At least 15 bodies, including six children, were discovered during an overnight raid and gunfight on the east coast of Sri Lanka. Two suspected Islamic State gunmen and a civilian were killed in the shootout. A police spokesman said that three suspected suicide bombers were among the 15 dead after the gunfight.
The gun battle near Sainthamaruthu in Ampara began Friday night after police tipped off soldiers to a suspected safe house, where militants set off three explosions triggering fire, the military said. The authorities are on a lookout for 140 people believed linked to ISIS, which claimed responsibility for the Easter Sunday suicide bombings that killed 253 people last Sunday. Nearly 10,000 soldiers were deployed across the Indian Ocean island state to carry out searches and provide security for religious centres, the military said.
The military says security forces have recovered explosives, detonators, “suicide kits,” military uniforms and Islamic State group flags during the raids. As fear grips its minorities, Sri Lankan president calls for calm Amid bomb scares, lockdowns and security sweeps, fears of retaliatory violence have already caused Muslim communities to flee their homes in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka President Maithripala Sirisena, who is also the Defence Minister appealed to the island nation to not view its minority Muslim community as terrorists in the wake of the attacks. Sirisena said despite the attacks, the island’s nine per cent Muslim minority must not be regarded terrorists.
The fear among people is, however, plain to see. The All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama, the country’s apex religious body of Islamic scholars in Colombo, even issued a statement requesting Muslims not to hinder security agencies by wearing the Niqab, and several mosques and Muslim organisations appealed to people asking them to pray at home and avoid large gatherings considering the unfolding crisis. Catholic churches, too, cancelled all Sunday Masses until further notice over concerns that they remain a top target of Islamic State-linked extremists.
On Friday, security agencies continued searches and arrests in Colombo seizing explosives, weapons and suspicious vehicles as investigators struggled to find evidence on the emergence of local IS sympathisers in the country, the nature of their organisation and the origin of explosives used in the execution of one of the largest ever terror attacks in the recent past.
ISIS provided no evidence to back its claim that it was behind the attacks. If true, it would be one of the worst attacks carried out by the group outside Iraq and Syria. The extremist group released a video on Tuesday showing eight men, all but one with their faces covered, standing under a black ISIS flag and declaring their loyalty to its leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi.
The Sri Lankan government said nine homegrown, well-educated suicide bombers carried out the attacks, eight of whom had been
Officials have acknowledged a major lapse in not widely sharing intelligence warnings from India of possible attacks. President Maithripala Sirisena said on Friday that top defence and police chiefs had not shared information with him about the impending attacks. He blamed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s government for weakening the intelligence system by focusing on the prosecution of military officers over alleged war crimes during a decades-long civil war with Tamil separatists that ended in 2009.
Sri Lanka’s ousted defence secretary Hemasiri Fernando claimed that he had to quit to “protect” his political bosses while asserting that he followed the standard procedures while dealing with advance intelligence inputs on the deadly Easter Sunday terror attacks. President Sirisena had asked both Fernando and Jayasundara to quit after their failure to prevent the blasts despite having prior intelligence.
Showing signs of taking tough decisions, the government Friday also questioned the brother of Cabinet minister in connection with the blasts. However, a top government source said the brother of Minister Rishad Bathiudeen was not arrested but only questioned along with several people who were known to the family of rich spice exporter M Y Ibrahim, whose two sons and daughter-in-law were among the suicide bombers.