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Sri Lanka imposes emergency, says international network involved in attacks

Sri Lanka imposes emergency, says international network involved in attacks

Postby smix » Tue Apr 23, 2019 2:18 am

Sri Lanka imposes emergency, says international network involved in attacks
Reuters

URL: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-sri- ... SKCN1RY068
Category: Terrorism
Published: April 22, 2019

Description: COLOMBO (Reuters) - Sri Lanka said on Monday it was invoking emergency powers in the aftermath of devastating bomb attacks on hotels and churches, blamed on militants with foreign links, which killed 290 people and wounded nearly 500.

srilanka-church-bombing.jpg

The emergency law, which gives police and the military extensive powers to detain and interrogate suspects without court orders, would go into effect at midnight local time, the president’s office said. Colombo, the seaside capital of the Indian Ocean island, was jittery the day after the horrifying Easter Sunday attacks. Police said 87 bomb detonators were found at the city’s main bus station, while an explosive went off near a church when bomb squad officials were trying to defuse it. Scores were killed in the church on Sunday. A night curfew went into effect at 8 p.m. There was no claim of responsibility for Sunday’s attacks but suspicion was focusing on Islamist militants in the Buddhist-majority country. Investigators said seven suicide bombers took part in the attacks while a government spokesman said an international network was involved. Police had received a tip-off of a possible attack on churches by a little-known domestic Islamist group this month, according to a document seen by Reuters. The intelligence report, dated April 11, said a foreign intelligence agency had warned authorities of possible attacks on churches by the National Thawheed Jama’ut. It was not immediately clear what action, if any, was taken in response to the tip-off. International anti-terrorism experts said even if a local group had carried out the attacks, it was likely that al Qaeda or Islamic State were involved, given the level of sophistication. Two of the suicide bombers blew themselves up at the Shangri-La Hotel on Colombo’s seafront, said Ariyananda Welianga, an official at the government’s forensic division. The others targeted three churches and two other hotels. A fourth hotel and a house in a suburb of the capital Colombo were also hit, but it was not immediately clear how those attacks were carried out.

srilanka-shangri-la-bombing.jpg

“Still the investigations are going on,” Welianga said. Police said 24 people had been arrested, all of whom were Sri Lankan, but they gave no more details. Most of the attacks came during Easter services and when hotel guests were sitting down for breakfast buffets. “Guests who had come for breakfast were lying on the floor, blood all over,” an employee at Kingsbury Hotel told Reuters.
“TERRIBLE, TERRIBLE THING”
Cabinet spokesman Rajitha Senaratne said the government believed an international network was involved. “We don’t think a small organization can do all that. We are now investigating international support for them and their other links - how they produced the suicide bombers and bombs like this,” he said. The president, Maithripala Sirisena, said the government would seek foreign help to track overseas links. U.S. President Donald Trump called Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to pledge U.S. support in bringing the perpetrators to justice, a White House spokesman said. “A terrible, terrible thing. Unthinkable,” Trump later told reporters at a White House event. “We are working with Sri Lanka.” Pope Francis deplored the attacks and called for universal condemnation of what he said were “terrorist acts, inhuman acts” that could never be justified. Buddhist-majority Sri Lanka was at war for decades with ethnic minority Tamil separatists, most of them Hindu, but violence had largely ended since the government victory in the civil war 10 years ago. The country’s 22 million people include minority Christians, Muslims and Hindus. Most of the dead and wounded were Sri Lankans although government officials said 32 foreigners were killed, including British, U.S., Australian, Turkish, Indian, Chinese, Danish, Dutch and Portuguese nationals. Denmark’s richest man Anders Holch Povlsen and his wife lost three of their four children in the attacks, a spokesman for his fashion firm said. A British mother and son were killed while eating breakfast at the Shangri-La, British media reported, while five Indian political workers were killed at the same hotel. The U.S. State Department said in a travel advisory “terrorist groups” were plotting possible attacks in Sri Lanka and targets could include tourist spots, transport hubs, shopping malls, hotels, places of worship and airports.
‘CARNAGE’
Traffic was uncharacteristically thin in normally bustling Colombo on Monday. Soldiers with automatic weapons stood guard outside major hotels and the World Trade Centre in the business district.

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An Australian survivor, identified only as Sam, told Australia’s 3AW radio the hotel was a scene of “absolute carnage”. He said he and a travel partner were having breakfast at the Shangri-La when two blasts went off. He said he had seen two men wearing backpacks seconds before the blasts. “There were people screaming and dead bodies all around,” he said. “Kids crying, kids on the ground, I don’t know if they were dead or not, just crazy.” There were similar scenes at two churches in or near Colombo, and a third church in the northeast town of Batticaloa, where worshippers had gathered. Pictures showed bodies on the ground and blood-spattered pews and statues. Dozens were killed in a blast at the Gothic-style St Sebastian church in Katuwapitiya, north of Colombo. Police said they suspected it was a suicide attack. Questions over why the intelligence report warning was not acted upon could feed into a feud between Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and the president. Sirisena fired the premier last year and installed opposition strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa in his stead. Weeks later, he was forced to re-instate Wickremesinghe because of pressure from the Supreme Court but their relationship is still fraught as a presidential election nears.



IS claims Sri Lanka blasts, as government says probe making progress
Reuters

URL: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-sri- ... SKCN1RZ06M
Category: Terrorism
Published: April 23, 2019

