Several Americans were among the victims as the death toll climbed to 290 in a series of blasts that slammed Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, the State Department said.
- Death toll rises to almost 300; more than 500 hurt in blasts
- At least 7 suspects have been arrested in connection to bombings
- Officials say 9 blasts targeted churches, luxury hotels
“While many details of the attacks are still emerging, we can confirm that several U.S. citizens were among those killed,” said Secretary of State Michael Pompeo in a statement, who condemned the attacks, calling them “vile.”
A Dutch national and British citizens were also caught in the bombings, which left more than 500 wounded.
The nine blasts targeted churches and luxury hotels in and just outside of Sri Lanka’s capital of Colombo.
Muslim and Catholic leaders both condemned the bombings that Sri Lankan authorities called a terrorist attack by religious extremists. However, no further details of who is responsible for the attacks have been released.
Officials say seven suspects have been arrested, and two of the blasts are thought to have been carried out by suicide bombers.
Meanwhile, authorities imposed a nationwide curfew from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.
The spokesman, Brig. Atapattu, says a seventh blast occurred at a guesthouse in Dehiwala, killing at least two people. Atapattu says an eighth blast occurred in Dematagoda on the outskirts of Colombo.
According to a police spokesman, three police officers were killed during a house raid in Dematagoda, Colombo, CNN reported.
St. Anthony’s Shrine and the three hotels where Sunday’s blasts took place are in Colombo, the capital, and are frequented by foreign tourists. A National Hospital spokesman, Dr. Samindi Samarakoon, told The Associated Press that they received 47 dead there, including nine foreigners, and were treating more than 200 wounded.
Local TV showed damage at the Cinnamon Grand, Shangri-La and Kingsbury hotels.
The Shangri-La’s second-floor restaurant was gutted in the blast, with the ceiling and windows blown out. Loose wires hung and tables were overturned in the blackened space.
A police magistrate was at the hotel to inspect the bodies recovered from the restaurant. From outside the police cordon, three bodies could be seen covered in white sheets.
Alex Agieleson, who was near the shrine, said buildings shook with the blast, and that a number of injured people were carried away in ambulances.
Other blasts were reported at St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo, a majority Catholic town north of Colombo, and at Zion Church in the eastern town of Batticaloa. St. Sebastian’s appealed for help on its Facebook page.
The explosion ripped off the roof and knocked out doors and windows at St. Sebastian’s, where people carried the wounded away from blood-stained pews, TV footage showed.
Sri Lankan security officials said they were investigating. Police immediately sealed off the areas.
The magnitude of the bloodshed recalled Sri Lanka’s decades-long civil war, when separatist Tamil Tigers and other rebel groups targeted the Central Bank, a shopping mall, a Buddhist temple and hotels popular with tourists.
Sri Lanka has long faced a bitter ethnic divide between the majority Sinhalese and the minority Tamils, fueling the civil war as Tamil militants tried to carve out their own homeland.
But in the years since the war ended in 2009, a religious divide has grown, with the rise of Buddhist nationalist groups that stoke anger against the minority Muslims, saying they are stealing from Buddhist temples or desecrating them, or forcing people to convert to Islam. Muslims also own many of Sri Lanka’s small shops, and many Muslims suspect small-town jealousy has led to some attacks.
Sinhalese are overwhelmingly Buddhists, while Tamils are mostly Hindu, Muslim and Christian.
Security expert Dave Benson, who served as regional security officer and chief security officer to the U.S embassy in Colombo in the 90’s, told Spectrum News it was difficult for him to see a place where he has lived and worked targeted.
“It’s heartbreaking on two levels: Personally, my family and I grew to really love the island and the Sri Lankan people, but violence, they are not immune to violence. Terrorism has been alive and well there for decades although not the type that we saw today. So, to see some very common places we’ve been to and attended blasted like that was very difficult to see,” he shared.
Benson also shared his thoughts why soft targets like hotels and churches were targeted in the coordinated attack.
“It’s way too early to determine if it’s in retaliation for what happened in other places around the world like in New Zealand. But clearly it’s very unusual in Sri Lanka to target houses of worship for this type of terrorist activity, so that’s particularly troubling but we’re seeing a real spike in vulnerability for houses of worship worldwide,” Benson described.
Since the attack, the Sri Lankan government has cut off all social media inside their country.
Benson says he doubts this attack was homegrown and hopes the country reaches out to the FBI to help investigate where the planning for this attack originated from.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe convened Sri Lanka’s top military officials at an emergency meeting of the National Security Council following the blasts. Wickremesinghe tweeted that “the government is taking immediate steps to contain the situation.”
The Archbishop of Colombo, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, called on Sri Lanka’s government to launch a “very impartial strong inquiry” and to punish those found responsible “mercilessly because only animals can behave like that.”
There was an outpouring of condemnation from around the world following the attacks.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called the blasts “an assault on all of humanity,” while Russian President Vladimir Putin denounced them as “cruel and cynical.”
