The death toll from week-long anti-government protests that erupted in Baghdad and southern Iraq at the start of October totalled 157, an official inquiry announced Tuesday, ahead of further demonstrations.
It also said commanders from across the security forces had been dismissed in the wake of the violence, including from the army, police, anti-terror, anti-riot, anti-crime, intelligence and national security units.
The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq, in a report of its own, said that “serious human rights violations and abuses have been committed” and excessive force used against demonstrators.
“Attacks against media outlets and the blocking of internet/social media seem to have been used as tools to deter participation in the demonstrations as well as to repress reporting and activism,” the UN mission said.
UNAMI called for “concrete steps to prevent violence and enable future peaceful demonstrations” and stressed “the critical importance of seeking accountability for perpetrators”.
The official inquiry found that 111 of the dead, nearly all of them protesters, had been killed in Baghdad.
Around 70 percent of the deaths were caused by bullet wounds “to the head or chest”, according to the findings, published as Iraq braces for fresh protests on Friday.
The official toll included 149 civilians and eight members of the security forces killed between October 1 and 6, during protests in the capital and across mainly Shiite southern provinces.
Four security personnel were killed in Baghdad, where clashes initially centred around the iconic Tahrir Square after protesters rallied to demand jobs, services and an end to corruption.
Later unrest in the capital sparked a bloody night of violence in the Shiite stronghold of Sadr City.
Authorities formed a commission of inquiry to investigate, after initially only acknowledging security forces used excessive force in a few instances.
In its report, the inquiry blamed some deaths on security forces, but also mentioned other “shooters”, without identifying them.
From the start, authorities accused “unidentified snipers” posted on rooftops overlooking protesters and security forces for deaths.
‘Disobedience’ by security forces
The commanders dismissed in the aftermath of the deadly clashes were stationed in Baghdad and six provinces south of the capital.
Their dismissal must be confirmed by Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi, who faces public pressure ahead of the first anniversary of his cabinet on Friday.
Human rights groups and Iraqis able to post on social media, inaccessible without a virtual private network (VPN), accuse security forces of responsibility for protester deaths: either by firing themselves or by failing to protect demonstrators from snipers.
Former premier Haider al-Abadi, now in opposition, condemned the findings of the official inquiry.
“This report points to disobedience by military and security officials who decided to open fire contrary to their orders,” he said in a statement. “But it does not explain how the ‘disobedience’ lasted several days without the higher levels of leadership taking control.”
Protests shook Iraq for six days from October 1, with young Iraqis initially denouncing corruption and demanding jobs and services before calling for the downfall of the government.
Parliament, which has been deeply divided over the protest movement, is to meet Saturday to discuss the demonstrators’ demands.
The death toll from a fuel truck explosion in Tanzania rose to 75 on Monday as four more people succumbed to their injuries, a hospital official said.
“We deplore four new deaths. Their bodies are currently resting at the morgue while we wait for relatives to identify them,” said Aminiel Aligaesha, spokesman for the National Hospital in the economic capital, Dar es Salaam.
Funeral services which began Sunday were expected to continue Monday as the country concluded a period of national mourning declared by President John Magufuli.
The explosion took place Saturday morning near the town of Morogoro, some 200 kilometres (125 miles) west of Dar es Salaam.
The dead were trying to collect leaking petrol from the overturned tanker.
Witnesses said the truck tipped over as it tried to avoid a motorcycle, and locals quickly converged on the scene to collect fuel.
The explosion was triggered when a man tried to retrieve the truck’s battery, creating sparks that ignited the fuel, officials said.
It was the latest in a string of such disasters in Africa and at least the third this year.
Last month, 45 people were killed and more than 100 injured in central Nigeria when a petrol tanker crashed and then exploded as people tried to take the fuel. In May, a similar incident in Niger killed nearly 80 people.
Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa said Sunday that of 59 people injured in the Tanzania explosion, 43 had been transferred to the National Hospital in Dar es Salaam while the rest were receiving treatment in Morogoro.
