15 dead as Sri Lanka forces raid jihadist hideout

Sat, September 21, 2019
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15 dead as Sri Lanka forces raid jihadist hideout
Published : 27 Apr 2019, 19:43:07
15 dead as Sri Lanka forces raid jihadist hideout
bbarta desk
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Fifteen people including six children have died during a Sri Lankan security forces operation in the aftermath of the Easter attacks, as three cornered suicide bombers blew themselves up and
others were shot dead, police said Saturday.

The three men set off explosives, also killing three women and six children inside what was believed to a jihadist safe house near the eastern town of
Kalmunai on Friday night.

“Three other men, also believed to be suicide bombers, were found dead outside the house,” police said in a statement, adding that they had been
shot.

Police backed by troops exchanged fire with those inside the house for over an hour, a military official said, adding that the bodies were recovered
early Saturday following a search operation.

Security forces have stepped up their searches for extremists after the
Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the suicide attacks on three
churches and three luxury hotels, which killed least 253 people and wounded
hundreds more.

The joint operation between the police and the army was carried out
following a tip-off that those responsible were holed up in a built-up area
of Kalmunai, 370 kilometres (230 miles) east of the capital.

There were no casualties among the security forces, the police said.

The government has admitted major intelligence lapses, although Prime
Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said he was unaware of any warnings ahead of
the attacks, in a sign of the rift between him and President Maithripala
Sirisena.

“If we had any inkling, and we had not taken action, I would have handed in
my resignation immediately,” he told the BBC.

“But what do you do when you are out of the loop?”

Wickremesinghe tried to sack Sirisena last year, and experts believe the
feud could have played a part in Sri Lanka’s failure to act on intelligence
warnings given weeks before the attacks.

– Studio raided –

Friday’s clashes came hours after the security forces raided a nearby
location where they believe Islamist radicals recorded a video pledge to
Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi before carrying out the Easter
bombings.

Police said they found an IS flag and uniforms similar to those worn by the
eight fighters for the video before they launched the attacks. IS released
the video two days after the attacks.

The head of a local extremist group, 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 Friday he had been killed in the hotel bombing.

DNA tests are being done on a severed head to conclusively establish that
it is Hashim’s, officials said.

– Radicals hunted –

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 Friday, after top defence 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.

Wickremesinghe apologised on Friday.

“We take collective responsibility and apologise to our fellow citizens for
our failure to protect victims of these tragic events,” the PM wrote on
Twitter.

The military have 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. Police said another 20 people were detained
overnight.

“We now have info that there are about 140 people in Sri Lanka linked to
the Islamic State. We can and we will eradicate all of them very soon,”
Sirisena said Friday, announcing new legislation to ban extremist groups.

– Tourism hit –

Dozens of foreigners died in the attacks and the government has said it
expects the number of overseas tourists to fall by 30 percent this year, at a
cost of $1.5 billion in revenues.

Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera said the island — which depends on
tourism as a cornerstone of its economy — could take up to two years to
fully recover.

The US State Department on Friday escalated its travel warning for Sri
Lanka and ordered the departure of all school-age family members of US
government employees.

Terrorists “may attack with little or no warning”, it said in a statement
that advised citizens to reconsider travelling to the island.

Several nations including Israel, Australia and Britain have already warned
their citizens against visiting Sri Lanka in the wake of the attacks.- AFP

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