1245 GMT July 05, 2022
Police and soldiers fought a gun battle with occupants of the house for more than an hour on Friday night, a military spokesman said, during which three explosions rocked the property near the eastern town of Kalmunai, about 230 miles (370km) from the capital, Colombo, theguardian.com reported.
A search operation on Saturday morning found the bodies of three men, three women and six children inside the house, police said. “Three other men, also believed to be suicide bombers, were found dead outside the house,” police said, adding that they had been shot.
Footage of the aftermath circulated online on Saturday showed a house strewn with rubble and bodies being picked over by teams of police in khaki uniforms.
Sri Lanka’s prime minister has said authorities are now focused on rounding up supporters and sympathizers of the terrorist cell that carried out the string of bombings last Sunday that killed at least 253 people and injured hundreds more.
About 70 were estimated to be at large, “some capable of exploding themselves,” Ranil Wickremesinghe said. Investigators are unsure why they have not done so yet, speculating that further attacks may have been foiled by the heavy police response to the first bombs last Sunday, or that the cell may have expected more people to come forward to sacrifice themselves.
Another raid about nine miles away in Sammanthurai unearthed an Islamic State flag and uniforms similar to those worn by the suspected bombers in a video they made pledging allegiance to the group’s leader.
There were no casualties among the security forces, the police said.
The head of a local extremist group, Mohammed Zahran Hashim, who appeared in the video, was killed at one of the Colombo hotels targeted, the Shangri-La. He was accompanied by a second bomber identified as Ilham Ibrahim.
Authorities had been desperately searching for Hashim after naming his group, National Thowheeth Jama’ath (NTJ), as the perpetrators of the attack, but announced on Friday that he had been killed in the hotel bombing.
DNA tests were being done to conclusively establish it was Hashim, officials said.
The government is on the defensive over its failure to heed a foreign intelligence warning that NTJ was planning suicide bombings on churches.
Police chief Pujith Jayasundara became the second top official to resign over the blunders on Friday, after top Defense Ministry official Hemasiri Fernando also stepped down.
Sri Lanka’s Catholic leader, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the archbishop of Colombo, has said he felt “betrayed” by the government’s failure to act on the warnings.
Ski Lanka’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe apologized on Friday, saying: “We take collective responsibility and apologize to our fellow citizens for our failure to protect victims of these tragic events.”
The military has poured troops onto the streets to back up police as they search for suspects using newly granted powers under a state of emergency. At least 94 people are in custody, including a man believed to be the father of two of the bombers.
Churches have been told not to hold Sunday mass, but a small service at Ranjith’s residence will be broadcast on national television. “His eminence [the cardinal] has advised us not to gather people in churches,” said a spokesman. “In place of that, his eminence is expecting the faithful to watch the mass in spirit.”
Another service is scheduled to be held in a tent outside St. Sebastian’s church in Negombo, where a bomber killed more than 100 people near the end of the Easter Sunday mass last week.