Aligaesha said Monday that the remaining 39 patients at the National Hospital were “doing better” and that medical staff were “striving to provide them with the best possible care”.
Morogoro Governor Stephen Kebwe said the 16 patients there were also improving.
Authorities in Sri Lanka on Thursday lowered the death toll in a spate of Easter bombings by more than 100 to 253, admitting some of the badly mutilated bodies had been erroneously double-counted.
The toll revision will boost the pressure on a government already under fire over its apparent failure to act on intelligence about the attacks and follows the resignation of a top defence official.
The top bureaucrat in the island nation’s defence ministry, Hemasiri Fernando, was the first official to step down in the wake of the attacks — the worst since a civil war ended more than a decade ago.
“Many of the victims were badly mutilated… There was double counting,” the health ministry said in explaining the new death toll of 253, down from 359 announced on Wednesday.
The ministry said that once all autopsies were completed, and cross-referenced with DNA samples, the new lower toll was reached.
The ministry did not offer a new breakdown of the tally in terms of locals and foreigners. Earlier, Sri Lanka’s foreign ministry had said 40 of the victims were foreign nationals.
Indian intelligence shared several specific warnings about plans for attacks with Sri Lankan authorities, an Indian source told AFP, but the information was not given to ministers, in what Colombo has called a “major” lapse.
Authorities are now in a desperate hunt for suspects linked to the bloodshed. On Thursday, police released the names and photos of three men and three women they want to question.
Tensions remained high, with the capital on alert over rumours of fresh bombs, but police said there had been no credible reports of explosive devices.
Sri Lanka’s Catholic church nonetheless suspended all public services and closed churches “on the advice of security forces”.
Private burials were still to be carried out.
President Maithripala Sirisena met Thursday with political party leaders and announced he would revive a military-police body last used during the country’s fight against Tamil insurgents to coordinate operations after the bombings.
In the past, the joint operations command was headed by a senior military figure and included members of the military as well as police and intelligence.
Visa-free plan halted
Security forces using special powers granted under a state of emergency have arrested 16 more suspects, bringing the total in custody to 74.
The army, navy and air force poured more than 3,000 additional troops onto the streets to help police.
Authorities have banned drone flights and the government suspended plans to implement visa-free travel for tourists from 39 countries — including European Union nations, Australia and the United States — for six months from May 1.
Sri Lanka’s police chief warned on April 11 of possible suicide bombings against churches by local Islamist group National Thowheeth Jama’ath (NTJ), citing information from a foreign intelligence agency.
India warned Sri Lanka several times of possible attacks, based on information from suspects arrested in India over links to the Islamic State group, a source close to the Indian investigation told AFP.
But that information was not shared with top ministers in Sri Lanka, the government has conceded.
“It was a major lapse in the sharing of information,” deputy defence minister Ruwan Wijewardene said Wednesday.
Sirisena, who is also defence and law and order minister, has pledged to make “major changes in the leadership of the security forces.
Fernando was the first to go, telling Sirisena in a letter that he was “accepting responsibility and resigning,” a defence ministry official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Additional resignations were expected.
Investigators are still piecing information together about the attacks and those involved, with officials revealing one attacker had studied in Britain and did post-graduate studies in Australia before returning to Sri Lanka.
Wijewardene said most of the assailants were “well-educated and come from middle, upper-middle-class families, so they are financially quite independent.”
Experts say the bombings had many of the hallmarks of the Islamic State group, which has claimed responsibility for the attacks.
An FBI team on the ground is helping with the investigation.
Among the suspects unaccounted for is NTJ leader Zahran Hashim, who appeared to be among eight people seen in a video released Tuesday by IS.
Officials said it was still unclear whether Hashim was among the suicide attackers or had escaped.
In all, nine people are believed to have blown themselves up on Sunday, either during attacks or when police attempted to arrest them.
Among them were two Muslim brothers, sons of a wealthy Colombo spice trader who is now in custody. The brothers blew themselves up at the Shangri-La and the Cinnamon Grand hotels.
