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Sri Lanka blasts: UN confirms at least 45 children killed in explosions; Colombo Police issues alert for van carrying explosives

After Sri Lankan defence minister Ruwan Wijewardene confirmed that the Easter Sunday attacks, that killed over 300 people including 45 children, were a response to the mass shooting at mosques in Christchurch, all police stations in Colombo have been alerted about a lorry or van suspected to be carrying explosives.

"The total now is 45 children who died," UNICEF spokesman Christophe Boulierac told reporters in Geneva.

He added that the toll from the Sunday attacks could rise as many other minors "are wounded and are now fighting for their lives in intensive care units across the country."

 Sri Lanka blasts: UN confirms at least 45 children killed in explosions; Colombo Police issues alert for van carrying explosives

Security personnel and investigators at St Sebastian's Church in Katuwapitiya, Negambo. A Gamage/101Reporters

UNICEF has confirmed that 27 children were killed and another 10 injured in the attack at St Sebastian's Church in Negombo. "In the eastern city of Batticaloa, 13 children were killed, including an 18-month-old baby," UNICEF said.

Forty children who lost their lives in the two cities were Sri Lankan nationals, while UNICEF has also confirmed that another five children of foreign nationalities were killed.

Boulierac was not immediately able to provide details on where the non-Sri Lankan children died.

Sri Lanka has named the local Islamist group, National Thowheeth Jama'ath (NTJ), as the chief suspect, for the violence that has sparked local and international outrage. Condemning the bomb blasts, Wijewardene focused on the need to ban NTJ and other extremist groups.

The state minister of defence told the Parliament, "It has been revealed that the group that is responsible for the attack, National Thowheeth Jama'ath (NTJ) Organization had close contacts with JMI. We have to take immediate action to ban extremist groups like this, further we have to bring the members of such organization before law. We have to take action against all extremist groups operating in Sri Lanka."

On reports saying that Sri Lanka's police chief Pujuth Jayasundara had issued an intelligence alert to top officers about suicide bombers planning to attack "prominent churches", Wijewardene also confirmed that few officers had the information with them. He further said that neither Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe
nor he received any inputs regarding this intelligence.

"I am sorry I have to say that we were unable to to either prevent or reduce the damage in the Easter Sunday attack due to weaknesses in the security structure. The intelligence services in Sri Lanka were aware that churches were a target for attacks, further it has been established that those responsible have been informed regarding this. But this information has only gone to a few officers. I must specially mention that neither the prime minister or I as the state minister of defence have not received any information regarding these intelligence," the state minister of defence said.

Earlier on Tuesday, the defence minister has said that the preliminary investigation into the suicide bomb attacks showed that it was a "retaliation for Christchurch".

"The preliminary investigations have revealed that what happened in Sri Lanka (on Sunday) was in retaliation for the attack against Muslims in Christchurch," state minister of defence Ruwan Wijewardene told the parliament.

Fifty people were killed in shooting attacks on two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch on 15 March.

With inputs from 101Reporters and AFP

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Updated Date: Apr 23, 2019 17:13:51 IST