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Islamic State claims responsibility for deadly Sri Lanka bombings

A security-forces vehicle patrols in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on April 23, 2019, following the issuance earlier in the day of a state of emergency in response to multiple bomb attacks on churches and hotels on April 21. (Kyodo)

COLOMBO (Kyodo) -- Islamic State has claimed responsibility for Easter Sunday's coordinated bombings in Sri Lanka that killed 321 people and injured more than 500 others, according to media reports Tuesday.

"The perpetrators of the attack that targeted nationals of the countries of the coalitions and Christians in Sri Lanka before yesterday are fighters from the Islamic State," the group's AMAQ news agency was quoted as saying by the Associated Press.

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka's State Minister for Defense Ruwan Wijewardene told Parliament that the bombings were in "retaliation" for the March 15 shootings at two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch that left 50 dead, while he also said a local Islamist group is being held responsible for the blasts.

Sri Lanka has imposed a state of emergency in the wake of the suicide bombings at three churches and three hotels, with police and the military given sweeping powers to detain suspects without court warrants.

A nighttime curfew was extended for a third day Tuesday.

The police have arrested 40 people in the wake of the attacks. Reuters news service reports that a Syrian national was taken into custody for questioning over the bombings.

More than three dozen foreigners were reportedly killed, while UNICEF spokesman Christophe Boulierac has been quoted as saying that at least 45 children are among the dead.

Sri Lanka has declared Tuesday to be a national day of mourning, and people across the country observed three minutes of silence to remember the victims. All schools in the country are closed until Wednesday. Christian private schools in and around Colombo will be closed until Monday next week.

"I couldn't stay back home so came to the temple at this early hour to offer prayer and pray for the people who lost their loved ones," said 65-year-old woman named Sulangini, who is a caretaker of the small Buddhist temple in Colombo.

Sharad, a 70-year-old man, came to the mortuary in search of a missing friend, who he worries could be among the deceased.

"Ours is a peaceful country, but due to lack of security concerns in Sri Lanka this incident happened. Now the innocents are paying for the damage by losing the life of their loved ones."

K. Srinivasa Murthy, leader of a political party in India's Bangalore, he came to Sri Lanka to take back the bodies of seven party members who died in the blast at the Shangri-La hotel.

"All seven of them were friends," he said. "This is far from any tragedy which can ever be imagined."

"I want that those who are the suspects should be hanged for what they did," he added.

Health minister Rajitha Senaratne, who is also a Cabinet spokesman, said Monday that police units earlier this month received information that Islamist militants were planning a series of attacks in the country.

But he said Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was not informed of those warnings as he has been excluded from National Security Council meetings chaired by the president, and as a result, "adequate precautions" were not taken to prevent the attacks.

Political instability has rocked the nation recently after President Maithripala Sirisena abruptly sacked Wickremesinghe last October and named former President Mahinda Rajapaksa as his successor, only to see Wickremesinghe return as premier after weeks of chaos.

In New York on Monday, the U.N. Security Council "condemned in the strongest terms the series of heinous and cowardly terrorist attacks."

"The members of the Security Council reiterated that any acts of terrorism are criminal and unjustifiable, regardless of their motivation, wherever, whenever and by whomsoever committed."

The eight explosions, which occurred mostly in and around Colombo, mark the worst violence that the country has seen since the end of its civil war a decade ago.

A ninth explosion reportedly went off on Monday in a van parked near St. Anthony's Shrine, one of the three churches targeted the previous day, when bomb squad officials tried to defuse it.

It was also reported Monday that the Sri Lankan police found 87 bomb detonators at Colombo's main bus station.

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