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Sri Lankan officials inspect St. Sebastian's Church in Negombo, north of Colombo, after multiple explosions targeting churches and hotels across Sri Lanka on April 21, 2019, in Negombo, Sri Lanka. (Photo by Stringer/Getty Images)

Outpouring of Sorrow After More Than 200 Killed in Easter Sunday Bombings in Sri Lanka

Officials warned against the spread of "racial disharmony" after the attacks

News of several deadly bombings in three Sri Lankan cities was met with condemnation and sorrow from around the world on Sunday, as the death toll of the attacks climbed past 200.

In what officials in Sri Lanka called suicide bombings, St. Anthony’s Shrine in the capitol city of Colombo, St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo, and Zion Church in Batticaloa were attacked on Sunday morning as Christians gathered to celebrate Easter. Three hotels in Colombo—the Shangri-La, the Cinnamon Grand, and the Kingsbury—were also bombed.

At least 207 people were killed while about 450 were injured. At least 36 foreign nationals were among the dead, according to the Guardian, including travelers from Great Britain, the Netherlands, China, Portugal, and Turkey.

"I strongly condemn the cowardly attacks on our people today," Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said. "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."

No group had claimed responsibility for the attacks as of Sunday morning, but seven people were arrested for potential connections with the bombings. The arrests were made at a housing complex in Colombo.

Antonio Guterres, the secretary-general of the United Nations, was among the world leaders who condemned the attacks on social media.

"The U.N. stands in solidarity with Sri Lanka as the global community fights hatred and violent extremism together," Guterres said.

U.S. politicians including Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) also offered condolences.

"No person, of any faith, should be fearful in their house of worship," wrote Omar.

The country's finance minister expressed gratitude for an outpouring of support across the country as well.

The attacks reportedly began at about 8:45am local time, as worshipers were attending Easter services.

“It was a river of blood," N.A. Sumanapala, who owns a shop near St. Anthony’s Shrine and ran inside to help victims after the blast, told the New York Times. "Ash was falling like snow."

Sri Lanka has enjoyed a period of relative peace over the last decade after a 26-year civil war between government forces and separatists which killed 100,000 people.

"It has been 10 years since we last saw this kind of horror," said Hemasiri Fernando, the country’s defense secretary, in a statement.

The Sri Lankan government temporarily blocked access to social media platforms including Facebook on Sunday, in what President Maithripala Sirisena's secretary called an effort to curb misinformation.

After the attacks targeting Christians, officials warned against cultivating "racial disharmony" by spreading rumors about the perpetrators.

The government also briefly blocked access to social media last year after anti-Muslim violence was apparently fueled by rumors on Facebook.

"There’s an abundance of caution," Sanjana Hattotuwa, a researcher at the Center for Policy Alternatives, told the Guardian. "What we find is that communities are being targeted for the action of individuals. Given that it’s now in the public domain that these were suicide bombings involved, a particular community is going to get targeted."

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