May 23, 2019
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3 Die in clash between police, terror suspects in Sri Lanka

Colombo, Apr 26 (efe-epa).- Three people, including a civilian, were killed and three others wounded Friday in a confrontation between Sri Lankan police and suspected associates of the terrorists who carried out the Easter Sunday attacks blamed for 253 deaths, authorities said.

Acting on a tip, security forces raided a residence in the eastern town of Sainthamaruthu suspected of serving as a safe house for people linked to the Easter attacks, the army said in a statement.

Three explosions were heard amid an exchange of gunfire.

Police recovered the bodies of two suspects who detonated explosive vests, the army said.

With night falling, police decided to delay conducting a thorough search and recovery operation until dawn Saturday, according to the statement.

The violence in Sainthamaruthu, whose population is overwhelmingly Muslim, came in the wake of last Sunday's attacks on hotels and churches that killed at least 253 people and injured around 500 others.

While the government blamed the massacre on a domestic Muslim extremist group, National Thowheed Jamath, Islamic State has issued a claim of responsibility

The Sri Lankan president said Friday that authorities had already detained 70 of the 140 IS sympathizers estimate to be in the country.

Maithripala Sirisena vowed that the IS suspects who remained at large would be apprehended "very soon."

"I will stamp out IS from Sri Lanka. Our police and security forces are capable of achieving this," he said, adding that Colombo would welcome assistance from other nations in battling terrorism.

Sirisena said the person who led the attacks on Sunday has been identified as Mohamed Zahran, who died in a blast in Hotel Shangri-La in Colombo.

Zahran belonged to National Thowheed Jamath, the president said.

The attacks began at 8.45 am last Sunday with six coordinated explosions at three luxury hotels in Colombo and three churches across the country as they were holding Easter services.

Another blast in the afternoon left two dead in a small hotel near Dehiwala Zoo, around 10km (6mi) south of the capital.

The eighth explosion killed three police officers at a residential complex in Dematagoda, Colombo.

After initially saying the 321 people died, Sri Lanka reduced the death toll on Thursday to 253.

The president has already begun a shakeup of the intelligence and security apparatus in response to officials' failure to act on warnings received from the Indian government ahead of the Easter Sunday attacks.

Last Sunday was the deadliest day in Sri Lanka since the end of the 1983-2009 civil war between Tamil rebels and the Sinhalese-led government.

Tens of thousands of civilians died in the final phase of the conflict, according to data provided by the United Nations.

Sri Lanka, an island nation of 21 million people with a Sinhalese Buddhist majority, has a number of religious minorities, including Hindus, Muslims - about 10 percent of the population - and Christians, who represent roughly 7 percent.

In 2018, the government declared a state of emergency after violence erupted between Muslims and Buddhists leading to two deaths and dozens of arrests. EFE

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