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15 Bodies, Including Those of 6 Children, Found After Sri Lanka Raids

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A Sri Lankan police officer walks into the motel where the Australian- and British-educated suicide bomber detonated his device inside, in Dehiwala on the outskirts of Colombo, Sri Lanka, April 26, 2019.

Sri Lankan security forces have exchanged gunfire with an armed group in Kalmunai in the eastern region of the country.

A military spokesman says 15 bodies, including those of six children, were found in the house where the gunbattle took place late Friday.

The Associated Press later reported that a girl and a woman survived an explosion at the suspected militant safe house during a raid linked to the Easter bombings.

Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara said Saturday that the woman and girl are critically injured and are being treated at a nearby hospital in Ampara District.

Sri Lankan security forces have been clearing the safe house following a Friday night gunbattle between soldiers and suspected militants. Authorities say the militants set off three explosions and opened fire.

The Daily Mirror, a Sri Lankan newspaper, reported there was an explosion when the forces “attempted to search a suspicious man.”

The military found a cache of 150 sticks of gelignite (an explosive jelly), an Islamic State uniform, steel pellets, and a drone, according to the newspaper. A laptop and a van were also found.

Meanwhile, a curfew has been imposed on Sri Lanka from 10 p.m. Friday to 4 a.m. Saturday.

The archbishop of Colombo Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith addresses a press conference in Colombo, Sri Lanka, April 26, 2019.
The archbishop of Colombo Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith addresses a press conference in Colombo, Sri Lanka, April 26, 2019.

Catholic leaders cancel Masses

Catholic leaders in Sri Lanka canceled Sunday Masses across the country as officials cited the possibility of more attacks on the island, nearly a week after the deadly Easter suicide bombings in churches and hotels blamed on Muslim extremists.

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith asked the faithful throughout Sri Lanka to stay home for their own safety, saying “We don’t want repetitions.”

The U.S. State Department Friday raised the travel advisory level for Sri Lanka to three out of four, meaning visitors should reconsider traveling to the country. It said “Terrorist groups continue plotting possible attacks in Sri Lanka” and that terrorists could again target places of worship as well as other public areas, including shopping malls, hotels, restaurants, sporting events and parks.

The U.S. Embassy in Colombo urged people to “remain vigilant and avoid large crowds,” on its official Twitter account.

On Friday, thousands of Sri Lankan security personnel were deployed across the country to places of worship, as Muslims answered the call to prayer.

“Everyone is nervous,” 48-year-old Abdullah Mohammed told the Associated Press, before prayers. “Not just the Muslims, Buddhists, Christians, Hindus — everybody's nervous.”

Muslim men pray at a mosque in Colombo, Sri Lanka, April 26, 2019.
Muslim men pray at a mosque in Colombo, Sri Lanka, April 26, 2019.

The warning comes days after a devastating attack on churches and hotels on Sunday in the capital, Colombo, in which suicide bombers killed more than 250 people. Officials had earlier set the death toll at more than 350 but revised the number on Thursday, saying some of the bodies may have been counted twice.

Sri Lankan officials say the suspected mastermind of the attacks, Zahran Hashim, was killed in the attack on the Shangri-La Hotel.

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