The government declared a curfew and said it had shut down access to major social media sites and messaging services.
By Yuliya Talmazan, Caroline Radnofsky, Reuters and Associated Press
At least 207 people were killed and hundreds more injured after a series of blasts shook Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday.
A wave of near-simultaneous explosions rocked three churches and three luxury hotels, officials said, leaving nearly 500 people hospitalized from injuries.
Police later reported two further explosions.
The government declared an island-wide curfew and said it had shut down access to major social media sites and messaging services, including Facebook and WhatsApp, to prevent misinformation and rumors.
Defense Minister Ruwan Wijewardena said seven suspects had been arrested and that the death toll included at least 27 foreign nationals.
He described the attacks as a terrorist incident, and blamed religious extremists.
Police conducted a search operation on the outskirts of Colombo, where the latest of eight blasts took place. After police moved in, at least two more blasts occurred, with the occupants of a safehouse apparently blasting explosives to prevent arrest.Three officers were killed.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said he feared the violence could trigger instability in the country and its economy.
He said his government would “vest all necessary powers with the defense forces” to take action against those responsible for the attacks, “regardless of their stature.”
A security official told The Associated Press that two of the blasts were suspected to have been carried out by suicide bombers. The official spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak with reporters.
There were no immediate claims of responsibility for the attacks.
The first blast ripped through St. Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo. The church and the three hotels in the country’s capital are frequented by foreign tourists.
A second explosion was reported at St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo, a Catholic majority town north of Colombo.
More than 50 people were killed in that blast alone, a police official told Reuters, with pictures showing bodies on the ground, blood on the pews and a destroyed roof.
Father Edmond Tillekeratne, the social communications director of the Archdiocese of Colombo, was near St. Sebastian’s when the explosion happened.
“I was close by, so I ran there. I saw the aftermath with my own eyes,” he told NBC News.
“The rooftop is completely destroyed. The flesh of the people is on the walls and all over the place.”
The third church that was targeted is in the eastern town of Batticaloa.