Explosions Rip Through Sri Lanka, Killing More Than 200
SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:
And we start today's program with an Easter Sunday tragedy in Sri Lanka. Coordinated bombings this morning killed more than 200 people and wounded hundreds more. The explosions happened in churches and in hotels popular with tourists. NPR's Lauren Frayer has been monitoring the situation from Mumbai, India, and she joins us now on the line.
LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Hi, Sacha.
PFEIFFER: Could you tell us what more you know since this morning about these bombings?
FRAYER: Right. So the country is under curfew - 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. Schools and offices will be closed Monday and Tuesday. The government has blocked Facebook and 4G networks, the idea being they don't want to take any chances about terrorists possibly communicating on social media. The defense minister says most of these eight blasts are believed to be the work of suicide bombers.
And the prime minister just held a news conference in which he said rather cryptically that the government had some prior information of this attack but that it was not raised to the highest levels to his Cabinet. He called the response to that alert inadequate. Meanwhile, police responded by cordoning off whole areas. SWAT teams in camouflage with big guns are patrolling part of the capital, Colombo, and doing searches of buildings apparently tied to the investigation.
PFEIFFER: There are 13 suspects being held in connection with these bombings. Is there much known about them?
FRAYER: Not much. Police say they've also uncovered a van that was used by the attackers, also a safe house. Three police officers were killed in a blast at that property. Officials say the suspects detonated explosives, killing themselves rather than being taken into custody alive. The big question is who those suspects are, whether these attacks were planned locally or internationally. And there's been no claim of responsibility. Sri Lanka's been through this before, though. It fought a 26-year civil war. And at the height of that conflict, bombings were common on shopping malls, hotels, attacks like this. And what's sad is that Sri Lanka was just about to celebrate 10 years of peace, 10 years since the end of that conflict.
PFEIFFER: Lauren, it was just five weeks ago that the mosque shootings happened in New Zealand. Do you have any sense of worldwide reaction to what happened in Sri Lanka?
FRAYER: Yeah. I mean, the Eiffel Tower shut off its lights tonight to pay tribute to the Sri Lanka victims. Messages of shock and condolences are pouring in, including from the New Zealand prime minister. President Trump also tweeted his condolences. He said, quote, "we stand ready to help" - exclamation point. Pope Francis spoke at St. Peter's Square in Rome, saying that he wanted to express his loving closeness to the Christian community in Sri Lanka. He noted that, you know, many of these people were killed while they were praying, attending services on Easter Sunday morning.
Most of the dead are Sri Lankans, but dozens are foreigners, including Americans. Many of them are tourists who were staying in these luxury hotels or attending Mass at a Catholic church while on vacation. Sri Lanka's a big tourist destination in Asia, famous for these beautiful beach resorts. And that industry is likely to be very hard-hit by this attack.
PFEIFFER: That's NPR's Lauren Frayer. Lauren, thank you.
FRAYER: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.