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Sri Lanka Says 15 Died in Raid, Including 4 Suicide Bombers

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lankan security forces said they found the bodies of 15 people, including four suicide bombers who had detonated their explosives, in a house on Saturday morning, hours after a gun battle erupted as they raided it in search of suspects linked to the Easter Sunday bombings.

Brig. Sumith Atapattu, a spokesman for the Sri Lankan military, said six children were among the dead, the four bombers had blown themselves up as security forces closed in on the house around midnight, and one of the dead had been killed in the gun battle with security forces.

The house, in a town on Sri Lanka’s east coast, was cordoned off after the overnight raid, but security forces waited until dawn to search it because it is in a crowded neighborhood.

Brigadier Atapattu said it was “too early to tell” whether the house was directly linked to the group that carried out the coordinated bombings on Sunday at churches, luxury hotels and other sites in Sri Lanka, killing more than 250 people.

The house is in a village called Bolivarian, part of the densely populated, mostly Muslim town of Sainthamaruthu. It is about 25 miles from Batticaloa, where one of the church bombings took place.

A man who lives in the area said members of the local mosque federation, to which he belongs, had become suspicious about the tenants in the house, which he said was twice the size of many others in the area. He said two members of the federation asked the tenants to identify themselves on Friday afternoon. The tenants said they did not have identification with them, but promised to provide it the next day, he said.

Members of the mosque federation returned in the evening with a local official, said the man, who asked not to be identified because he feared for his safety. As they approached the house from the back, the first explosion occurred, said the man, adding that the bombers might have suspected that someone was coming for them.

The man, who was at home when the first blast happened, said he then heard continuous gunfire and another explosion. He saw people running, including a police constable. About 30 minutes later, he said, security personnel arrived in force.

Another house a few miles away was also raided on Friday. The army said troops there found Islamic State flags, suicide kits, military uniforms and explosives with detonators.

The raids began just hours after President Maithripala Sirisena promised a house-to-house search of the entire country and a “total reorganization” of Sri Lanka’s security apparatus. His government is under enormous pressure for failing to act on repeated warnings that attacks on churches were being planned.

“Every household in the country will be checked,” Mr. Sirisena said in a meeting on Friday, according to a statement released by his office. “The lists of permanent residents of every house will be established to ensure no unknown persons could live anywhere.”

Frustration and fear have continued to grip Sri Lanka since the Easter bombings, particularly in the capital, Colombo, as officials have warned that other potential bombers could still be on the run and plotting attacks.

Sri Lankan security officials wrote a memo 10 days before the bombings warning that attacks were being planned, including names, addresses and phone numbers of people believed to be involved, but the president and prime minister have said the memo never reached them. Foreign intelligence agencies had repeatedly warned that attacks were being planned, with one such warning coming just hours before the bombings.

News credit : Nytimes