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Seven arrests after bombs at hotels and churches in Sri Lanka leave at least 207 dead

The aftermath of the bomb at St Sebastian’s church
The aftermath of the bomb at St Sebastian’s church
People being treated
People being treated

By Chiara Giordano

Five Britons were among more than 200 people killed in explosions that rocked churches and luxury hotels across Sri Lanka yesterday.

Eight blasts hit the country with three churches in Kochchikade, Negombo and Batticaloa targeted during Easter services at about 8.45am local time.

Last night the death toll stood at 207. At least 450 others were injured.

In one church, St Sebastian's in Negombo, more than 50 people died, according to a police official, while 25 died in the attack on a church in Batticaloa.

At St Sebastian's the attacker - said by Sri Lankan police to be a suicide bomber - apparently entered the building shortly after the final prayer before detonating the device.

St Sebastian's posted pictures of inside the church on its Facebook page, showing blood on pews and the floor and asking for help from the public.

"It felt like there was an earthquake," said Vijaya Kumar, a 36-year-old worshipper who was attending the Easter service at St Anthony's Shrine in Kochchikade, just outside Colombo.

"Everything shook and fell, I was lucky because I was near a door. I ran out. I was terrified."

Meanwhile, the Shangri La, Cinnamon Grand and Kingsbury hotels, all in the capital Colombo, were also hit. A special task force and forensic teams teemed the bloodied bombed sites. Hotel staff of the Cinnamon Grand said a suicide bomber blew himself up in the restaurant.

Three hours later a seventh explosion hit a hotel in Dehiwala, Colombo. At least four people died, according to police.

An eighth blast was reported just moments afterwards at a housing complex in the suburb of Dematagoda in Colombo. Three police officers were killed while investigating a tip-off from neighbours.

"The explosion came from the upper floor of the house," said a witness.

Sri Lanka's defence minister confirmed seven suspects had been arrested about eight hours after reports of the first explosions. A well-known TV chef and her daughter were the first named victims of the attack. Shantha Mayadunne and her daughter Nisanga had been staying at the Shangri-La when it was targeted.

Ms Mayadunne's daughter shared a group photo on Facebook on the morning of the bombings, with the caption: "Easter breakfast with family." According to her page, Nisanga had studied at the University of London.

At least five Britons were also confirmed dead. Three were from the UK and two held dual US and UK citizenship.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: "To target those gathered for the simple act of worship on Easter Sunday is unspeakably wicked."

Prime Minister Theresa May said the massacre was "truly appalling", and "no one should ever have to practise their faith in fear".

It is thought that the grim death toll could rise further.

Mr Hunt said the death toll of five Britons killed in the attack was "the latest figure that I have heard".

"But obviously our high commissioner is working on this with his team in the embassy in Colombo, working around the clock, and we are trying to gather as much information as we can about this," he said.

US President Donald Trump tweeted his "heartfelt condolences to the people of Sri Lanka".

Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe condemned the violence.

It is the worst the country has endured since the end of the three-decade civil war with Tamil Tiger rebels.

He said in a tweet: "I strongly condemn the cowardly attacks on our people today. I call upon all Sri Lankans during this tragic time to remain united and strong.

"Please avoid propagating unverified reports and speculation. The government is taking immediate steps to contain this situation."

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