Sri Lanka: Relatives of bombing suspect killed in gun battle

Police raid headquarters of Islamist group thought to be behind some of deadly attacks

Security forces have seized a large cache of explosives after a fierce gun battle that killed fifteen people including six children in Ampara, eastern Sri Lanka. Video: Reuters

 

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 on the east coast two days ago, police and a relative said on Sunday.

Zainee Hashim, Rilwan Hashim and their father Mohamed Hashim, who appear in a video circulating on social media calling for all-out war against non-believers, were among at least 15 killed in a fierce gun battle with the military on the east coast on Friday.

Kamal Jayanathdhi, the officer in charge at Kalmunai police station on the east coast, confirmed the three men had died along with a child that appears in the video, and that the undated clip in which they discuss martyrdom, had been shot in the same house where the gun battle took place.

Two people who were inside the house, a woman and a seven-year-old girl believed to be relatives of the men, survived, he said, while a woman was killed in crossfire on a nearby street.

Niyaz Sharif, the brother-in-law of Zahran Hashim, the suspected ringleader of the wave of Easter Sunday bombings that killed more than 250 people in churches and hotels across the island nation, told Reuters the video showed Zahran’s two brothers and father.

On Sunday, Sri Lankan police raided the headquarters of a hardline Islamist group founded by Zahram Hashim, a Reuters witness said, as Sunday Mass was cancelled due to fears of further attacks.

Armed police in the town of Kattankudy searched the headquarters of the National Thawheedh Jamaath (NTJ) and detained one man at the premises, a Reuters reporter at the scene said. Police did not comment.

On Saturday, the government banned the NTJ under new emergency laws. The authorities believe Zahran Hashim, the founder of NTJ, masterminded and was one of the nine suicide bombers in the attacks . Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Police suspect the bombings were carried out by two local Islamist groups, including the one established by Zahran. Around 10,000 soldiers have been deployed around the island as the authorities hunt for more suspects.

Security fears

The Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Ranjith, who had asked churches to suspend Sunday Mass due to security fears, delivered a televised special sermon from a chapel at his home. The service was attended by president Maithripala Sirisena, prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and former president Mahinda Rajapaksa.

The archbishop said earlier this week that he had seen an internal security document warning of further attacks on churches.

Sri Lankan Christians pray at a barricade near St Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo on April 28th, 2019. Photograph: Lakruwan Wanniarachchi/AFP/Getty Images
Sri Lankan Christians pray at a barricade near St Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo on April 28th, 2019. Photograph: Lakruwan Wanniarachchi/AFP/Getty Images

“We cannot kill someone in the name of God . . . It is a great tragedy that happened,” the archbishop said in his sermon.

“We extend our hand of friendship and fraternity to all our brothers and sisters of whatever class, society or religion that differentiates us.”

The archbishop and political leaders then lit candles to commemorate the victims.

Most of those killed in the Easter Sunday attacks were Sri Lankans. The dead also included 40 foreigners, including British, US, Australian, Turkish, Indian, Chinese, Danish, Dutch and Portuguese nationals.

Police believe that radical Muslim preacher Zahran led the NTJ – or a splinter faction – to mount the attacks in Colombo as well as on a church in Batticaloa in the east.

The authorities have named the other group suspected of involvement as Jammiyathul Millathu Ibrahim.

Neither group were well known before the attacks but the government has come under heavy criticism for not heeding intelligence warnings of the bombings, including one from India’s spy service hours before the attacks.

On Friday, Mr Sirisena said the government led by Mr Wickremesinghe should take responsibility for the attacks and that prior information warning of attacks was not shared with him.

More than 100 people, including foreigners from Syria and Egypt, have been detained for questioning for questioning over the Easter attacks.

Sri Lanka’s 22 million population is majority Buddhist and includes minority Christians, Muslims and Hindus.

At the Kingsbury Hotel in Colombo where one of the bombs went off last Sunday, Buddhist monks, some as young as 10 and senior clergy, performed rituals in a tribute to the victims. – Reuters