Description: COLOMBO (Reuters) - Islamic State claimed responsibility on Tuesday for Easter bombings in Sri Lanka that killed 321 people, coordinated attacks on churches and hotels that officials said were believed to be retaliation for attacks on mosques in New Zealand. The claim, issued through the group’s AMAQ news agency, came shortly after Sri Lanka said two domestic Islamist groups, with suspected links to foreign militants, were believed to have been behind the attacks at three churches and four hotels that also wounded about 500 people. Three sources with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters that Sri Lankan intelligence officials had been warned hours earlier by India that attacks by Islamists were imminent. It was not clear what action, if any, was taken. Sri Lanka’s prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, told a news conference investigators were making progress in identifying the perpetrators. “We will be following up on IS claims, we believe there may be some links,” he said. The government has said at least seven suicide bombers were involved. In a statement, Islamic State named what it said were the seven attackers who carried out the attacks. It gave no further evidence to support its claim of responsibility. Earlier, junior minister for defense Ruwan Wijewardene told parliament two Sri Lankan Islamist groups - the National Thawheed Jama’ut and Jammiyathul Millathu Ibrahim - were responsible for the blasts, which detonated during Easter services and as high-end hotels served breakfast. The first six bombs - on three churches and three luxury hotels - came within 20 minutes of each other. Two more explosions - at a downmarket hotel and a house in a suburb of the capital, Colombo - came in the early afternoon. Wickremesinghe said the militants had tried to attack another hotel but had failed. Sri Lankan government and military sources said a Syrian had been detained among 40 people being questioned over the bombs. Most of the dead and wounded were Sri Lankans, although government officials said 38 foreigners were killed. That included British, U.S., Australian, Turkish, Indian, Chinese, Danish, Dutch and Portuguese nationals. The U.N. Children’s Fund said 45 children were among the dead. Footage on CNN showed what it said was one of the bombers wearing a heavy backpack. The man patted a child on the head before entering the Gothic-style St. Sebastian church in Katuwapitiya, north of Colombo. Dozens were killed there.
‘RETALIATION’
Wijewardene said investigators believed revenge for the March 15 killing of 50 people at two mosques during Friday prayers in the New Zealand city of Christchurch was the motive. “The initial investigation has revealed that this was in retaliation for the New Zealand mosque attack,” he said. He did not elaborate on why authorities believed there was a link to the New Zealand bloodshed, unleashed by a lone gunman. The bombs brought a shattering end to a relative calm that had existed in the Buddhist-majority Indian Ocean island since a civil war against mostly Hindu, ethnic Tamil separatists ended 10 years ago, and raised fears of a return to sectarian violence. Sri Lanka’s 22 million people include minority Christians, Muslims and Hindus. Until now, Christians had largely managed to avoid the worst of the island’s conflict and communal tensions. Pressure is likely to mount on the government over why effective action had not been taken in response to warnings from India about a possible attack on churches by the little-known National Thawheed Jama’ut group. Indian intelligence officers contacted their Sri Lankan counterparts two hours before the first attack to warn of a specific threat on churches, one Sri Lankan defense source and an Indian government source said. Another Sri Lankan defense source said a warning came “hours before” the first strike. Sri Lanka’s presidency and the Indian foreign ministry both did not respond to requests for comment on the warnings. A government minister had said on Monday that Wickremesinghe had not been informed about a warning and had been shut out of top security meetings because of a feud with President Maithripala Sirisena. Wickremesinghe dismissed any suggestion that the rift with the president had hampered coordination on security, saying although they had differences they had been thrashed out. Sirisena fired Wickremesinghe last year only to be forced to reinstate him under pressure from the Supreme Court.
FEARS OVER FUNERALS
Tuesday was a day of mourning and more than 1,000 mourners gathered for a mass funeral at St. Sebastian church in the coastal city of Negombo, just north of the capital, Colombo, where more than 100 parishioners were killed on Sunday. The ceremony began with prayers and singing under a tent put up in the courtyard of the church, which had most of its roof torn away by the blast. Pall-bearers wearing white carried in wooden coffins one by one, followed by distraught relatives. Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the archbishop of Sri Lanka who led the service, urged other churches to delay memorials amid fears that more bombers may be at large. Security forces were on alert for more attack and the government imposed emergency rule giving police extensive powers to detain and interrogate suspects. An overnight curfew has also been in place since Sunday. The government also said it had blocked online messaging services to stop the spread of inflammatory rumors that it feared could incite communal clashes. “We blocked WhatsApp because we didn’t want to take a chance,” Wickremesinghe told reporters. The FBI is assisting Sri Lankan authorities with their investigation of the bomb attacks, a spokeswoman for the U.S. law enforcement agency said on Tuesday. The Washington Post earlier had reported that the FBI had offered expertise to test evidence and that analysts were scouring databases for information regarding the attacks.



Foreign groups likely behind Sri Lanka attacks, U.S. ambassador says
Reuters

URL: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-sri- ... SKCN1S00G2
Category: Terrorism
Published: April 24, 2019

