COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — As Sri Lanka marked a week since the bombings that killed more than 250 people on Easter Sunday, the Islamic State group said that three of its fighters had blown themselves up during a raid by security forces on their hide-out in the east of the country.
Sri Lanka remained on high alert as raids continued to round up people suspected of having involvement in the attacks on churches and hotels last week. The archbishop of Colombo, the capital, who had suspended church services for security reasons, offered a televised Sunday Mass from his home.
Despite being closed and cordoned off, St. Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo, one of the churches that was bombed, still drew dozens of worshipers on Sunday. They gathered outside singing hymns and lighting candles behind several layers of barricades. Police officers and soldiers dotted the area, with commandos keeping watch from the tallest buildings.
The military said surveillance aircrafts were also keeping a watch on the main airports, and naval patrols in the Indian Ocean had increased their scrutiny of the northern and eastern waters around the island.
“Security forces around the country are recovering explosives, swords, machetes etc. and arresting suspects,” said Brig. Sumith Atapattu, a spokesman for the Sri Lankan Army.
With St. Anthony’s Shrine still being cleared of the blood and remains of those killed and wounded in the Easter blast, many worshipers openly wept on Sunday as the bell started tolling just before 9 a.m., the same time a week earlier that a suicide bomber had detonated his explosives, just as Mass had been ending.
“I can’t sleep,” said Sagaya Devi Edison, who had returned to the church on Sunday after being there during last week’s explosion. “There are children now without fathers, without mothers,” she said, choking on her words.
Ms. Edison said that she and her 23-year-old daughter had been seated at the front of the church, near the altar, when the bomber had detonated a backpack full of explosives near the rear of the church. She said that her 42-year-old neighbor, a woman named Bebi, had also been in attendance, but that her remains had yet to be identified.
On Saturday, the Islamic State claimed that three of its fighters had blown themselves up during the Friday raid in eastern Sri Lanka, the latest instance of the terrorist group claiming responsibility in the attacks. That would bring the total number of suicide bombers to 12, including the wife of one of the bombers who detonated explosives when the police arrived at the family’s mansion after the explosions in the churches and hotels.
Earlier, Sri Lankan security officials had said that four of the people in the house had detonated explosives.
The raid on Friday by Sri Lankan security forces came as the president ordered “house-to-house searches” for those linked to the attacks. Security forces had narrowed in on a large house in the eastern town of Sainthamaruthu after reports of suspicious activity. They were met with gunfire and multiple explosions.
At dawn on Saturday, when they went in to clear the besieged house, they found 15 bodies and a wounded woman and child, later identified by family members as the wife and a child of Zaharan Hashim, the man believed to have been behind the Easter attacks, who was a suicide bomber at one of the hotels hit, the Shangri-La.
The Islamic State later said in a statement released on Sunday by Amaq, the group’s propaganda arm, that three of its fighters had lured security forces to the house before detonating their explosives.
The statement was accompanied by a picture of Mr. Zaharan posing with one of his younger brothers, Rilwan. Both Mr. Zaharan and Mr. Rilwan were named in an internal security report this month that warned of potential attacks. Members of Mr. Zaharan’s immediate family have apparently been followers of his radical ideology for years.
In an unverified video circulating online, Mr. Rilwan, Mr. Zaharan’s father and Mr. Zaharan’s brother-in-law are seen discussing martyrdom and jihadism, as children cry in the background. A wall of the room where the video was taken appears to match that of the safe house that was raided.
“Even if we are annihilated or killed, this won’t stop,” Mr. Rilwan said in the video. “Even if our wives die, we will meet them in heaven.”
News credit : Nytimes