British Prime Minister Teresa May said on Twitter, “We must stand together to make sure that no one should ever have to (practice) their faith in fear.”
Foreign Minster of Iran Javad Zariff tweeted his condolences.
President Donald Trump offered his own words of comfort, but mistakenly stated that 138 million died. He then sent a corrected tweet.
It has been a devastating week for Christians. Just last week, the beloved Notre Dame Cathedral suffered a massive fire that destroyed parts of the 12th-century landmark.
Sri Lankan security forces in 2009 defeated Tamil Tiger rebels who had fought to create an independent homeland for the country’s ethnic minority Tamils. The U.N. initially estimated the death toll from 26 years of fighting to be about 100,000 but a U.N. experts’ panel later said some 45,000 ethnic Tamils may have been killed in the last months of the fighting alone.
Government troops and the Tamil Tigers were both accused of grave human rights violations, which prompted local and international calls for investigations.
Black Student Awarded $725k in Lawsuit against Neo-Nazi Follower
The first black woman to serve as American University’s student government president celebrated Friday after a lawsuit win in federal court against a neo-Nazi website manager who launched an online hate movement against her.
A federal judge awarded Taylor Dumspon, 22, approximately $725,000 after The Daily Stormer blog founder Andrew Anglin failed to respond to her lawsuit.
Dumpson was named student government president in 2017. The historic moment on AU’s campus amassed the attention of dozens of white supremacists, including Anglin, who directed his followers to troll Dumpson via social media after hearing the news, and a suspect who hung nooses with bananas containing racist messages on the university’s campus.
Here’s a breakdown of Dumpson’s settlement:
- $101,429.28 for compensatory damages
- $500,000 for punitive damages costs
- $124,022.10 for attorneys’ fees and costs.
The judge is also said to have placed a restraining order against Anglin, his Moonbase Holdings limited liability company, and Brian Andrew Ade for internet harassment.
“This ruling should send a strong message to other white supremacists that they can and will be held accountable for hateful activity that constitutes unlawful discrimination, no matter whether it occurs online or in the real world,” said Kristen Clarke, the president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. The organization represented Dumpson in the case.
Walmart Employees Call for the Corporation to Cease Profiting of Gun Sales
Enraged Walmart employees are demanding the retail giant revoke its firearm sales following the back-to-back mass shootings at locations in El Paso, Texas and in Dayton, Ohio’s downtown district. The senseless killing sprees took the lives of over 30 victims and caused dozens of critical injuries.
The aftermath has left thousands of the corporation’s employees on edge, including, Thomas Marshall, a manager in Walmart’s San Bruno, California, e-commerce office, who took the initiative to organize a massive walkout on Wednesday. Marshall also requested his associates sign a Change.org petition, calling for the retailer to refrain from selling guns and ammunition.
“We have one demand, and that is all. We value Walmart and our fellow associates, but we are no longer willing to contribute our labor to a company that profits from the sale of deadly weapons,” the petition reads.
“We would like to see Walmart take a unified and public stance against guns and gun violence. We urge our leadership to cease the sale of all firearms and ammunition, ban the public open and concealed carry of weapons on company property and in all stores, and cease WALPAC donations to NRA backed -A/A+ politicians.”
Marshall’s petition has garnered nearly 60,000 signatures and continues to rapidly climb. While the courageous manager fears his job is in jeopardy, he intends to ramp up his protest by sending the petition directly to Walmart CEO Doug McMillon.
McMillon released a statement Wednesday, expressing his grief over the shootings. He ordered violent video games to be removed from all of the stores shelves but failed to address the elephant in the room –– gun distribution.
“We’ll be thoughtful and deliberate in our responses, and will act in a way that reflects our best values and ideals, focused on the needs of our customers, associates and communities,” he wrote.
Eric Garner Supporters Disrupt Cory Booker’s Speech during Democratic Debate
The second Democratic debate in Detroit got real heated real quick. Just moments into Cory Booker’s speech, the presidential candidate was instantly disrupted by a rowdy group of protesters, bringing attention to the brutal killing of Eric Garner.
On July 17, 2014, Garner died after being put in an aggressive chokehold by New York police officer Daniel Pantaleo. The incident went viral and catalyzed a national movement against police brutality and racial discrimination.
Five years later, on Tuesday, the Staten Island grand jury has voted not to indict Pantaleo, causing an uproar among the Black Lives Matter organization and the victim’s family.
While the protest may have inconvenienced Booker’s moment to impress America, the timing was perfect in the eyes of the hecklers to call out the injustice they believe has occurred. ‘Fire Pantaleo!’ they chanted in unison, demanding for New York Mayor Bill de Blasio who has also thrown his hat in the 2020 election to terminate the officer effective immediately.
Booker chose to take the high road and showed his support on Twitter for the protest.
‘To the folks who were standing up to Mayor de Blasio a few minutes ago – good for you,’ he said.
‘That’s how change is made.’
De Blasio also responded, stating the issue would be resolved in 30 days but did not confirm whether the police officer would be fired.
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