Description: COLOMBO (Reuters) - The scale and sophistication of the Easter Sunday attacks on churches and hotels in Sri Lanka suggested the involvement of an external group such as Islamic State, the U.S. ambassador said on Wednesday as the death toll jumped to 359. The Islamic State militant group claimed responsibility for the coordinated bomb attacks on churches and hotels but gave no evidence to support that. Sri Lankan officials have blamed two domestic Islamist groups with suspected ties to Islamic State. Details have begun to emerge of a band of nine, well-educated suicide bombers, including a woman, from well-to-do families. “If you look at the scale of the attacks, the level of coordination, the sophistication of them, it’s not implausible to think there are foreign linkages,” the U.S. ambassador to Sri Lanka, Alaina Teplitz, told reporters in Colombo. “Exploring potential linkages is going to be part of (investigations),” she said. Teplitz said the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. military were supporting the investigation. “Our hope is that as a result of our joint efforts we’re going to roll up the perpetrators and collaborators, trace the linkages and be able to prevent this sort of thing from happening in the future.” Teplitz’s comments came as Sri Lanka’s junior defense minister, Ruwan Wijewardene, conceded that there had been a significant intelligence failure before the attacks, with reports of warnings of strikes not acted on and feuds at the highest levels of government. “It is a major lapse in the sharing of intelligence information,” Wijewardene told a separate news conference. “We have to take responsibility.” Lakshman Kiriella, the leader of parliament, said senior officials had deliberately withheld intelligence about possible attacks. “Some top intelligence officials hid the intelligence information purposefully. Information was there, but the top brass security officials did not take appropriate actions,” Kiriella, who is also minister of public enterprise, told parliament. He said information about possible suicide attacks was received from Indian intelligence on April 4 and a Security Council meeting was chaired by President Maithripala Sirisena three days later but it was not shared more widely. Police earlier said the death toll had risen overnight to 359 from 321, making it the deadliest such attack in South Asian history. About 500 people were wounded. If the Islamic State connection is confirmed, it would be the deadliest ever attack linked to the group. The early Sunday bombings shattered the relative calm that has existed in Buddhist-majority Sri Lanka since a civil war against mostly Hindu, ethnic Tamil separatists ended 10 years ago, and raised fears of a return to sectarian violence. Sri Lanka’s 22 million people include minority Christians, Muslims and Hindus. Until now, Christians had largely managed to avoid the worst of the island’s conflict and communal tensions.
LAW DEGREE
Islamic State said through its AMAQ news agency on Tuesday the assaults were carried out by seven attackers. However, Wijewardene said there were in fact nine suicide bombers involved in the attacks on three churches and four hotels. Eight had been identified and one of them was a woman, he said. “Most of the bombers are well-educated, come from economically strong families. Some of them went abroad for studies,” Wijewardene said. “One of them we know went to the U.K., then went to Australia for a law degree. Foreign partners, including the U.K., are helping us with those investigations,” he said. Wijewardene told parliament on Tuesday two Sri Lankan Islamist groups - the National Thawheed Jama’ut and Jammiyathul Millathu Ibrahim - were responsible for the blasts. He said on Wednesday the leader of one of those groups blew himself up in the attack on the luxury Shangri-La Hotel in Colombo. The attacks have already foreshadowed a shake-up of Sri Lankan security forces, with Sirisena saying on Tuesday he planned to change some of his defense chiefs after criticism that the intelligence warnings were ignored. A total of 60 people had been detained for questioning across Colombo since Sunday, Wijewardene said. That total includes a Syrian, according to security sources. Police searched more homes overnight, leading to the detention of 18 more people. The overnight raids included areas near the Gothic-style St Sebastian church in Negombo, north of the capital, where scores were killed on Sunday, a police spokesman said. An unspecified number of people were detained in western Sri Lanka, the scene of Muslim riots in 2014. “Search operations are going on everywhere, there is tight checking of Muslim areas,” a security source said. Most of those killed and wounded were Sri Lankans, although officials said 38 foreigners were also killed. That included British, U.S., Australian, Turkish, Indian, Chinese, Danish, Dutch and Portuguese nationals. Forty-five children were among the dead. The government has imposed emergency rule and an overnight curfew. It said it has also blocked online messaging services to stop the spread of inflammatory rumors that it feared could incite communal clashes.



Picture emerges of well-to-do young bombers behind Sri Lankan carnage
Reuters

URL: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-sri- ... SKCN1S00G2
Category: Terrorism
Published: April 24, 2019

Description: COLOMBO (Reuters) - Details began to emerge in Sri Lanka on Wednesday of a band of nine, well-educated Islamist suicide bombers, including a woman, from well-to-do families who slaughtered 359 people in Easter Sunday bomb attacks. The Islamic State militant group claimed responsibility for the coordinated attacks on three churches and four hotels. If that connection is confirmed, the attacks looks likely to be the deadliest ever linked to the group. Both the Sri Lankan government and the United States said the scale and sophistication of the coordinated bombings suggested the involvement of an external group such as Islamic State. The Islamist group released a video late on Tuesday through its AMAQ news agency, showing eight men, all but one with their faces covered, standing under a black Islamic State flag, declaring loyalty to its leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi. The one man in the video with his face uncovered was Mohamed Zahran, a Sri Lankan preacher known for militant views. While the video showed eight men, Sri Lanka’s junior defense minister, Ruwan Wijewardene, said there were nine suicide bombers. Eight had been identified and one of them was a woman, he said. “Most of the bombers are well-educated, come from economically strong families. Some of them went abroad for studies,” Wijewardene told a news conference. “One of them we know went to the UK, then went to Australia for a law degree. Foreign partners, including the UK, are helping us with those investigations.” Two of the bombers were brothers, sons of a wealthy spice trader and pillar of the business community, a source close to the family said. Intelligence officials and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe believe that Zahran, a Tamil-speaking preacher from the east of the Indian Ocean island country, may have been the mastermind. He was well-known for his militant views and fiery Facebook posts, according to Muslim leaders and a Sri Lankan intelligence report issued earlier and seen by Reuters. The government suspects two Sri Lankan Islamist groups - the National Thawheed Jama’ut, of which Zahran was believed to have been a member, and Jammiyathul Millathu Ibrahim - were responsible, with outside help.
MISSED WARNINGS
The early Sunday bombings shattered the relative calm that has existed in Buddhist-majority Sri Lanka since a civil war against mostly Hindu, ethnic Tamil separatists ended 10 years ago, and raised fears of a return to sectarian violence. Sri Lanka’s 22 million people include minority Christians, Muslims and Hindus. Until now, Christians had largely managed to avoid the worst of the island’s conflict and communal tensions. The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and military were also supporting the investigation into possible foreign connections, the U.S. ambassador to Sri Lanka, Alaina Teplitz, told reporters. “If you look at the scale of the attacks, the level of coordination, the sophistication of them, it’s not implausible to think there are foreign linkages,” Teplitz said. As well as the huge death toll, 500 people were wounded in the worst ever such militant attack in South Asia. It has also exposed a significant Sri Lankan intelligence failure, with warnings of strikes not acted on and feuds at the highest levels of government. “It is a major lapse in the sharing of intelligence information,” Wijewardene said. “We have to take responsibility.” Lakshman Kiriella, the leader of parliament, said senior officials had deliberately withheld intelligence about possible attacks. “The top brass security officials did not take appropriate actions,” Kiriella, who is also minister of public enterprise, told parliament. He said information about possible attacks was received from Indian intelligence on April 4 and a Security Council meeting was chaired by President Maithripala Sirisena three days later, but it was not shared more widely. Sirisena has said his office never received the Indian report. The prime minister also had not been told of warnings of an attack, a minister said. The president fired Prime Minister Wickremesinghe last October over political differences, only to reinstate him weeks later under pressure from the Supreme Court. Two sources close to the president said he had asked the police chief and defense secretary to resign.
‘CHECKING ON MUSLIM AREAS’
A total of 60 people have been detained for questioning across Colombo, Wijewardene said. That total includes a Syrian, according to security sources. Raids included areas near the Gothic-style St Sebastian church in Negombo, north of the capital, where scores were killed on Sunday, a police spokesman said. An unspecified number of people were detained in western Sri Lanka, the scene of anti-Muslim riots in 2014. “Search operations are going on everywhere, there is tight checking of Muslim areas,” a security source said. Most of those killed and wounded were Sri Lankans, although officials said 38 foreigners were also killed. That included British, U.S., Australian, Turkish, Indian, Chinese, Danish, Dutch and Portuguese nationals. Forty-five children were among the dead. The government has imposed emergency rule and an overnight curfew. It said it has also blocked online messaging services to stop the spread of inflammatory rumors that it feared could incite communal clashes.



