sri lanka bombing (Sri Lanka government photo/Minister of Economic Reforms and Public Distribution/Twitter)

Bombings Strike Sri Lanka Churches, Hotels; ISIS Group Lauds Easter Carnage

More than 200 people were killed on Easter Sunday in a series of coordinated bombings that struck churches in Colombo, Negombo and Batticaloa, Sri Lanka, and three luxury hotels — the Shangri La, Cinnamon Grand and Kingsbury — in the capital city of Colombo.

Additional blasts occurred outside of the Dehiwala Zoo in Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia and in front of a private residence in Dematagoda.

Sri Lanka’s government put in place a 6 p.m. curfew and temporarily banned social media in response. Sri Lankan officials said eight people were in custody in connection with the attacks and as many as 30 foreigners could be among the dead. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said of the suspects that “so far the names that have come up are local” but they were checking for overseas associations.

(Muntasir Media)

No group has yet taken responsibility for the coordinated attacks, but ISIS-linked Muntasir Media distributed an online poster showing a scene of the carnage with the message “Happy Easter to the Christians, traitors of Jesus (‘Alehi Asalam): Here is your reward.”

Muntasir’s previous propaganda releases have included a call last month for supporters to escalate online jihad across a variety of platforms and a Spanish-language video released in December showing scenes from the August 2017 Las Ramblas attack and declaring that “the cells are ready” to strike “designated” targets again.

The Hindu reported that the bomber at the Cinnamon Grand, who had registered at the hotel the night before under the name Mohamed Azzam Mohamed and said he was in town for business, waited in line with a plate at the Easter brunch buffet and was about to be served when he detonated his device. The Taprobane restaurant was packed with families celebrating the holiday.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement that the United States “condemns in the strongest terms the terror attacks” as “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.”

Pompeo revealed that “several U.S. citizens were among those killed” without offering more details.

The Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry said two victims held joint U.S.-UK citizenship and that three Britons were also among the deceased. Three were from India, one from Portugal, and two were from Turkey. Nine additional foreign nationals were reported missing, and “there are 25 unidentified bodies believed to be of foreigners” at Colombo’s morgue. An additional 19 foreign nationals were wounded.

“The U.S. Embassy is working tirelessly to provide all possible assistance to the American citizens affected by the attacks and their families,” Pompeo continued. “These vile attacks are a stark reminder of why the United States remains resolved in our fight to defeat terrorism. We stand with the Sri Lankan government and people as they confront violent extremism and have offered our assistance as they work to bring the perpetrators to justice.”

The U.S. Embassy in Colombo issued a security alert advising Americans to avoid public places in the country, “especially hotels and places of worship.”

“U.S. citizens living or traveling in Sri Lanka -and the Republic of Maldives are urged to review your personal security plans; remain aware of your surroundings, including local events; and monitor local news stations for updates.  Maintain a high level of vigilance and take appropriate steps to enhance your personal security and follow instructions of local authorities,” the message stated.

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Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a senior fellow specializing in terrorism analysis at the Haym Salomon Center. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15, a private investigator and a security consultant. She is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera and SiriusXM.

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