Fifteen more people are dead in Sri Lanka after a series of a explosions and a firefight between police and suspected ISIS terrorists in the country’s capital city of Colombo.
CBS news reports that Sri Lankan authorities were attempting to raid homes and warehouses suspected of harboring both the terrorists themselves and their cache of weapons and explosives, when family members of some of the terrorists who carried out the Easter Sunday attacks detonated their own bombs, killing themselves and destroying troves of evidence.
Some of the raids were successful, according to CBS.
“Special forces first raided a warehouse and discovered a huge cache of bomb-making equipment, including sticks of dynamite, detonator cable ball bearings and switches,” the outlet reported. “They also found an ISIS flag. Police believe the site is where the Easter Sunday bombers may have made a video pledging allegiance to ISIS.”
But a raid designed to arrest the remaining members of the terrorist enclave responsible for the Easter bombings went awry after several terror suspects engaged police officers in an exchange of gunfire. Once cornered, they detonated a series of explosive devices killing themselves and their families, including women and children.
“A second raid in eastern Sri Lanka turned into a shootout with suspected extremists, who detonated three bombs inside a house, according to authorities. Officials say fifteen people were killed including three women and six children, presumed to be family members of the extremists,” CBS reports.
Sri Lanka is having a difficult time capturing the remaining members of a home-grown terror cell that murdered 300 people and injured 500 more in a series of blasts at churches, hotels, and an airport one week ago, in a coordinated attack meant to kill Christians celebrating the Easter holiday, possibly in retribution for a mass shooting at a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand earlier in April.
In follow up interviews that took place this week, police admitted that the bombs detonated on Sunday were laced with shrapnel soaked in an acid that made the wounds victims received “incurable.” The explosives, contained inside the suicide vests, were powerful enough to blow the roof off of one of the churches, and were of the type typically used to blow holes in large rocks during mining operations.
Dozens of members of the group are believed to be still at large, and authorities believe the fugitives have “access to explosives” as well as a connection to cell leadership, though the group’s leader, a cleric named Mohamed Zahran, is believed to be one of the suicide bombers who detonated his vest inside the Shangri-La Hotel in Colombo on Easter.
So far, police have arrested at least 48 people at checkpoints on roads leading out of Colombo, including two of their “most wanted.” They have also shuttered the mosque associated with the National Towheed Jamaat, which police believe to be the terrorists’ “home base” of operations.
The threat of ongoing violence is so great that Catholic leaders in Sri Lanka have taken the unprecedented step of canceling Sunday Masses across the country of 21 million, many of whom are Catholic converts. Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith told local media that he was informed by the Sri Lankan government that Catholic churches remain the top target of Islamic extremists, and that Catholics worshipping in the open are in grave danger until the terror cell is neutralized.
Sunday morning, instead, Sri Lankan Catholics celebrated Sunday services at home as the Cardinal performed a televised Mass from his home chapel, according to the Associated Press. The president of Sri Lanka attended the Mass in person, along with the leader of Sri Lanka’s opposition party, in a show of unity against terrorism.