Sri Lanka police hunt 140 after Easter bombings as shooting erupts in east
Reuters

URL: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-sri- ... SKCN1S207V
Category: Terrorism
Published: April 26, 2019

Description: COLOMBO (Reuters) - Sri Lankan police are trying to track down 140 people believed linked to Islamic State, which claimed responsibility for the Easter Sunday suicide bombings that killed 253, as shooting erupted in the east during a raid. Muslims in Sri Lanka were urged to pray at home after the State Intelligence Services warned of possible car bomb attacks, amid fears of retaliatory violence. And the U.S. Embassy in Sri Lanka urged its citizens to avoid places of worship over the weekend after authorities reported there could be more attacks targeting religious centers. Archbishop of Colombo Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith told reporters he had seen a leaked internal security document warning of further attacks on churches and there would be no Catholic masses this Sunday anywhere on the island. The streets of Colombo were deserted on Friday evening, with many people leaving offices early amid tight security after the suicide bombing attacks on three churches and four hotels that also wounded about 500 people. President Maithripala Sirisena told reporters some Sri Lankan youths had been involved with Islamic State since 2013. He said information uncovered so far suggested there were 140 people in Sri Lanka involved in Islamic State activities. “Police are looking to arrest them,” Sirisena said. Nearly 10,000 soldiers were deployed across the Indian Ocean island state to carry out searches and provide security for religious centers, the military said on Friday. The All Ceylon Jamiyathul Ullama, Sri Lanka’s main Islamic religious body, urged Muslims to conduct prayers at home in case “there is a need to protect family and properties”. Illustrating the tension that has gripped the country, shooting erupted between security forces and a group of men in the east during a search and cordon operation, a military spokesman said. The raid took place in the town of Ampara Sainthamaruthu near Batticaloa. The spokesman said there was an explosion in the area and when soldiers went to investigate they were fired upon. No details of casualties were immediately available. Police have detained at least 76 people, including foreigners from Syria and Egypt, in their investigations so far. Islamic State 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 Islamic State flag and declaring their loyalty to its leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi.
DEFENSE, POLICE CHIEFS QUIT
The government said nine homegrown, well-educated suicide bombers carried out the attacks, eight of whom had been identified. One was a woman. Authorities have so far focused their investigations on international links to two domestic Islamist groups - National Thawheed Jama’ut and Jammiyathul Millathu Ibrahim - they believe carried out the attacks. Government officials have acknowledged a major lapse in not widely sharing an intelligence warning from India before the attacks. Sirisena said top defense and police chiefs had not shared information with him about the impending attacks. Defense Secretary Hemasiri Fernando resigned over the failure to prevent the attacks. “The police chief said he will resign now,” Sirisena said. 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 decade-long civil war with Tamil separatists that ended in 2009. Sirisena fired Wickremesinghe in October over political differences, only to reinstate him weeks later under pressure from the Supreme Court. Opposing factions aligned to Wickremesinghe and Sirisena have often refused to communicate with each other and blame any setbacks on their opponents, government sources say. Cardinal Ranjith said that the church had been kept in the dark about intelligence warning of attacks. “We didn’t know anything. It came as a thunderbolt for us,” he said. The Easter Sunday bombings shattered the relative calm that had existed in Buddhist-majority Sri Lanka since the civil war against mostly Hindu ethnic Tamil separatists ended. Sri Lanka’s 22 million people include minority Christians, Muslims and Hindus. Until now, Christians had largely managed to avoid the worst of the island’s conflict and communal tensions. Most of the victims were Sri Lankans, although authorities said at least 38 foreigners were also killed, many of them tourists sitting down to breakfast at top-end hotels when the bombers struck. They included British, U.S., Australian, Turkish, Indian, Chinese, Danish, Dutch and Portuguese nationals. Britain warned its nationals on Thursday to avoid Sri Lanka unless it was absolutely necessary. Fears of retaliatory sectarian violence have already caused Muslim communities to flee their homes amid bomb scares, lockdowns and security sweeps. But at the Kollupitiya Jumma Masjid mosque, tucked away in a Colombo side street, hundreds attended a service they say was focused on a call for people of all religions to help return peace to Sri Lanka. “It’s a very sad situation,” said 28-year-old sales worker Raees Ulhaq, as soldiers hurried on dawdling worshippers and sniffer dogs nosed their way through pot-holed lanes. “We work with Christians, Buddhists, Hindus. It has been a threat for all of us because of what these few people have done to this beautiful country.”



Sri Lanka gun battle with militants kills 15, U.S. pulls citizens out
Reuters

URL: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-sri- ... SKCN1S303Q
Category: Terrorism
Published: April 27, 2019

