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After deadly Easter attacks, Sri Lankan officials blame jihadists, admit they had warning

A wave of suicide bombings in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday has the country grieving, on edge and under a national emergency. At least 290 people died in the attack, which the government blamed on a little-known Jihadist group. Police arrested multiple suspects and worked to disarm additional bombs, as officials admitted they had ignored warnings of an attack weeks before. Judy Woodruff reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Sri Lanka is under a national emergency tonight after a wave of suicide bombings hit on Easter Sunday. The attacks left 290 dead, including four Americans and 35 other foreigners.

    The Indian Ocean nation remained tense today, as police worked to disarm additional bombs, and some of them went off.

    (EXPLOSION)

    A parked van with three bombs inside explodes today near the Colombo waterfront. No was one hurt, but it punctuated the Easter Sunday attacks that left Christian worshipers shaken and grieving.

  • Sylvester (through translator):

    I heard the explosion and then the roof fell on us. We took the children and ran out from the rear door. But when I came to the hospital, I saw my brother-in-law and son on the ground.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    People who had come to celebrate their faith's holiest day struggled to help the wounded. Bricks crumbled to the ground in pools of blood, and inside St. Sebastian's Catholic Church, blood stained the statue of Jesus.

    Today, mothers prepared to bury children. And songs of mourning surrounded caskets. Outside of St. Anthony's Church, grief brought onlookers to their knees. The suicide bombings at three churches and three luxury hotels were the worst violence in Sri Lanka since a long civil war between majority Sinhalese and ethnic Tamils ended a decade ago. And it left a country asking why.

    Bhavani Fonseka works at the Center for Policy Alternatives in Colombo.

  • Bhavani Fonseka:

    This is unprecedented in Sri Lanka. I think that needs to be very clearly stated that in the past Sri Lanka has gone through decades of violence. The war came to a very brutal end 10 years ago. But when certain incidents happened, there was responsibility claimed.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The government blamed a little-known, local jihadist group, National Thowheed Jamath, saying six suicide bombers perpetrated the attacks. Police arrested multiple suspects, and the prime minister vowed a swift response.

  • Ranil Wickremesinghe (through translator):

    I would like to express my condolences with the families of the victims and those injured. We will take stern action against all those who are responsible for these attacks, regardless of their stature. We will vest all necessary powers with the defense forces. Let's remain patient during this national crisis.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Sri Lanka's president declared an emergency and gave the military sweeping authority. The government also blocked social media platforms, in an effort to stop what it called false news reports.

    Amarnath Amarasingam is from Sri Lanka, and works with the Institute for Strategic Dialogue in Toronto.

  • Amarnath Amarasingam:

    The government took a kind of immediate approach, the only way they knew how, to try to prevent some kind of anti-Muslim violence on the ground.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Sri Lankan officials also confirmed today they had multiple warnings of a terror threat as early as April 4.

  • Rajitha Senaratne:

    After all, as a government, we take — we are responsible for all that, whether we are we are — we know the situation or not know the situation. That's a different matter. Anyway, we are responsible. We are very sorry, and we apologize to everybody.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Christians make up less than 10 percent of the country's population, which is largely Buddhist, with Hindu and Muslim minorities. But attacks on Christians in Sri Lanka have been relatively rare.

  • Amarnath Amarasingam:

    That was quite shocking to see, not only this much planning and coordination, but the fact that that much planning and coordination went into targeting Christians, which has never happened in the country before.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Two Muslim groups in Sri Lanka condemned the church attacks today. And President Trump spoke with the prime minister and pledged support, including FBI assistance with the investigation.

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