The father and two brothers of the suspected mastermind of the Easter Sunday terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka have been killed in a gun battle after security forces stormed a house on the country’s east coast.
Zahran Hashim, who blew himself up at a hotel in Colombo during the bombings, is believed to have organised the attacks in which at least 250 people were killed. He was also the founder of Islamist group the National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ), which has now been banned.
His father and brothers were among 15 people killed on Friday. Zainee Hashim, Rilwan Hashim and their father Mohamed Hashim had appeared in a video circulating on social media calling for all-out war against non-believers.
They were shot as troops moved in on their house after a tip-off from locals.
As gunmen opened fire at the approaching security forces, three other men in the building detonated bombs, killing themselves along with six children and three women. Three more people died in the shooting.
Two people who were inside the house, a woman and a seven-year-old girl believed to be relatives of the men, survived, Reuters reports.
According to locals, two men had moved into the three-room rented house in the Sainthamaruthu area of Kalmunai, days before the Easter Sunday attacks.
When more people arrived, neighbours grew suspicious, Mohammed Majid, secretary of the Grand Masjid Sainthamaruthu mosque, told Reuters.
After evening prayers on Friday, a group of men from the local Hijra mosque came to the house to question the occupants.
When one man brandished an assault rifle, the men fled, alerting police, who arrived shortly afterwards. One man was killed after running into the street with a gun to confront police, before a series of explosions came from the house, witnesses said.
A police officer inspects the site of a gun battle between troops and suspected Islamist militants (Reuters)
As the investigation into the Easter Sunday attacks continues, Sri Lankan authorities believe more suicide bombers could be planning attacks. So far the focus has been on two domestic groups believed to have been behind the bombings – the NTJ and Jammiyathul Millathu Ibrahim.
After Friday’s violence, police also seized an Isis flag from another property nearby, where locals said they feared further attacks.
The country has been on high alert since the Easter Sunday bombings, 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.
Authorities have detained more than 100 people, including foreigners from Syria and Egypt, since the 21 April bombings.
On Sunday police in the eastern town of Kattankudy raided a mosque founded by Zahran, which doubled up as the headquarters of the Islamist NTJ group.
Additional reporting by Reuters
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