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 two days ago, police sources and a relative of the suicide bombers told Reuters on Sunday.
Zainee Hashim, Rilwan Hashim and their father Mohamed Hashim, who were seen in a video circulating on social media calling for all-out war against non believers, were among 15 killed in a fierce gun battle with the military on the east coast on Friday, four police sources said.
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 Hashim’s two brothers and father.
Police officers display an ISIS flag in Ampara after the raid on Sunday in which several people were killed
A police officer inspects the site of a gun battle between troops and suspected Islamist militants
Police officers display ball-bearings that increase the lethality of explosions in Ampara
Three of the 15 people killed were the same people who were seen in the undated video on social media, in which they discus martyrdom and urge their followers to kill all non believers, police sources said.
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.
It comes as the country’s Catholics celebrated Mass in their homes by a televised broadcast as churches across the island nation shut over fears of militant attacks.
Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the archbishop of Colombo, delivered a homily before members of the clergy and the country’s leaders in a small chapel at his Colombo residence – an extraordinary measure underlining the fear still gripping this nation of 21 million people.
‘This is a time our hearts are tested by the great destruction that took place last Sunday,’ Mr Ranjith said.
A Catholic family at home near St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo follow a TV service conducted by the Archbishop of Colombo on Sunday
The mass was delivered on TV following a shutdown of Catholic churches in Sri Lanka amid terror warnings
The Archbishop of Colombo, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, announced that all Sunday Masses were cancelled
‘This is a time questions such as, does God truly love us, does He have compassion towards us, can arise in human hearts.’
In a rare show of unity, President Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and opposition leader Mahinda Rajapaksa attended the Mass.
Their political rivalry and government dysfunction are blamed for a failure act upon near-specific information received from foreign intelligence agencies that preceded the bombings that targeted three churches and three luxury hotels.
All Sri Lankan churches were asked to ring bells on Sunday while the lamp lighting takes place.
The US Embassy in Colombo has warned against attending any service at a place of worship this weekend.
In the eastern district of Ampara on Sunday, where a gunfight and explosions left 15 people dead the previous day, soldiers guarded St Mary Magdalen’s Church, where a sign on the gate said the church and the school would be closed until May 6.
Thousands of families reportedly prayed in their own homes instead of attending public places
A view of St. Sebastian’s Church, which was damaged in the blast in Negombo, north of Colombo, on Sunday morning
More than 1,000 mourners gathered at the St. Sebastian church in Negombo, where more than 100 parishioners were killed as they worshipped on Sunday morning
A nearby mosque also had soldiers stationed outside.
The Islamic State group, meanwhile, claimed three of the militants who blew themselves up during a police raid in Ampara that was linked to the Easter bombings.
In a statement carried by the extremists’ Aamaq news agency, IS identified the bombers by their noms du guerre as Abu Hammad, Abu Sufyan and Abu al-Qa’qa.
It said they opened fire with automatic weapons and ‘after exhausting their ammunition, detonated … their explosive belts’.
Sri Lanka’s military said the gunfight on Friday night near the town of Sammanthurai left 15 dead, including six children, when militants opened fire and set off explosives in suicide bombings as security forces closed in on their safe house.
At the main police station in Ampara, an outdoor stage now holds what police recovered after the firefight.
Wreckage: Sri Lankan security personnel inspect the damage at St Anthony’s Shrine
Security personnel patrol outside St. Anthony’s Church, one of the sites of bomb blasts on Easter Sunday
The IS-aligned militants had created a bombmaking factory at the home, complete with laboratory-style beakers and thick rubber gloves.
Bags of fertiliser, gunpowder and small ball bearings filled boxes. Police found gallons of acids, used to make the fire of the blast more lethal.
Police also recovered religious tracts in Tamil glorifying suicide bombings, saying they granted the attacker direct entrance to heaven.
The government on Saturday formally banned two extremist groups purportedly connected to the attacks, allowing officials to confiscate their property, presidential spokesman Dharmasri Ekanayake said.
The government, crippled from a long political crisis between the president and prime minister last year, promised swift action to capture militants still at large.
Mr Sirisena said about 140 people had been identified as having links to the IS.
Police confirmed that the leader of the local militant group blamed for the attack, Mohamed Zahran, died in the suicide bombing at the Shangri-La Hotel.
Zahran appeared in an IS video claiming responsibility for the coordinated assault, and authorities in both Sri Lanka and Australia confirmed links between IS and the attack.