Sri Lanka lifts curfew as death toll from attacks rises sharply

Possible intelligence failures examined after Sri Lanka blasts

Authorities lifted a curfew in Sri Lanka on Monday, a day after a string of bombings at churches and luxury hotels across the Indian Ocean island killed 290 people and wounded about 500, but there were warnings more attacks could come.

There was no claim of responsibility for the Easter Sunday attacks on two churches and four hotels in and around Colombo, the capital of predominantly Buddhist Sri Lanka, and a third church on the South Asian nation's northeast coast.

A British mother and son eating breakfast at the luxury Shangri-La hotel were among those killed, after reports men carrying backpacks detonated suicide bombs. It's been confirmed eight Britons were killed in the coodinated attacks.

Four of the bombs went off at roughly the same time, at 8.45 am, with the other two coming within 20 minutes.

Sri Lankans accounted for the bulk of the dead and wounded although government officials said 32 foreigners were killed, including British, US, Turkish, Indian, Chinese, Danish, Dutch and Portuguese nationals.

President Maithripala Sirisena, who was abroad when the attacks happened, had called a meeting of the National Security Council early on Monday, a government source said. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe would attend the meeting, the source said.

The Sri Lankan military, who were clearing the route from Colombo airport late on Sunday in preparation for Sirisena's return, found a crude bomb near the departure gate, an air force spokesman said.

They destroyed the device in a controlled explosion.

There were fears the attacks could spark a renewal of communal violence, with police also reporting late on Sunday there had been a petrol bomb attack on a mosque in the northwest and arson attacks on two shops owned by Muslims in the west.

Sri Lanka was at war for decades with ethnic minority Tamil separatists but violence had largely ended since the government victory in the civil war, 10 years ago.

Sri Lanka's 22 million people include Christian, Muslim and Hindu populations of between about eight and 12 percent.

Security forces raided a house in Colombo on Sunday afternoon, several hours after the attack. Police reported an explosion at the house and said three officers were killed.

Police said on Monday 24 people had been arrested, all of whom were Sri Lankan.

The U.S. State Department issued a revised travel warning that said terrorist groups were continuing to plot.

"Terrorists may attack with little or no warning," it said in the warning, which was set at two on a scale on which four means do not travel.

Possible targets included tourist spots, transport hubs, shopping malls, hotels, places of worship, airports and other public areas, it said.