Description: COLOMBO (Reuters) - A gun battle between troops and suspected Islamist militants on Sri Lanka’s east coast left 15 dead, including six children, a military spokesman said on Saturday, six days after suicide bombers killed more than 250 people on the island. The shootout at a safe house erupted on Friday in Sainthamaruthu in Ampara district, to the south of the Sri Lankan town of Batticaloa, site of one of the Easter Sunday blasts which have been claimed by Islamic State. The government has said that the attacks on three churches and four hotels, most of which were in the capital Colombo, were carried out by nine well-educated Sri Lankans, eight of whom have been identified. A police spokesman said three suspected suicide bombers were among the dead following Friday’s gun battle. Authorities have warned there could be more attacks against religious centers following the bombings, which shattered the relative calm in Buddhist-majority Sri Lanka since a conflict with mostly-Hindu ethnic Tamil separatists ended a decade ago. President Maithripala Sirisena and the government headed by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe have faced criticism over the attacks about which there were repeated warnings from India. Both have said intelligence was not shared with them, exposing rifts at the top of the government and raising questions about its ability to deal with the security crisis. Two sources told Reuters on Saturday that Sri Lanka’s police chief had refused to accept Sirisena’s request to step down, in a further embarrassment for the president. The U.S. State Department, warning that terrorist groups were continuing to plot attacks, urged citizens to reconsider travel to Sri Lanka and ordered the departure of all school-age family members of U.S. government employees. It also authorized non-emergency employees to leave. Britain has also warned its nationals to avoid traveling to Sri Lanka unless absolutely necessary.
ISLAMIC STATE BANNERS
The east coast battle broke out when troops heading toward a suspected militant safe house were repulsed by three explosions and gunfire, military spokesman Sumith Atapattu said. “Troops retaliated and raided the safe house where a large cache of explosives had been stored,” he said in a statement, adding that the militants were suspected members of the domestic Islamist group National Towheed Jama’at (NTJ), which has been blamed for last Sunday’s attacks. Bomb-making materials, dozens of gelignite sticks and thousands of ball bearings were found in a search of a separate house in the same area along with Islamic State banners and uniforms, the military said. Police said on Friday they were trying to track down 140 people they believe have links with Islamic State, while Sri Lanka’s president said some Sri Lankan youths had been involved with it since 2013 and that there were drug trafficking links. “Our efforts to eradicate the drugs menace from the country could have advanced the ISIS attack,” Sirisena said. Nearly 10,000 soldiers have been deployed across the Indian Ocean island state to carry out searches and provide security for religious centers, the military said. Authorities have so far focused their investigations on international links to two domestic groups they believe carried out the attacks, NTJ and Jammiyathul Millathu Ibrahim. They said they have detained at least 76 people, including foreigners from Syria and Egypt, with 20 arrested in the past 24 hours alone. In a separate raid on a mosque in Colombo, a suspect was arrested and a haul of 40 swords and kris knives were seized from under the bed of the chief cleric, police said.
INTELLIGENCE FAILURE
Islamic State provided no evidence that it was behind Sunday’s blasts, which would be one of the worst attacks carried out by the group outside Iraq and Syria. The group released a video showing eight men, all but one with their faces covered, under a black Islamic State flag and declaring their loyalty to its leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi. Muslims were urged to pray at home on Friday after the State Intelligence Services warned of possible car bomb attacks, amid fears of retaliatory violence. Many have fled their homes amid bomb scares, lockdowns and security sweeps. Archbishop of Colombo Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith told reporters he had seen an internal security document warning of further attacks on churches and said there would be no Catholic masses this Sunday anywhere on the island. Sri Lanka’s 22 million people include minority Christians, Muslims and Hindus. Until now, Christians had largely managed to avoid the worst of the island’s conflict and communal tensions. Most of the victims of the Easter Sunday suicide bombings were Sri Lankans, although authorities said at least 40 foreigners were killed, many of them tourists sitting down to breakfast at top-end hotels when the bombers struck. They included British, U.S., Australian, Turkish, Indian, Chinese, Danish, Dutch and Portuguese nationals.



Sri Lanka bans groups suspected to be behind attacks; ringleader's relatives wounded
Reuters

URL: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-sri- ... SKCN1S303Q
Category: Terrorism
Published: April 27, 2019

Description: COLOMBO (Reuters) - Sri Lanka’s president on Saturday outlawed two Islamist groups suspected to be behind the suicide bombings on churches and hotels while the wife and child of the suspected ringleader were wounded during a military raid in safe house, his family and police said. The National Thawheedh Jamaath (NTJ) and Jamathei Millathu Ibrahim were banned under his emergency powers, President Maithripala Sirisena said in a statement, nearly a week after the Easter Sunday attacks that killed more than 250 people. Authorities could not act earlier to ban the two little known groups because the law required them to show firm evidence against them, officials said. Police believe the suspected mastermind of the bombings, Mohamed Hashim Mohamed Zahran, led either the NTJ or a splinter group. Less is known about Jamathei Millathu Ibrahim, whose members are also believed to have played a role in the bombings. Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attacks. Nearly 10,000 soldiers have been deployed across the island to carry out searches and boost security since the bombings in three churches and four hotels, most of which were in the capital Colombo. Security forces have detained 100 people, including foreigners from Syria and Egypt, police said. A gunbattle erupted on Friday evening during a raid on a safe house in Sainthamaruthu in Ampara district on the island’s east coast, killing at least 15 people including three people with suicide vests and six children, a military spokesman said. The wounded included the wife and a daughter of Zahran, his family said. “Yes, the wife and daughter were injured in the attack,” said Mohamed Hashim Mathaniya, sister of Zahran. “I was asked to come to identify them but I am not sure I can go,” she told Reuters from the town of Kattankudy in the east where Zahran was originally based. Zahran’s driver was detained in a separate raid, according to a police statement. Bomb-making materials, dozens of gelignite sticks and thousands of ball bearings were found in a search of a separate house in the same area, along with Islamic State banners and uniforms, the military said. Zahran appeared in a video released by Islamic State days after the bombing, the only one showing his face while seven others were covered. In the video the men stand under a black Islamic State flag and declare their loyalty to its leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi.
FEAR OF MORE ATTACKS
Authorities have said there could be more attacks against religious centers. Last Sunday’s bombings shattered the relative calm that the Buddhist-majority country has seen since a 26-year civil war with mostly-Hindu ethnic Tamil separatists ended a decade ago. Sirisena and the government of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe have faced strong criticism after it emerged that India had repeatedly given warnings of the possibility of attacks. Both Sirisena and Wickremesinghe have said intelligence was not shared with them, exposing rifts at the top of the government and raising questions about its ability to deal with the security crisis. The national police chief had refused to accept Sirisena’s request to step down, two sources told Reuters on Saturday, a further embarrassment for the president. The U.S. State Department said terrorist groups were continuing to plot attacks and cautioned its citizens against traveling to Sri Lanka, as well as ordering the departure of all school-age family members of U.S. government employees. India and Britain have also warned their nationals to avoid traveling to Sri Lanka. The security forces’ response has included raids on mosques and homes of people in the town of Negombo where scores died in the bombing of a church. Police said on Friday they were trying to track down 140 people they believe have links with Islamic State. The president said some of the country’s youth had been involved with the group since 2013 and that there were drug trafficking links. Muslims were urged to pray at home on Friday after the State Intelligence Services warned of possible car bomb attacks, amid fears of retaliatory violence. Many have fled their homes amid bomb scares, lockdowns and security sweeps. The archbishop of Colombo, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, told reporters he had seen an internal security document warning of further attacks on churches and said there would be no Catholic masses celebrated anywhere on the island this Sunday. Sri Lanka’s 22 million people include minority Christians, Muslims and Hindus. Until now, Christians had largely managed to avoid the worst of the island’s conflict and communal tensions. Most of the bombing victims were Sri Lankans. The dead also included 40 foreigners, including British, U.S., Australian, Turkish, Indian, Chinese, Danish, Dutch and Portuguese nationals.



