The bodies of 15 people, including 6 children and 3 women, were discovered after a raid and fierce overnight gun battle between Sri Lankan troops and terrorists on the east coast of Sri Lanka, a military spokesman said on Saturday.
The raid was conducted under security operations launched after suicide bombers killed more than 250 people on Easter Sunday.
Two suspected Islamic State gunmen and a civilian were killed in the shootout last night, said reports. A police spokesman said that three suspected suicide bombers were among the 15 dead after the gunfight.
The gun battle near Sainthamaruthu in Ampara began Friday night after police tipped off soldiers to a suspected safe house, where militants set off three explosions triggering fire, the military said.
The place is located to the south of the town of Batticaloa, site of one of the Easter Sunday blasts at three churches and four luxury hotels.
Military spokesman SumithAtapattu said in a statement that as troops headed towards the safe house three explosions were triggered and gunfire began.
“Troops retaliated and raided the safe house where a large cache of explosives had been stored,” he said in a statement. He said the militants were suspected members of the National TowheedJama’at (NTJ), which has been blamed for last Sunday’s attacks.
The government has said nine homegrown, well-educated suicide bombers carried out the Easter Sunday attacks, eight of whom had been identified. One was a woman.
Police said on Friday they were trying to track down 140 people they believe have links with Islamic State, which claimed responsibility for the suicide bombings.
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.
Nearly 10,000 soldiers were deployed across the Indian Ocean island state to carry out searches and provide security for religious centres, the military said.
The military says security forces have recovered explosives, detonators, “suicide kits,” military uniforms and Islamic State group flags during the raids.
Amid bomb scares, lockdowns and security sweeps, fears of retaliatory violence have already caused Muslim communities to flee their homes in Sri Lanka, reported The Indian Express (IE). Sri Lanka President Maithripala Sirisena, who is also the Defence Minister appealed to the island nation to not view its minority Muslim community as terrorists in the wake of the attacks. Sirisena said despite the attacks, the island’s nine per cent Muslim minority must not be regarded terrorists.
The All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama, the country’s apex religious body of Islamic scholars in Colombo issued a statement requesting Muslims not to hinder security agencies by wearing the Niqab, and several mosques and Muslim organisations appealed to people asking them to pray at home and avoid large gatherings considering the unfolding crisis, IE report said. Catholic churches, too, cancelled all Sunday Masses until further notice over concerns that they remain a top target of Islamic State-linked extremists.