COLOMBO: Fifteen people, including six children, died in a battle between Sri Lankan security forces and suicide bombers who blew themselves up in the latest fallout from the Easter attacks, police said on Saturday.

Three men set off explosives that killed themselves, three women and six children inside what was believed to be a jihadist hideout near the eastern town of Kalmunai.

“Three other men, also believed to be suicide bombers, were found dead outside the house,” police said in a statement. They were shot dead by security forces, police officials added.

Security forces tried to storm the house late on Friday and a one-hour long gun battle ensued before the explosions, a military official said.

A civilian was also killed in the crossfire during the raid near the predominantly Muslim town. Hundreds of families later fled their homes.

President Sirisena bans National Thowheeth Jama’ath and a splinter group Jamathei Millathu Ibraheem

Police and troops have stepped up searches after the militant Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attacks on three churches and three luxury hotels, which killed at least 253 people and injured 500.

Kalmunai is in the same region as the home town of the Zahran Hashim who founded the group accused of staging the attacks.

Police and officials said a series of tip-offs after the arrest of Hashim’s driver, Mohamed Sharif Adam, in Hashim’s home town of Kathankudy led them to the safe house.

Officials said the driver provided information leading to a raid on Friday on a hideout south of Kathankudy where they believe Hashim and other bombers recorded a video pledging allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi before carrying out the Easter attacks.

Video on state television showed explosives, a generator, a drone and a large quantity of batteries inside the converted studio. An IS flag and uniforms similar to those worn by the eight fighters in the video were also found, police said.

That in turn provided a tip-off about the hideout in Kalmunai, 370km east of the capital.

Authorities named Hashim’s group, National Thowheeth Jama’ath (NTJ), as the perpetrators of the attacks. They announced on Friday that he had been killed in the bombing of the Shangri-La hotel in Colombo.

President Maithripala Sirisena used emergency powers to ban the NTJ and a splinter group identified as Jamathei Millathu Ibraheem (JMI), his office said in a statement on Saturday.

Police chief Pujith Jayasundara became the second high-ranking official to resign over the blunders on Friday, after top defence ministry official Hemasiri Fernando stepped down.

Amid fears of new attacks, the Roman Catholic church has suspended all public services across the country until security is guaranteed by the government.

Published in Dawn, April 24th, 2019

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