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Sri Lanka terror attacks
A man mourns at a grave of a victim, two days after a string of suicide bomb attacks on churches and luxury hotels across the island on Easter Sunday, at Sellakanda Catholic cemetery in Negombo, Sri Lanka April 23, 2019. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
Grief has rung out through Sri Lanka in the wake of the deadly attacks (AFP Photo/ISHARA S. KODIKARA)
Two women mourn during a funeral service for bomb blast victims at St Sebastian's Church in Negombo on April 23, 2019, two days after a series of bomb attacks targeting churches and luxury hotels in Sri Lanka. - Sri Lanka began a day of national mourning on April 23 with three minutes of silence to honour more than 300 people killed in suicide bomb blasts that have been blamed on a local Islamist group. (Photo by Jewel SAMAD / AFP) (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
A woman cries at a service for bomb blast victims at St Sebastian's Church in Negombo on April 23, 2019, two days after a series of bomb attacks targeting churches and luxury hotels in Sri Lanka. - Sri Lanka began a day of national mourning on April 23 with three minutes of silence to honour more than 300 people killed in suicide bomb blasts that have been blamed on a local Islamist group. (Photo by ISHARA S. KODIKARA / AFP) (Photo credit should read ISHARA S. KODIKARA/AFP/Getty Images)
FILE - This Sunday, April 21, 2019, file photo shows the inside of St. Sebastian's Church damaged in blast in Negombo, north of Colombo, Sri Lanka. The deadly Easter attacks in Sri Lanka are a bloody echo of decades past in the South Asian island nation, when militants inspired by attacks in the Lebanese civil war helped develop the suicide bomb vest. (AP Photo/Chamila Karunarathne, File)
A Sri Lankan roman catholic woman prays during a three minute nationwide silence observe to pay homage to the victims of Easter Sunday's blasts outside St. Anthony's Shrine in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Tuesday, April 23, 2019. A state of emergency has taken effect giving the Sri Lankan military war-time powers not used since civil war ended in 2009. Police arrested 40 suspects, including the driver of a van allegedly used by suicide bombers involved in deadly Easter bombings. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)
ISIS claims responsibility for Sri Lanka Easter bombings that killed over 300 (ABC News)
A man mourns at a grave of a victim, two days after a string of suicide bomb attacks on churches and luxury hotels across the island on Easter Sunday, at Sellakanda Catholic cemetery in Negombo, Sri Lanka April 23, 2019. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
ADDS THE NAME OF CHURCH - Sri Lankan Army soldiers secure the area around St. Anthony's Shrine after a blast in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Sunday, April 21, 2019. Witnesses are reporting two explosions have hit two churches in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, causing casualties among worshippers. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has called a national security council meeting at his house and 200 troops have been deployed to carry out the rescue operation.
Officials say at least two of the blasts were caused by suicide bombers.
Condolences poured in from journalists, cricketers and the film fraternity tweeting condemnation of the attack.
Officials say at least two of the blasts were caused by suicide bombers.
Sri Lanka blasts
Explosions struck hotels and churches.
Todas las explosiones ocurrieron hacia las 8.45 horas (2.30 GMT), en al menos tres hoteles de lujo en Colombo y también en un iglesia de la capital, otra en Katana, en el oeste del país, y la tercera en Batticaloa, en el este de la isla. EFETodas las explosiones ocurrieron hacia las 8.45 horas (2.30 GMT), en al menos tres hoteles de lujo en Colombo y también en un iglesia de la capital, otra en Katana, en el oeste del país, y la tercera en Batticaloa, en el este de la isla. EFETodas las explosiones ocurrieron hacia las 8.45 horas (2.30 GMT), en al menos tres hoteles de lujo en Colombo y también en un iglesia de la capital, otra en Katana, en el oeste del país, y la tercera en Batticaloa, en el este de la isla. EFE
Atentados en Sri Lanka
COLOMBO, SRI LANKA - APRIL 21: An inside view of the St. Anthony's Shrine after an explosion hit St Anthony's Church in Kochchikade in Colombo, Sri Lanka on April 21, 2019. According to reports at least 129 people killed and over 200 injured in blasts during the Easter Sunday service at churches and hotels as worshippers attended Easter services. (Photo by Chamila Karunarathne/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Sri Lankan police stand at the site of an explosion in a restaurant area of the luxury Shangri-La Hotel in Colombo on April 21, 2019. - At least 42 people were killed April 21 in a string of blasts at hotels and churches in Sri Lanka as worshippers attended Easter services, a police official told AFP. (Photo by ISHARA S. KODIKARA / AFP) (Photo credit should read ISHARA S. KODIKARA/AFP/Getty Images)
Atentados en Sri Lanka
Priests walk into the St. Anthony's Shrine, Kochchikade church after an explosion in Colombo, Sri Lanka April 21, 2019. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte
A shoe of a victim is seen in front of the St. Anthony's Shrine, Kochchikade church after an explosion in Colombo, Sri Lanka April 21, 2019. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Sri Lankan police stand at the site of an explosion in a restaurant area of the luxury Shangri-La Hotel in Colombo on April 21, 2019. - At least 42 people were killed April 21 in a string of blasts at hotels and churches in Sri Lanka as worshippers attended Easter services, a police official told AFP. (Photo by ISHARA S. KODIKARA / AFP) (Photo credit should read ISHARA S. KODIKARA/AFP/Getty Images)
COLOMBO, SRI LANKA - APRIL 21: An inside view of the St. Anthony's Shrine after an explosion hit St Anthony's Church in Kochchikade in Colombo, Sri Lanka on April 21, 2019. According to reports at least 129 people killed and over 200 injured in blasts during the Easter Sunday service at churches and hotels as worshippers attended Easter services. (Photo by Chamila Karunarathne/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Sri Lankan military officers stand guard in front of the St Anthony's Church where an explosion took place in Kochchikade, Colombo, Sri Lanka, on April 21, 2019.- At least 137 people were killed in Sri Lanka on April 21, police sources told AFP, when a string of blasts ripped through high-end hotels and churches as worshippers attended Easter services. (Photo by Tharaka Basnayaka/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Sri Lankan police stand at the site of an explosion in a restaurant area of the luxury Shangri-La Hotel in Colombo on April 21, 2019. - At least 42 people were killed April 21 in a string of blasts at hotels and churches in Sri Lanka as worshippers attended Easter services, a police official told AFP. (Photo by ISHARA S. KODIKARA / AFP) (Photo credit should read ISHARA S. KODIKARA/AFP/Getty Images)
COLOMBO, SRI LANKA - APRIL 21: Security forces secure the area around the St. Anthony's Shrine after an explosion hit St Anthony's Church in Kochchikade in Colombo, Sri Lanka on April 21, 2019. According to reports at least 129 people killed and over 200 injured in blasts during the Easter Sunday service at churches and hotels as worshippers attended Easter services. (Photo by Chamila Karunarathne/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Ambulances are seen outside the church premises with gathered people and security personnel following a blast at the St. Anthony's Shrine in Kochchikade, Colombo on April 21, 2019. - At least 42 people were killed April 21 in a string of blasts at hotels and churches as worshippers attended Easter services, a police official told AFP. (Photo by ISHARA S. KODIKARA / AFP) (Photo credit should read ISHARA S. KODIKARA/AFP/Getty Images)
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Social media blocked

The island-wide curfew was lifted early on Monday, although there was uncharacteristically thin traffic in the normally bustling capital.

Soldiers with automatic weapons stood guard outside major hotels and the World Trade Centre in the business district, where the four hotels were targeted on Sunday, according to a Reuters witness.

Scores of people who were stranded overnight at the main airport began making their way home as restrictions were lifted.

The government also blocked access to social media and messaging sites, including Facebook and WhatsApp, making information hard to gather.

Wickremsinghe acknowledged on Sunday that the government had some prior information about possible attacks on churches involving a little-known Islamist group but said ministers had not been told.

An Australian survivor, identified only as Sam, told Australia's 3AW radio the hotel was a scene of "absolute carnage."

He said he and a travel partner were also having breakfast at the Shangri-La when two blasts went off. He said he had seen two men wearing backpacks seconds before the blasts.

"There were people screaming and dead bodies all around," he said. "Kids crying, kids on the ground, I don't know if they were dead or not, just crazy."

There were similar scenes of carnage at two churches in or near Colombo, and a third church in the northeast town of Batticaloa, where worshippers had gathered for Easter Sunday services. Pictures from the scene showed bodies on the ground and blood-spattered pews and statues.

Dozens were killed in one of the blasts at the Gothic-style St. Sebastian church in Katuwapitiya, north of Colombo. Police said they suspected that blast was a suicide attack.

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