Death toll from Sri Lanka bombing attacks rises to 359: police

People attend a mass burial of victims, two days after the deadly suicide bombing. (Courtesy)
The death toll from the Easter Sunday suicide bombing attacks on churches and hotels in Sri Lanka rose to 359, police said on Wednesday without providing any further details.

Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera released the toll but did not give a breakdown of casualties from the three churches and four hotels hit by suicide bombers. The toll had been put at 321 on Tuesday, with about 500 people also wounded.

The attacks were claimed on Tuesday by the Islamic State militant group, which said they were carried out by seven attackers but gave no evidence to support the claim. If the Islamic State claim is true, that would make it one of the worst attacks carried out by the group outside Iraq and Syria.

Indian Iintelligence officers are reported to have contacted their Sri Lankan counterparts two hours before the first attack to warn of a specific threat on churches, one Sri Lankan defence source and an Indian government source said.

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Another Sri Lankan defense source said a warning came “hours before” the first strike.

One of the Sri Lankan sources said a warning was also sent by the Indians on Saturday night. The Indian government source said similar messages had been given to Sri Lankan intelligence agents on April 4 and April 20.

Sri Lanka’s presidency and the Indian foreign ministry both did not respond to requests for comment.

Sri Lanka’s failure to effectively respond to a looming Islamist threat will fuel fears that a rift between Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and President Maithripala Sirisena is undermining national security.

The president fired Wickremesinghe last October over political differences, only to reinstate him weeks later under pressure from the Supreme Court.

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Opposing factions aligned to Wickremesinghe and Sirisenahave often refuse to communicate with each other and blame any setbacks on their opponents, government sources say.

Sri Lankan police had been warned weeks ago about a possible attacks by a little-known domestic Islamist group, according to an Indian intelligence report given to Sri Lankan state intelligence services, and seen by Reuters.

Sirisena, announcing plans on Tuesday to change the heads of the defense forces, said his office never received the Indian report.

Junior Defense Minister Ruwan Wijewardene, an ally of Wickremesinghe, told Reuters that he was also not privy to the Indian intelligence findings.

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Islamic StateIndian IntelligenceSri Lanka BombingsPresident Maithripala Sirisena