The Kingsbury hotel in the capital was also hit, along with three churches. The fourth attack on a hotel failed, authorities said. The would-be attacker was followed back to a Colombo guest house, where he blew himself up, killing two people.
Two more people — a man and a woman — blew themselves up at another location as security forces launched a raid, killing three police, sources said.
The toll in a series of eight blasts in Sri Lanka on Sunday has risen to at least 207, with over 450 people wounded, police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera said.
Speaking at a press conference, he said three people had been arrested in connection with the attacks that mostly targeted high-end hotels in the capital and churches where worshippers were attending Easter services.
Gunasekera said the police were investigating whether suicide bombers were involved in all of the blasts.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe condemned the attacks — the worst act of violence since the end of Sri Lanka’s civil war a decade ago — as “cowardly”, as the government imposed an immediate and indefinite curfew across the entire country of 21 million people.
The powerful blasts -– six in quick succession and then two more hours later — left hundreds injured and wrought devastation, including at the capital’s well-known St Anthony’s Shrine, a historic Catholic Church.
At least two of the explosions were carried out by suicide bombers, according to police sources and a hotel official.
Ravinatha Aryasinha, secretary to the foreign ministry, told reporters there were 27 bodies of suspected foreign nationals in the Colombo National Hospital.
A police official said earlier that 35 foreigners were among the dead and hospital sources said British, Dutch and American citizens had been killed, with Britons and Japanese also injured. A Portuguese man and two Chinese citizens were among the dead, news agencies in their countries reported.
World Leaders React
Religious and world leaders have condemned a series of blasts in Sri Lanka that killed more than 200 people including dozens of foreigners — with British, Dutch and American citizens believed to be among them.
Hospital sources also said Japanese citizens were among those injured by the bombs which ripped through high-end hotels and churches holding Easter services.
Here is a summary of the reactions:
Britain: ‘Stand together’
British Prime Minister Theresa May described the attacks as “truly appalling”.
“The acts of violence against churches and hotels in Sri Lanka are truly appalling, and my deepest sympathies go out to all of those affected at this tragic time,” she tweeted.
“We must stand together to make sure that no one should ever have to practise their faith in fear.”
Trump: ‘Ready to help’
US President Donald Trump tweeted: “Heartfelt condolences from the people of the United States to the people of Sri Lanka on the horrible terrorist attacks on churches and hotels,” he tweeted.
“We stand ready to help!”
The Netherlands: ‘Terrible reports’
“Terrible reports from Sri Lanka about bloody attacks on hotels and churches on this Easter Sunday,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte tweeted after the initial news of the attacks.
“Thoughts are with the victims and their relatives.”
Pope: ‘Cruel violence’
Pope Francis expressed his sadness over the attacks during his traditional Easter address at the Vatican.
“I want to express my affectionate closeness with the Christian community, attacked while it was at prayer, and to all the victims of such cruel violence,” he said.
The Catholic Church in Jerusalem had said in an earlier statement: “We pray for the souls of the victims and ask for the speedy recovery of the injured, and ask God to inspire the terrorists to repent of their killing and intimidation.”
Australia: ‘Terrorist attack’
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in a statement: “To the beautiful people of Sri Lanka, Australia sends its heartfelt sympathies and our prayers and our support — and our offer to do whatever we can to support you in this terrible time of need.
“At this time as Easter Sunday draws to a conclusion here in Australia, our heart goes out to those Christians and all of those other innocents who have been slaughtered today in this horrific terrorist attack.”
New Zealand: ‘Devastating’
A month after dozens of Muslims were killed in a shooting at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern described the Sri Lanka attack as “devastating”.
“New Zealand condemns all acts of terrorism, and our resolve has only been strengthened by the attack on our soil on the 15th of March. To see an attack in Sri Lanka while people were in churches and at hotels is devastating.
“New Zealand rejects all forms of extremism and stands for freedom of religion and the right to worship safely. Collectively we must find the will and the answers to end such violence.”
Pakistan’s leader Imran Khan offered his “profound condolences” to Sri Lanka.
