COLOMBO (AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, WASHINGTON POST, XINHUA) - Sri Lanka’s security forces on Friday (April 26) raided the location where they believe Islamist radicals recorded a video pledge to Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi before carrying out the deadly Easter attacks.
Police said they found an ISIS flag and uniforms similar to those worn by the eight fighters for the film before they launched Sunday’s attacks against three luxury hotels and three churches, killing 253.
During a separate search, security forces and military came under fire, although there were no reports of injuries, police said.
“We have found the backdrop the group used to record their video,” the police said in a statement.
ISIS had released the video two days after the attack.
Police showed the clothing and the flag on national television, as well as some 150 sticks of dynamite and about 100,000 ball bearings seized from the house.
The discovery in the town of Sammanthurai, 370km east of Colombo, came as police and security forces continued search operations for Islamic extremists responsible for the Easter bombings.
There were also reports of minor explosions at another location in the same area but officials said there were no immediate reports of casualties.
The authorities have dramatically revised the death toll in the attacks on Thursday from nearly 360 dead to 253. The revision came after the authorities said some victims had been "double-counted" because bodies were blown apart in the attacks and misidentified.
Archbishop of Colombo Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith told reporters he had seen a leaked internal security document warning of further attacks on churches and there would be no Catholic masses this Sunday anywhere on the island.
Sri Lanka's top police official, Inspector General of Police Pujith Jayasundara, has resigned over security failures that led to the deadly attacks, Mr Sirisena said on Friday.
The resignation came after the top Defence Ministry official, Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando, resigned on Thursday.
Mr Sirisena also said Friday that a major reorganisation of the security services would occur in the coming days.
Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Friday apologised to the nation for the failure to protect the victims of the blasts.
In a statement on his official twitter account, Mr Wickremesinghe said, "We take collective responsibility and apologise to our fellow citizens for our failure to protect victims of these tragic events."
Armed police and sniffer dogs guarded mosques in Sri Lanka on Friday as Muslims trickled to Friday prayers, with many staying away amid fears of revenge attacks over Easter suicide bombings carried out by Islamists.
Fears of retaliatory violence have already caused Muslim communities to flee their homes amid bomb scares, lockdowns and security sweeps.
Other Muslims have expressed fears that they could be targeted by Islamist hardliners, after the community's religious leadership said the attackers would not be buried at mosques in the country.
Some mosques cancelled prayers on Friday, and Sri Lanka's Muslim Affairs Minister called on Muslims to pray at home instead, in solidarity with churches that have closed over security fears.
But at the Kollupitiya Jumma Masjid mosque, hundreds defied the calls to stay at home, attending a service they say was focused on a call for people of all religions to help return peace to Sri Lanka.
Among mosques that did hold prayers on Friday in the capital, Colombo, attendance was thin.
At Colombo's 100-year old Jami Ul-Alfar mosque, worshippers were searched before entering and security forces cordoned off the surrounding blocks.
"I wanted to come to say my prayers for all the victims of this terrible killing, that God should welcome them in heaven," said Mr Nizam Wellampitia, 81, a white-bearded cloth seller. "Both Jesus and our Prophet said we should never harm others. We do not even like to kill a bird - the people who did this are brainwashed and they will go to hell."