Sri Lanka raids headquarters of hardline Islamist group suspected in church bombings
Reuters

URL: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-sri- ... SKCN1S402P
Category: Terrorism
Published: April 28, 2019

Description: COLOMBO/KATTANKUDY (Reuters) - Sri Lankan police raided the headquarters of a hardline Islamist group founded by the suspected ringleader behind the Easter suicide bombings of churches and hotels, a Reuters witness said, as Sunday mass was canceled due to fears of further attacks. Armed police in the town of Kattankudy searched the headquarters of the National Thawheedh Jamaath (NTJ) and detained one man at the premises, a Reuters reporter at the scene said. Police did not comment. On Saturday the government banned the NTJ under new emergency laws. The authorities believe Zahran Hashim, the founder of NTJ, masterminded and was one of the nine suicide bombers in the attacks on Easter Sunday which killed 253 people. Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks. Police suspect the bombings were carried out by two local Islamist groups, including the one established by Zahran. Around 10,000 soldiers have been deployed around the island as the authorities hunt for more suspects. Police sources told Reuters on Sunday that Zahran’s father and two brothers had been killed two days earlier in a gun battle with security forces. A relative identified the three men in a video circulating on social media calling for war against non-Muslims. The Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Ranjith, who had asked churches to suspend Sunday mass due to security fears, delivered a televised special sermon from a chapel at his home. The service was attended by President Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and former president Mahinda Rajapaksa. The archbishop said earlier this week that he had seen an internal security document warning of further attacks on churches. “We cannot kill someone in the name of God ... It is a great tragedy that happened,” the archbishop said in his sermon. “We extend our hand of friendship and fraternity to all our brothers and sisters of whatever class, society or religion that differentiates us.” The archbishop and political leaders then lit candles to commemorate the victims. Most of those killed in the Easter Sunday attacks were Sri Lankans. The dead also included 40 foreigners, including British, U.S., Australian, Turkish, Indian, Chinese, Danish, Dutch and Portuguese nationals. Police believe that radical Muslim preacher Zahran led the NTJ - or a splinter faction - to mount the attacks in Colombo as well as on a church in Batticaloa in the east. The authorities have named the other group suspected of involvement as Jammiyathul Millathu Ibrahim. Neither group were well known before the attacks but the government has come under heavy criticism for not heeding intelligence warnings of the bombings, including one from India’s spy service hours before the attacks. On Friday, Sirisena said the government led by premier Wickremesinghe should take responsibility for the attacks and that prior information warning of attacks was not shared with him.
GUN BATTLE
More than 100 people, including foreigners from Syria and Egypt, have been detained for questioning for questioning over the Easter attacks. The Sri Lankan military said at least 15 people were killed during a fierce gun battle with Islamist militants on the east coast on Friday, including six children. In an apparent reference to the three men, Islamic State said on Sunday that three of its members had clashed with Sri Lankan police for several hours on Friday before detonating their explosive vests. It did not name them. The group’s news agency Amaq said 17 policemen were killed or injured in that battle. It did not give any evidence. Sri Lanka’s 22 million population is majority Buddhist and includes minority Christians, Muslims and Hindus. At the Kingsbury Hotel in Colombo where one of the bombs went off last Sunday, Buddhist monks, some as young as 10 and senior clergy, performed rituals in a tribute to the victims.



Father, two brothers of suspected Sri Lanka bombings mastermind killed in gun battle
Reuters

URL: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-sri- ... SKCN1S405L
Category: Terrorism
Published: April 28, 2019

