Some 24 people arrested in Sri Lanka in connection with the Easter massacre. Tomorrow will be a national day of mourning
by Melani Manel Perera

The death toll rises to 290 people with the number of wounded topping 500. According to police, the dead include 35 foreigners. An internal memo showing that intelligence agencies had been warned of the danger of attacks raises questions. Muslim officials express solidarity.

Colombo (AsiaNews) - Sri Lankan police are questioning 24 people arrested in connection with a series of attacks on Easter Sunday in three churches as well as three major hotels in Colombo. Police took into custody the driver of a van suspected of carrying the explosives used in the capital. 

Whilst the death toll reached 290 people, and more than 500 wounded, the authorities have declared tomorrow, 23 April, a national day of mourning.

Yesterday's blasts are the most serious acts of violence since the end of the country's 30-year civil war in 2009, which pitted the Sri Lankan military against Tamil Tiger rebels. 

More recently, the island nation has been rocked by a serious constitutional crisis between the parties that support Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and those who back former dictator Mahinda Rajapaksa. 

Holy Week was also marred by an incident that saw the head of the Church taken hostage along with some co-religionists, which, in the light of what happened, was a harbinger of the subsequent massacre.

Yesterday, some press reports cast a shadow over the country's ability to guarantee peace and stability. An internal police memo dated 11 April addressed a warning of possible attacks to a number of key officials in the security services, including the Directors of the Ministerial Security Division (MSD), the Former Presidents’ Security Division and the Ambassadors Security Division.

Telecommunications Minister Harin Fernando tweeted a shot of the internal memo, criticising the inefficiency of the country's intelligence apparatus.

According to investigators, yesterday's attacks were carried by suicide bombers. 

The victims include a woman and two little girls found in a Dematagoda apartment where a bomb exploded yesterday afternoon.

This comes on top of the six attacks against churches filled with worshippers attending Easter celebrations and hotels crowded with tourists.

The authorities have confirmed that at least 35 foreigners are among the dead, from Poland, Denmark, China, Japan, Pakistan, the United States, India, Morocco, and Bangladesh.

Sri Lanka's Information Department announced that the curfew imposed a few hours after the attack until 6 am this morning, will be imposed again from 8 pm today until 4 am tomorrow.

Meanwhile, solidarity from around the world continues to reach victims. Many Christians in various Asian countries and world leaders expressed their condolences as Pope Francis did during his Urbi et Orbi blessing, yesterday in St Peter's Square.

In Sri Lanka, Card Malcolm Ranjith, archbishop of Colombo, was the first to condemn the attacks, appealing for blood donation for the wounded.

The Catholic Cardinal's prayers have been echoed by Bishop Dhiloraj Canagasabey, Anglican Bishop of Colombo (Church of Ceylon). “I join all people who are going through untold hardship, suffering and loss of [the] lives of their loved ones on the day when we are supposed to celebrate the resurrection of Lord Jesus. It is sad that such a thing should happen in a country like ours,” the prelate said.

Muslim leaders also condemned the attacks against worshippers, places of worship and resort areas. In a statement, the President of the All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama (ACJU), Mufti M. I. M. Rizwe, said, “this is a shameful and heinous act which no human being can tolerate for any reason. Though the attacks were carried out on a day holy to a particular religious community, it is a very sad day for all Sri Lankans.”