a strategic port on the Arabian Sea that is being developed as part of the $60 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor, which is itself part of China’s mammoth Belt and Road infrastructure project.
The hotel, located on a hillside near the port, is used by foreign guests, including Chinese project staff, but there were none in the building at the time of the attack, Langove said.
Pakistani officials have said the security forces were on alert for attacks during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which began in early May.
Security across most of Pakistan has improved over recent years following a major crackdown after the country’s worst attack, when some 150 people, most of them children, were killed in an attack on a school in the western city of Peshawar in 2014.
But Balochistan, Pakistan’s largest province, remains an exception and there have been several attacks this year, with at least 14 people killed last month in an attack on buses travelling between the southern city of Karachi and Gwadar.
The province is rife with ethnic, sectarian and separatist insurgencies, with several militant groups, including the Pakistani Taliban group Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Balochistan Liberation Army and the Sunni group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.
Saturday’s incident follows a bombing this week that targeted police outside a major Sufi shrine in Lahore, in the north of Pakistan, that killed at least 10 people and wounded more than 20, officials said.
San Diego US Attorney Announces Federal Hate Crimes Charges Against Suspect In Deadly California Synagogue Shooting
SAN DIEGO (AP) — Federal officials have announced 109 hate crime charges against the 19-year-old man accused of opening fire on a Southern California synagogue during Passover service.
Federal and local law enforcement officials announced the news conference in San Diego on Thursday.
Federal prosecutors say 109 hate crime charges filed against a 19-year-old man accused of shooting up a California synagogue involve the murder of one person, the attempted murder of 53 others and arson at a mosque.
U.S. Attorney Robert S. Brewer Jr. said Thursday the charges against John T. Earnest make him eligible for the death penalty.
Prosecutors allege last month’s attack on Chabad of Poway and an earlier arson at an Escondido mosque were motivated by hatred of the Jewish and Muslim communities.
Earnest specifically faces 54 counts of obstruction of free exercise of religious beliefs using a dangerous weapon, resulting in death, bodily injury and attempts to kill.
He also faces 54 counts involving the shooting in violation of the Mathew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, and one count of damage to religious property stemming from the arson.
Earnest was previously charged in San Diego County Superior Court and a plea of not guilty was entered on his behalf.
Prosecutors say the gunman, identified as John T. Earnest, killed a woman and wounded an 8-year-old girl, her uncle and Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, who was leading the service at the Chabad of Poway synagogue on the last day of Passover, a major Jewish holiday.
In a court appearance last month, Earnest pleaded not guilty to state charges of murder and attempted murder. In a separate case, he has pleaded not guilty to burning a mosque in nearby Escondido.
Authorities say he fired at least eight shots in the synagogue before fleeing.
Read the newly-filed indictment below:
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