As many as 16 people were killed Friday when Sri Lankan police and soldiers attempted to raid a house containing suspected terrorists officials believed were linked to the Easter Sunday attacks that killed more than 250 people.
The raid left 10 civilians dead including six children, CNN reported. Six suspected terrorists were also killed in the raid, which took place in the town of Sainthamaruthu on the island nation’s eastern coast. Other media sources put the total number of dead at 15.
Officials said they believed one suspected terrorist escaped.
Police said that as they began their raid on the house, they were met with gunfire.
Three men set off explosives, police said, killing the children and three women. One of the women was passing the house on a rickshaw when the house blew up.
Three other suspected terrorists were shot, the BBC reported.
— CBS News (@CBSNews) April 27, 2019
Most of the dead were killed in three bomb blasts police said came from inside the house. The explosions destroyed much of the house, The Washington Post reported.
Officials said it was unclear if the civilians, many of whom were found inside the wreckage, had any connection to the suspected terrorists.
The Friday raid followed an earlier police seizure of explosives and ball bearings. During that operation, uniforms and flags of the Islamic State were also recovered.
Sri Lankan officials have focused on Tamil Nadu Thowheed Jamath, an extremist group, in connection with the Easter attacks, for which the Islamic State claimed responsibility. No link between the Sri Lankan group and the Islamic State has been discovered. Some officials have suggested the Islamic State helped pick targets and prepare the militants who carried out the attack, but no proof has yet been found, CBS reported
Police raided the house after suspicions about its use were reported, said Aliyar Mohamed, who lives across the street from the raid’s target.
“The owners then realized there was suspicious stuff going on here, then police came here. The place was rented out two to three weeks ago,” he said.
“They (the tenants) came here claiming to start a slipper factory, and the owners saw the materials but didn’t understand what they were. But after the Colombo bombings, and with the people being from Kattankudy, they then reported them to police,” he said. Kattankudy is the hometown of the suspected leaders of the Easter attacks.
Also on Friday, the State Department warned Americans — via a post on its website — against visiting Sri Lanka.
“On April 26, 2019, the Department of State ordered the departure of all school-age family members of U.S. government employees in Kindergarten through 12th grade. The Department also authorized the voluntary departure of non-emergency U.S. government employees and family members,” the warning said.
“Terrorist groups continue plotting possible attacks in Sri Lanka. Terrorists may attack with little or no warning, targeting tourist locations, transportation hubs, markets, shopping malls, government facilities, hotels, clubs, restaurants, places of worship, parks, major sporting and cultural events, educational institutions, airports, hospitals, and other public areas,” the warning added.
Muslims have been encouraged to worship at home rather than at mosques.
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