COLOMBO • A gun battle broke out between Sri Lankan police and a group of men during a raid on a house in an eastern Sri Lankan town yesterday, with the premises believed to have been used to make suicide vests for the Easter Sunday serial bombings in the country.
The raid took place in the town of Ampara Sainthamaruthu, near Batticaloa. A military spokesman said there was an explosion in the area and when soldiers went to investigate, they were fired upon.
No details of casualties were immediately available.
Britain's Daily Mirror reported that after the battle was over, police recovered gelignite sticks and 100,000 metal bombs used in bomb-making and uniforms of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). A drone camera was also found at the scene.
Sri Lankan police are trying to track down 140 people believed linked to ISIS, which claimed responsibility for the bombings of churches and hotels, President Maithripala Sirisena said yesterday.
The Archbishop of Colombo, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, told reporters he had seen a leaked internal security document warning of further attacks on churches and that there would be no Catholic masses tomorrow anywhere on the island.
The authorities 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.
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 yesterday.
The resignation came after the top defence ministry official, Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando, resigned on Thursday.
Mr Sirisena also said yesterday that a major reorganisation of the security services would occur in the coming days.
Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe yesterday 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 yesterday as Muslims trickled to Friday prayers, with many staying away amid fears of revenge attacks over the 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 yesterday, 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, hundreds defied the government 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 yesterday 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."