Description: KALMUNAI/COLOMBO (Reuters) - The father and two brothers of the suspected mastermind of Sri Lanka’s Easter Sunday bombings were killed when security forces stormed their safe house on the east coast two days ago, police and a relative said on Sunday. Zainee Hashim, Rilwan Hashim and their father Mohamed Hashim, who appear in a video circulating on social media calling for all-out war against non-believers, were among at least 15 killed in a fierce gun battle with the military on the east coast on Friday. Kamal Jayanathdhi, the officer in charge at Kalmunai police station on the east coast, confirmed the three men had died along with a child that appears in the video, and that the undated clip in which they discuss martyrdom, had been shot in the same house where the gun battle took place. Two people who were inside the house, a woman and a seven-year-old girl believed to be relatives of the men, survived, he said, while a woman was killed in crossfire on a nearby street. Niyaz Sharif, the brother-in-law of Zahran Hashim, the suspected ringleader of the wave of Easter Sunday bombings that killed over 250 people in churches and hotels across the island nation, told Reuters the video showed Zahran’s two brothers and father. Sri Lanka has been on high alert since the attacks on Easter Sunday, with nearly 10,000 soldiers deployed across the island to carry out searches and hunt down members of two local Islamist groups believed to have carried out the attack. Authorities have detained more than 100 people, including foreigners from Syria and Egypt since the April 21 bombings. On Sunday police in the eastern town of Kattankudy raided a mosque founded by Zahran which doubled up as the headquarters of his group, the National Thawheedh Jamaath (NTJ).
HOLY WAR
In the video, Rilwan Hashim is seen calling for ‘jihad’ or holy war, while children cry in the background. “We will destroy these non-believers to protect this land and therefore we need to do jihad,” Rilwan says in the video, sitting beside his brother and father. “We need to teach a proper lesson for these non-believers who have been destroying Muslims.” Rilwan, who has a damaged eye and badly disfigured hand in the video, had recently been injured while making a bomb, Jayanathdhi said. On Sunday, when Reuters visited the house, police were sifting through the wreckage, taking fingerprints and video footage. Watermelon rinds and a box of dates were still on the kitchen counter, while four pairs of children’s flip-flops were by the front door. But in the main room, where the three men filmed the video, a huge crater had punched a hole in the concrete floor, while bloodstains covered the wall.
LOCAL VIGILANCE
Two men had moved into the three-room rented house in the Sainthamaruthu area of Kalmunai, days before the Easter Sunday attacks, police and locals said. After more people arrived, locals grew suspicious, said Mohammed Majid, the secretary of the Grand Masjid Sainthamaruthu, one of the town’s main mosques. After evening prayers on Friday, a group of men from the local Hijra Mosque came to the house to question the occupants. When one man brandished an assault rifle, the men fled, alerting police who arrived shortly afterwards. One man was killed after running into the street with a gun to confront police, while a series of explosions came from the house, eyewitnesses said.
DANGER REMAINS
Authorities suspect there may be more suicide bombers on the loose. Defence authorities have so far focused their investigations on international links to two domestic groups they believe carried out the attacks, the National Thawheedh Jamaath and Jammiyathul Millathu Ibrahim. At a nearby house where police seized more explosives and a flag of the Islamic State on Friday, locals said they feared more violence. “People were coming and going but we didn’t know their names,” said Juneedha Hasanar, who runs a shop at the bottom of the street, yards from the house. “Now we are afraid.” Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the Easter bombings, and on Sunday the group said three of its members clashed with Sri Lankan police for several hours in Friday’s gun battle on the east coast before detonating their explosive vests, the militant group’s news agency Amaq said. The group said 17 policemen were killed or injured in the attack, but the Sri Lankan military has denied this. A police source told Reuters two policemen were slightly injured in the battle. Police have said six children were among the other 12 people who died in the gun battle, and on Sunday recovered the partial remains of a child no more than a few months old.



U.S. envoy to Sri Lanka says threat is real as security forces maintain high alert
Reuters

URL: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-sri- ... SKCN1S609Y
Category: Terrorism
Published: April 30, 2019

Description: COLOMBO (Reuters) - The U.S. ambassador to Sri Lanka said on Tuesday that some of the Islamist militants involved in the Easter Sunday bombings on the island were likely still at large and could be planning fresh attacks. Sri Lankan security forces also said they were maintaining a high level of alert amid intelligence reports that the militants were likely to strike before the start of the holy Islamic month of Ramadan. “Tremendous progress has been made toward apprehending those plotters but I don’t think the story is over yet,” Ambassador Alaina Teplitz said in an interview. “We do believe that there is active planning under way (for more attacks).” Scores of suspected Islamists have been arrested in the multi-ethnic island nation since April 21 suicide bomb attacks on hotels and churches that killed more than 250 people, including 42 foreign nationals. “Security will stay tight for several days because military and police are still tracking down suspects,” a senior police intelligence official said. Another government source told Reuters a document has been circulated among key security establishments instructing police and security forces across the country to remain on high alert because the militants were expected to try a strike before Ramadan. Ramadan is scheduled to begin in Sri Lanka on May 6. Teplitz told Reuters that the risk of more attacks remained real. “We certainly have reason to believe that the active attack group has not been fully rendered inactive,” she said. The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation is assisting Sri Lankan authorities in the investigations but Teplitz declined to give more details. The government has lifted a ban on social media platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp and viber, a source at the president’s office said. The ban had been imposed immediately after the attacks to prevent the spread of rumors. The government has also banned women from wearing face veils under an emergency law put in place after the Easter attacks. Authorities suspect members of two previously little-known groups - National Thawheedh Jamaath (NTJ) and Jammiyathul Millathu Ibrahim - of carrying out the attacks, although the Islamic State extremist group has claimed responsibility. Authorities believe Zahran Hashim, the founder of NTJ, was the mastermind and one of the nine suicide bombers. In India, police said they had arrested a 29-year-old man in the southern state of Kerala, close to Sri Lanka, for planning similar attacks there. The man had been influenced by speeches made by Zahran, the government’s National Investigation Agency said in a statement. Sri Lanka’s 22 million population is mostly Buddhist but includes minority Christians, Muslims and Hindus.
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Sri Lanka Easter bombings spurs call to ban burqas amid reports some of the attackers were women

Postby smix » Tue Apr 23, 2019 4:17 pm

Sri Lanka Easter bombings spurs call to ban burqas amid reports some of the attackers were women
Fox News

URL: https://www.foxnews.com/world/sri-lanka ... onsibility
Category: Terrorism
Published: April 23, 2019

Description: The Easter Sunday attacks on churches, hotels and other sites across Sri Lanka that killed over 300 people have now spurred some lawmakers to call for a full burqa ban. A bill was announced Tuesday on the Facebook page of UNP Parliamentarian Ashu Marasinghe to propose banning the burqa in Sri Lanka, citing national security. The bill, which was posted on the MP's Facebook page, says that the burqa is not a traditional Muslim garment and claims it has been identified as previously being used by males to engage in terrorist activities by hiding their identities. Marasinghe added that women have previously been informed to remove the burqa before entering certain parts of the country, Sri Lanka news outlet Ada Derana reported. In his Facebook post announcing the proposal, Marasinghe claimed that the country's Muslim political leaders admitted it was not traditional attire. Government officials told Sri Lanka's Daily Mirror that evidence from the deadly attacks is pointing to the possibility of a large involvement by women who escaped from the scene wearing burqas. Several government ministers are in consultation with mosque authorities and President Maithripala Sirisena on the pathway to a possible ban, according to the Mirror. Of the 22.4 million people in Sri Lanka, about 70 percent of the population is Buddhist while just over 12 percent are Hindu, according to the State Department's 2017 International Religious Freedom Report. The Muslim population sits at around 9.7 percent of the population, while 7.4 percent is Christian. Several countries in the past year have chosen to ban face veils for public sector workers. In October, leaders of the Muslim country Alergia banned female public sector staff from wearing full-face veils at work. Egypt also considered banning women from wearing the burqa after a period of instability fueled by violence from radical Islamic groups. Denmark's facial covering law went into effect on last summer and brings the country in line with similar laws in France and Belgium that prohibit full-body burqas, as well the niqab — Muslim dress which only shows the eyes. Both are rare in Denmark. The Danish government has contended the law is not aimed at any religion and does not ban headscarves, turbans or the traditional Jewish skull cap.
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Fatima Ibrahim, wife of Sri Lankan suicide bomber, blows herself up with unborn child

