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Sri Lanka was warned of terrorist plot weeks ago, but 'never expected it to be so big'

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Image: The interior of St. Sebastian's Church in Negombo, Sri Lanka
The interior of St. Sebastian's Church in Negombo, Sri Lanka, in the aftermath of Sunday's attack. -
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ISHARA S. KODIKARA
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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lankan authorities were warned about a terrorist plot two weeks before a series of Easter Sunday blasts that killed at least 290 people, government officials confirmed Monday.Rajitha Senaratne, the country's health minister and a spokesman for its Cabinet, said international intelligence agencies had informed Sri Lankan counterparts on April 4 that churches and tourist destinations were being targeted. And five days later, police were given the names of suspects behind the plot.

The interior of St. Sebastian\'s Church in Negombo, Sri Lanka, in the aftermath of Sunday\'s attack.
The interior of St. Sebastian\'s Church in Negombo, Sri Lanka, in the aftermath of Sunday\'s attack.ISHARA S. KODIKARA

A wave of near-simultaneous explosions targeted three churches and three luxury hotels on Sunday, officials said. Police later reported two further explosions.About 500 people were injured and at least 27 foreign nationals were among the dead.Senaratne blamed National Thowheed Jamath, a local Islamist group, for the attacks.Hemasiri Fernando, the chief of staff to Sri Lankan's president, also told NBC News that the country's security agencies had been alerted in advance."We never expected it to be so big," Fernando said. "We never thought it would happen so soon."

Shoes and belongings of victims after St. Sebastian\'s Church was bombed.
Shoes and belongings of victims after St. Sebastian\'s Church was bombed.JEWEL SAMAD

Blasts occurred at St. Anthony's Shrine in Colombo, St. Sebastian's Church in Negombo, a Catholic majority town north of Colombo, and a church in the eastern town of Batticaloa.The hotels hit included the Shangri-La Colombo, Kingsbury Hotel and Cinnamon Grand Colombo — all popular among foreign tourists.Bill Neely and Shammas Ghouse reported from Colombo, and Linda Givetash from London.