Sri Lanka explosions: Bomber queued at hotel buffet before unleashing chaos

Above: Police officers investigating the scene of a blast at Shangri-La Hotel in the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo yesterday. PHOTO: EPA-EFE Local residents and police gathering at the Zion Church in Batticaloa in eastern Sri Lanka yesterday. It was
Police officers investigating the scene of a blast at Shangri-La Hotel in the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo yesterday. PHOTO: EPA-EFE
Above: Police officers investigating the scene of a blast at Shangri-La Hotel in the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo yesterday. PHOTO: EPA-EFE Local residents and police gathering at the Zion Church in Batticaloa in eastern Sri Lanka yesterday. It was
Local residents and police gathering at the Zion Church in Batticaloa in eastern Sri Lanka yesterday. It was one of three Sri Lankan churches hit by explosions as they held Easter services. PHOTO: EPA-EFE
Above: Police officers investigating the scene of a blast at Shangri-La Hotel in the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo yesterday. PHOTO: EPA-EFE Local residents and police gathering at the Zion Church in Batticaloa in eastern Sri Lanka yesterday. It was
Security personnel at St Anthony’s Shrine in Kochchikade, Colombo, yesterday following an explosion. More than 200 people were killed by the bomb attacks on churches and high-end hotels. PHOTO: EPA-EFE
Above: Police officers investigating the scene of a blast at Shangri-La Hotel in the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo yesterday. PHOTO: EPA-EFE Local residents and police gathering at the Zion Church in Batticaloa in eastern Sri Lanka yesterday. It was
Sri Lankan Special Task Force personnel outside a house during a raid – after a suicide blast had killed police officers searching the property – in the Orugodawatta area of Colombo yesterday. Seven individuals were arrested in a police raid in the city yesterday afternoon. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Eyewitnesses describe carnage at hotels and churches after Easter morning attacks

COLOMBO • The suicide bomber waited patiently in a queue for the Easter Sunday breakfast buffet at Sri Lanka's Cinnamon Grand Hotel before setting off explosives strapped to his back.

Carrying a plate, the man, who had registered at the hotel the night before as Mohamed Azzam Mohamed, was just about to be served when he set off the devastating blast in the packed restaurant, a manager at the hotel said.

"There was utter chaos," said the manager, who spoke to Agence France-Presse (AFP) on condition of anonymity as he was not allowed to speak for the company.

The account is one of many from eyewitnesses to the carnage caused by the apparently highly coordinated attacks on hotels and churches on what initially seemed to be a peaceful Easter Sunday.

The Cinnamon Grand's Taprobane restaurant was having one of its busiest days of the year for the Easter holiday weekend.

"It was 8.30am and it was busy. It was families," the manager told AFP.

"He came up to the top of the queue and set off the blast," he added. "One of our managers who was welcoming guests was among those killed instantly."

The bomber also died. Parts of his body were found intact by police and taken away.

"About 20 people were seriously wounded and we sent them to the National Hospital," the Cinnamon Grand manager said.

At the Shangri-La, eyewitnesses said they heard two loud blasts and staff reported some people had been killed. But details of the toll were not immediately available.

A tourist told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Online that she was eating at the second-floor restaurant of the Shangri-La Hotel when two blasts hit about 10 seconds apart.

 
 
 
 

She said the area had been full of visitors, including children. "There was just screaming, and everywhere I looked there was blood," she said.

"Everyone was just hiding, trying to work out what had just happened and what was going to happen and we just didn't know."

The Shangri-La said in a statement that the bomb hit at approximately 9am local time (11.30am Singapore time) at its Table One restaurant but did not give further details.

A huge blast also tore through St Anthony's Shrine in Colombo at around the same time.

Dashcam video footage showed fire and black smoke billowing from the church building. Motorists were shown driving away from the church, with some vehicles going against traffic trying to flee. Witnesses said many people died inside the church.

Shopkeeper N.A. Sumanapala told The New York Times that he ran inside the building to help. "It was a river of blood," he said. "The priest came out and he was covered in blood and he seemed to be covered in someone else's skin."

At least 160 people injured in the St Anthony's blast had been admitted to the National Hospital by mid-morning, an official told AFP.

Amid the violence, Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera praised people queueing up to give blood, calling it a show of solidarity.

"In the midst of this tragedy, it's reassuring to see the outpouring of solidarity as people donate blood. Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Muslims and others are donating because we are humans with the same blood and same spirit of compassion. Nobody can deny our common humanity," he tweeted.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 22, 2019, with the headline 'Bomber queued at hotel buffet before unleashing chaos'. Print Edition | Subscribe