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Sri Lanka blames National Thowheed Jamath for deadly blasts

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Friends and relatives pray near the body of Muthuwadige George Dencil Fernando, 64, who died as bomb blasts ripped through churches and luxury hotels on Easter Day. Sri Lanka has blamed local jihadist group National Thowheed Jamath for one of Asia's deadliest terrorist attacks in years, after confirming seven suicide bombers carried out the Easter Sunday blasts.

[COLOMBO] Sri Lanka has blamed local jihadist group National Thowheed Jamath for one of Asia's deadliest terrorist attacks in years, after confirming seven suicide bombers carried out the Easter Sunday blasts.

The death toll rose to 290 in coordinated blasts on Easter Sunday at churches and luxury hotels which targeted foreign tourists and Christians - marking a shift from the violence that fueled a three-decade civil war on the Indian Ocean island.

Sri Lanka Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne pointed the finger of blame at the National Thowheed Jamath at a press conference in Colombo.

A senior investigator said Monday that seven suicide bombers took part in the devastating attacks on churches and luxury hotels in Sri Lanka that killed 290 people and wounded more than 500.

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Two of the suicide bombers blew themselves up at the luxury Shangri-La Hotel on Colombo's seafront, said Ariyananda Welianga, a senior official at the government's forensic division. The others targeted three churches and two other hotels.

A fourth hotel and a house in a suburb of the capital Colombo were also targeted, but it was not immediately known how the attacks were carried out.

"Still the investigations are going on," Mr Welianga said.

Four of the bombs went off at roughly the same time, at 8.45 am, with two others coming within 20 minutes. The explosions at the fourth hotel and the house were in the afternoon.

Sri Lankans accounted for the bulk of the dead and wounded although government officials said 32 foreigners were killed, including British, U.S., Turkish, Indian, Chinese, Danish, Dutch and Portuguese nationals.

President Maithripala Sirisena, who was abroad when the attacks happened, had called a meeting of the National Security Council on Monday, a government source said. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe would attend the meeting, the source said.

The government announced a curfew in Colombo from 8 pm until 4 am. A Sunday night curfew was lifted in the morning.

The Sri Lankan military, who were clearing the route from Colombo airport late on Sunday in preparation for Sirisena's return, found a crude bomb near the departure gate, an air force spokesman said.

They destroyed the device in a controlled explosion.

There were fears the attacks could spark a renewal of communal violence, with police also reporting late on Sunday there had been a petrol bomb attack on a mosque in the northwest and arson attacks on two shops owned by Muslims in the west.

Buddhist-majority Sri Lanka was at war for decades with ethnic minority Tamil separatists but violence had largely ended since the government victory in the civil war, 10 years ago.

Sri Lanka's 22 million people include Christian, Muslim and Hindu minority populations.

The explosion at the house in the Colombo suburb occurred when security forces raided a house there on Sunday afternoon, several hours after the attack. Police reported an explosion at the house and said three officers were killed.

Police said on Monday 24 people had been arrested, all of whom were Sri Lankan.

Traffic was uncharacteristically thin in normally bustling Colombo after the island-wide curfew was lifted.

Soldiers with automatic weapons stood guard outside major hotels and the World Trade Centre in the business district, where the four hotels were targeted, a Reuters witness said.

Scores of people who were stranded overnight at the main airport began making their way home as restrictions were lifted.

The government also blocked access to social media and messaging sites, including Facebook and WhatsApp, making information hard to gather.

Mr Wickremesinghe acknowledged on Sunday that the government had some prior information about possible attacks on churches involving a little-known Islamist group but said ministers had not been told.

The apparent lapse could feed into a feud between the prime minister and the president.

Mr Sirisena fired the premier last year and installed opposition strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa in his stead. Weeks later, he was forced to re-instate Mr Wickremesinghe because of pressure from the Supreme Court but their relationship is still fraught as a presidential election nears.

BLOOMBERG, REUTERS