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‘Several’ Americans among the 207 killed in Sri Lanka bombing attacks on Easter Sunday

Sri Lanka's reinstated prime minister and leader of United National Party Ranil Wickremesinghe addresses the nation following being sworn in as prime minister at his official residence in Colombo, Sri Lanka on Sunday, Dec. 16, 2018. (Tharaka Basnayaka/NurPhoto/Zuma Press/TNS)

“Several” Americans are among the at least 207 people are dead and 450 injured in simultaneous terrorist attacks that appear to be coordinated at several high-end hotels and churches in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirmed Sunday.

“The United States condemns in the strongest terms the terror attacks in Sri Lanka on Easter morning,” Pompeo said in a statement released by the State Department. “Attacks on innocent people gathering in a place of worship or enjoying a holiday meal are affronts to the universal values and freedoms that we hold dear, and demonstrate yet again the brutal nature of radical terrorists whose sole aim is to threaten peace and security.”

At least six different explosions were reported to hit hotels and churches as worshippers gathered for Easter services in the cities of Colombo, Negombo and Batticaloa, according to the Associated Press.Hours later, a blast at a guesthouse killed at least two people. Then an eighth explosion rocked an overpass in the area of Dematagoda on the outskirts of the capital of Colombo, according to police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara.

Three police officers were killed when they went to question suspects.

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Officials say seven suspects have been arrested.

At least 20 foreigners are among the dead in Colombo, according to hospital Director General Anil Jasinghe. Among them are two who are both citizens of U.S. and United Kingdom. Also there are three Indians, one Portuguese national, two Turkish nationals and three British nationals.

The statement also says nine foreigners are reported missing.

Two of the blasts were suspected to have been carried out by suicide bombers, according to the unnamed official, but no one has claimed responsibility for the attacks early Sunday morning.

It’s the deadliest spout of violence in Sri Lanka since the South Asian country’s bloody civil war ended a decade ago. The island nation of some 23 million people off the southern tip of India has been relatively peaceful since the civil war ended, though its various factions have continued to jostle for power.

The majority are Sinhalese, mostly Buddhist, and the minority Tamil are Hindu, Muslim and Christian. Targeted in Sunday’s attacks, Christians, with a lower profile than some of the other factions, have only encountered scattered incidents against them in recent years.

The first blast rang through St. Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo. Alex Agileson, who was in the vicinity, said buildings in the surrounding area shook with the blast, according to the AP.

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He said a number of injured were carried in ambulances.

A second explosion was reported at St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo, a Catholic majority town north of Colombo.

Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe condemned the attacks and warned against spreading unverified reports in a statement issued on Twitter.

“I call upon all Sri Lankans during this tragic time to remain united and strong. Please avoid propagating unverified reports and speculation,” he said. “The government is taking immediate steps to contain this situation.”

President Donald Trump tweeted his condolences to the victims early Sunday morning.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed “deep shock” over the attacks and said “the entire world must unite in the battle against the scourge of terrorism.”

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the Archbishop of Colombo, implored Sri Lanka’s government to start a “very impartial strong inquiry” and to punish those responsible “mercilessly because only animals can behave like that.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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© 2019 USA Today

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.