Postby smix » Fri Apr 26, 2019 6:32 pm

Fatima Ibrahim, wife of Sri Lankan suicide bomber, blows herself up with unborn child
International Business Times

URL: https://www.ibtimes.co.in/fatima-ibrahi ... ild-796534
Category: Terrorism
Published: April 24, 2019

Description: After the gruesome Easter Sunday blasts in Sri Lanka, the plot took a major twist after the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the ghastly attack. In another major turn of horrific events, Fatima Ibrahim, the wife of millionaire-turned-suicide bomber Inshaf Ahmed Ibrahim, blew herself with her unborn baby and three kids after the police raided their residence. Three policemen were also killed in the incident. Inshaf, 33, along with his brother Ilham Ahmed Ibrahim, 31, were behind the blasts at churches and hotels in the island nation which killed 359 people and injuring many more on April 21. Fatima, the intelligence sources said, is believed to have been present amid a group of veiled suicide bombers swearing allegiance to the Islamic State, whose images were released by the jihadist organisation on Tuesday night. She can be seen, the sources said, on the right-hand side of the frame, standing behind her husband, reports Firstpost.

sri-lankan-bombers.jpg

Inshaf and Ilham were the sons of one of the wealthiest man in Sri Lanka, Mohammed Yusuf Ibrahim, who had contested elections on a Janatha Vimukhthi Peramuna party ticket. He was a close friend of Sri Lankan minister Rishath Batiudeen and was often seen at the former President Mahinda Rajapakse's functions, adds the report. Mohammed Yusuf Ibrahim and his youngest son Ijaz Ahmed Ibrahim, 30, are being questioned by the police over the blasts. Fatima detonated the bomb fearing that she might be arrested by the police for her involvement in the terror outfit. She blew herself in the 3 storeyed luxury home at Dematagoda along with her kids. Inshaf owned a manufacturing plant, Colossus Copper in Colombo, which according to the investigators was used for making the suicide bomb vests used in the attack. On Sunday, nine workers of the factory were arrested along with the manager. The Sri Lankan defence ministry has stated that the terror attacks were carried out as a retaliation against the Christchurch massacre in New Zealand.
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Sri Lanka troops raid militants, find 15 bodies in house

Postby smix » Sat Apr 27, 2019 4:54 am

Sri Lanka troops raid militants, find 15 bodies in house
ABC News

URL: https://abcnews.go.com/International/wi ... d-62667636
Category: Terrorism
Published: April 26, 2019

Description: Sri Lankan security forces found 15 bodies, including six children, early Saturday after militants linked to the Easter bombings opened fire and set off explosives during a raid on their house in the country's east, police said. The gunbattle began Friday night after police tipped off soldiers to a suspected safe house near the town of Sammanthurai , where authorities said the militants detonated three explosions and opened fire. At least three others were wounded in the attack, said police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara. He said that some of the dead likely were militants who blew themselves up in suicide bombings. Earlier, the military said at least one civilian had been killed in the attack. Raids and police curfews shut down areas of eastern Sri Lanka as Catholic leaders canceled 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. Maj. Gen. Aruna Jayasekara, the local military commander, said soldiers and police waited until daylight Saturday to carry out further raids in Eastern Province given houses being built so close together. Meanwhile, the military said security forces had recovered explosives, detonators, "suicide kits," military uniforms and Islamic State group flags in the ongoing raids. In the same area, police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara said officers acting on information from intelligence officials found 150 sticks of blasting gelatin and 100,000 small metal balls, as well as a van and clothing suspected to be used by those involved in the Easter attack. Suicide bomb vests often are packed with such balls to increase the shrapnel in the explosion, making them even deadlier. 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. On Saturday, cleaning crews arrived to St. Anthony's Shrine in Colombo, where broken glass still littered a blood-stained floor. They collected debris, tossing it into a truck parked outside as a heavy contingent of security forces stood guard. The U.S. Embassy in Sri Lanka has warned the public to stay away from places of worship over the weekend, a stark alert underlining that authorities believe that attackers remain at large. Authorities told Muslims to worship at home rather than attend communal Friday prayers that are the most important religious service of the week, but several mosques held services anyway. At a mosque in Colombo, police armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles stood guard outside for hundreds of worshippers as the imam inside and others wept while praying to Allah to help their country. The Easter attackers are "not Muslims. This is not Islam. This is an animal," said Akurana Muhandramlage Jamaldeen Mohamed Jayfer, the chairman of the mosque. "We don't have a word (strong enough) to curse them." Sri Lanka's government, crippled from a long political crisis between the president and prime minister last year, promised swift action to capture militants still at large. President Maithripala Sirisena said about 140 people had been identified as having links to the Islamic State group. A "major search operation has been undertaken," Sirisena said. "Every household in the country will be checked." Earlier Friday, police confirmed the militant group's leader, Mohamed Zahran, died in the suicide bombing at the Shangri-La Hotel, one of six hotels and churches attacked. Zahran appeared in an Islamic State video claiming responsibility for the coordinated assault, and authorities in both Sri Lanka and Australia confirmed links between IS and the attack. On Thursday night, Sri Lanka's Health Ministry drastically reduced its estimated death toll from the bombings. A statement said "approximately" 253 people had been killed, nearly one-third lower than an earlier police estimate of 359 dead. The discrepancy was not immediately explained, but it fit a pattern of confused reports by Sri Lankan officials that have muddled the investigation. On Friday, police apologized to a Brown University student and a human rights activist after they posted her picture to Twitter and erroneously identified her as a wanted militant. The police then deleted their Twitter account.
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