The toll in a series of suicide bomb blasts on Easter Sunday targeting hotels and churches in Sri Lanka has risen to 359, police said Wednesday, adding that 18 suspects were arrested during overnight raids.
The additional deaths were the result of the wounded dying of their injuries. At least 500 people were injured in the attacks, the country’s worst bout of violence since the end of a Tamil insurgency a decade ago.
The blasts have been claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group, with Sri Lanka’s government pointing the finger at the little-known local Islamist group National Thowheeth Jama’ath (NTJ), but saying the group likely had “international” help.
“Certainly the security apparatus is of the view that there are foreign links and some of the evidence points to that,” Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe told media on Tuesday night.
“We’ve been following up on this claim, there were suspicions that there were links with ISIS,” he added, using another name for the IS group.
‘None of the shock or grief has faded’
Overnight, Sri Lankan police carried out fresh raids, detained 18 more people in their hunt for those involved in the attacks, police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera told reporters.
“Based on information, we raided three locations and arrested 17 suspects,” Gunasekera said. “Another suspect was arrested at a fourth location.”
Nearly 60 people have been detained since the Sunday blasts, which ripped through high-end hotels and churches packed with Easter worshippers in the capital Colombo and beyond.
The latest arrests came after Wickremesinghe said that more Islamist radicals could be on the run and he could not rule out the possibility of further bombings.
“There are a few more people on the run,” Wickremesinghe said. “So we’ve got to apprehend them.”
In addition to arming security forces with powers to detain suspects for up to three months, the authorities have also imposed a night-time curfew since the deadly attacks.
The attacks were the worst ever against the country’s small Christian minority, who make up just seven percent of the 21 million population.
On Tuesday, grieving Sri Lankans began to bury their dead and the country observed a day of national mourning.
Three minutes of silence were marked nationwide from 8:30am (0300 GMT), the time the first suicide bomber struck on Sunday, unleashing carnage.
Flags were lowered to half-mast on government buildings, and liquor shops were ordered closed for the day.
More details have begun to emerge about some of the foreigners killed in the blasts.
The US reported at least four Americans killed including a child and the Netherlands raised their toll to three.
A Danish billionaire lost three of his children in the attacks, a spokesman for his company said.
Eight Britons, ten Indians and nationals from Turkey, Australia, Japan and Portugal, were also killed, according to Sri Lankan officials and foreign governments.
The United Nations said at least 45 children, Sri Lankans and foreigners, were among those killed.