At least 15 people, including six children, were killed when suicide bombers blew themselves up when cornered by security forces in a suspected Islamic State hideout in eastern Sri Lanka, police said on Saturday. Three men set off explosives killing three women and six children inside what was believed to a safe house near the town of Kalmunai on Friday night, police said.
"Three other men, also believed to be suicide bombers, were found dead outside the house," police said in a statement. Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara gave the figures early on Saturday after a gunfight between soldiers and the suspected militants near Sammanthurai.
The gunbattle began on Friday night after police tipped off soldiers to a suspected safe house, where authorities say the militants set off three explosions and opened fire. At least three others were wounded in the attack. Earlier, the military said at least one civilian had been killed in the attack.
Sri Lankan soldiers raided the neighborhood early on Saturday after a gunfight on Friday night between troops and suspects linked to the Islamic State-claimed Easter suicide attacks. Sri Lankan security forces exchanged fire with suspected Islamic State-affiliated militants in an overnight confrontation and killed at least four of them in the east of the country, police and the military said.
Gunmen opened fire on troops when they attempted to storm a house in the town of Kalmunai, military spokesman Sumith Atapattu said. "In our retaliatory fire, two gunmen were killed," he said adding that a civilian caught in the crossfire was also killed.
Police later said clearing operations on Saturday showed a total of four suspected suicide bombers had died during the overnight confrontation. "We found four bodies of suspected suicide bombers," the police statement said, also confirming one civilian was killed in the crossfire, while three others escaped with injuries.
The joint operation between the police and the army was carried out following a tip-off that those responsible for the Easter suicide bombings 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 clashes came hours after the security forces raided the location where they believe Islamist radicals recorded a video pledge to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi before carrying out the deadly Easter bombings.
Police said they found an Islamic Sstate flag and uniforms similar to those worn by the eight fighters for the video before they launched Sunday's attacks against three luxury hotels and three churches, killing 253. "We have found the backdrop the group used to record their video," the police said in an earlier statement on Friday night.
The Islamic State group had released the video two days after the attack. Police showed the clothing and the flag on national television, as well as some 150 sticks of dynamite and about 1,00,000 ball bearings seized from the house.
Raids and police curfews shut down areas of eastern Sri Lanka as Catholic leaders cancelled Sunday Masses indefinitely. Officials also urged Muslims to stay home for prayers in an extraordinary call by the clergy to curtail worship as fear of more attacks plagued the island nation.
Major General Aruna Jayasekara, the local military commander, said soldiers and police waited until daylight Saturday to carry out further raids given houses being built so close together.
Officials from the police to the prime minister say militants remain on the loose and have access to explosives. That has led to increased security at shrines, churches, temples and mosques across the multiethnic country of 21 million off the southern coast of India.
Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith told journalists Friday that church officials had seen a leaked security document describing Roman Catholic churches and other denominations as a major target. Ranjith, who is the archbishop of Colombo, asked the faithful across Sri Lanka to stay home for their own safety. “We don’t want repetitions,” Ranjith said.
It was an extraordinary request for a Catholic clergyman to make, as churches often remain a refuge. Giovanni Maria Vian, a church historian and emeritus editor of the Vatican newspaper, said he believed it was the first time the church had canceled Masses across a country for security reasons.
With inputs from AFP, AP
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Updated Date: Apr 27, 2019 12:06:43 IST