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Sri Lanka Declares State Of Emergency After Deadly Terrorist Attacks

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

We begin this hour with Sri Lanka, where the government has declared a state of emergency. Yesterday, a series of bombings across the island nation killed nearly 300 people; some 500 more were wounded. Many of the bombs went off at churches during Easter Mass. Although no individual or group has claimed responsibility, the government is now blaming a little-known jihadist group.

Kris Thomas is a reporter for Roar Media, a digital news site in Sri Lanka, and he joins us from the capital city, Colombo. Welcome.

KRIS THOMAS: Hello.

SHAPIRO: Tell us what you saw when you visited the sites of the attacks today.

THOMAS: I was able to visit two of the churches that were attacked yesterday. And most of the areas were cordoned off to the public, and even the media was not allowed to enter into the location.

So what we saw from outside was complete devastation. The first thing you see when you go to the churches is the glass scattered all over the ground. And the walls have been perforated with ball bearings that were thrown across the room and the premises after the explosion. Even the altars have been riddled with small metal pieces. This is what we saw from outside. It was truly devastating.

SHAPIRO: And I understand that in addition to these attacks on churches that targeted worshippers during Easter, there were also attacks on high-end hotels that were...

THOMAS: Yes.

SHAPIRO: ...Popular with tourists.

THOMAS: Yes. The bombs went off in restaurants in all three hotels right where tourists and locals were basically enjoying their Easter brunch with their family. Many of the people started circulating images of those who had died, images that they had put up right before the attack, of them enjoying Easter with their family and loved ones.

SHAPIRO: And so today, a day after the attack, how are people in Colombo and across Sri Lanka feeling? Is there a fear of more danger, more attacks? Do people feel safe?

THOMAS: Definitely, there is a bit of a tension. The day has started off all right. Things were quite calm. Life seemed to resume right after. But given time, there were several incidences where suppose that suspects were arrested by the police, which led to the public providing information to police of various suspicious items being found in public area.

There were several occasions where the public was evacuated so that the police can conduct search operations. It started off fine, but tension has grown. And now it has come to a point that curfew has been imposed again for the second day. And the tension could only to get more worse.

SHAPIRO: Now, we mentioned that Sri Lanka's government has declared a state of emergency. I know there's been a social media blackout. That's one reason we're talking to you over a very scratchy phone line. What else does this mean in practical terms?

THOMAS: First of all, it's actually a conditional state of emergency, which means that curfew will only be imposed for a specific amount of time. As for the investigation, there have been 24 known individuals who have been arrested. The police have not divulged information as to what their identities are or whether they belong to any organization.

But the police are also saying that the actual number of arrested suspects cannot be divulged at the moment because of the severity of the situation, severity of this crime. What they're saying is any vital information can impede their investigation. So they're not divulging any information at all except for the information that has already been publicized by politicians and various other groups.

SHAPIRO: Kris Thomas is a reporter in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Thank you for speaking with us.

THOMAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.