“Strongly condemn the horrific terrorist attack in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday resulting in precious lives lost & hundreds injured,” he tweeted.
“My profound condolences go to our Sri Lankan brethren. Pakistan stands in complete solidarity with Sri Lanka in their hour of grief.”
Narendra Modi, the leader of neighbouring India, condemned the “serial terrorist attacks” in a government statement.
“Terming them as cold-blooded and pre-planned barbaric acts, he pointed out that these attacks were another grim reminder of the most serious challenge posed to the entire humanity by terrorism in our region and the entire world,” the statement added.
“There is no place for such barbarism in our region,” he tweeted earlier.
EU: ‘Sad day for the world’
EU commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker expressed his “horror and sadness” at the blasts, while EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the attacks marked “a truly sad day for the country and for the world”.
“Such acts of violence on this holy day are acts of violence against all beliefs and denominations, and against all those who value the freedom of religion and the choice to worship,” she added in a statement.
France: ‘Odious acts’
“We strongly condemn these odious acts,” French President Emmanuel Macron wrote on Twitter.
“Full solidarity with the SriLanka people and our thoughts for all those close to the victims this Easter.”
Germany: ‘Malicious attack’
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said, “religious hate and intolerance that have shown themselves in such a terrible way today must not win”.
“It is shocking that people who gathered to celebrate Easter together were consciously targeted in this malicious attack,” Merkel said in a statement published by a spokeswoman on Twitter.
Russia: ‘Cynical crime’
“I would like to reassert that Russia has been and remains a reliable partner of Sri Lanka in combating the threat of international terrorism,” Vladimir Putin said in a Kremlin statement.
“I expect that the masterminds and perpetrators of such a heinous and cynical crime committed in the midst of Easter celebrations will get the punishment they deserve.”
Israel: ‘Deep shock’
“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expresses in the name of Israel’s citizens deep shock over the murderous attacks against innocent civilians in Sri Lanka,” a government statement said.
“Israel is willing to aid the authorities in Sri Lanka in this difficult time. The whole world must unite in the struggle against the scourge of terror.”
Roshni Korati, the deputy commissioner of the neighbouring Jorhat district, told AFP that the death toll in the district had reached 58.
At least 160 people were undergoing treatment at local hospitals and “16 of them are critical”, Korati added.
Police said people started falling sick after consuming a batch of illegally produced liquor late Thursday.
The victims, who include many women, worked at local tea estates in the region.
Doctors said those rushed to hospital in a critical condition were suffering from severe vomiting, extreme chest pain and breathlessness.
“A total of ten people have been arrested. We have sent the samples of the liquor… to a forensic laboratory. The report is awaited,” Mukesh Agarwala, additional director general of state police, told AFP on Sunday.
Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal has ordered an inquiry into the deaths.
Apart from the arrests, two excise department officials were suspended for failing to take adequate precautions over the sale of the alcohol.
Assam health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma vowed those responsible for the tainted liquor would be brought to justice.
Hundreds of mainly poor people die each year in India from tainted liquor, which normally costs just a few US cents a bottle.
Cheap, locally made booze is common in rural parts and bootleggers often add methanol — a highly toxic form of alcohol sometimes used as an antifreeze — to their product to increase its strength.
If ingested in large quantities, methanol can cause blindness, liver damage and death.
Many drinkers in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand were taken to hospital earlier this month in writhing pain after drinking illicit alcohol.
About 100 people died after consuming the tainted moonshine.
In 2015, more than 100 people died in a Mumbai slum after drinking illegal liquor.
Of the estimated five billion litres of alcohol drunk every year in India, around 40 percent is illegally produced, according to the International Spirits and Wine Association of India.
Many Indian states have implemented or pushed for prohibition, which, according to critics, further increases the unsupervised manufacture and sale of alcohol.
Bihar, one of India’s poorest states, banned alcohol in 2016. But just months after prohibition took effect, 16 people died after consuming toxic liquor.
The entire staff of a local police station in the eastern state were suspended for “dereliction of duty” and failure to stop bootlegging.