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Sri Lankan Police Enter HQ of Group Blamed for Easter Attacks

Security personnel are seen at the site of an overnight gunbattle between troops and suspected Islamist militants, on the east coast of Sri Lanka, in Kalmunai, Apr. 27, 2019.
Security personnel are seen at the site of an overnight gunbattle between troops and suspected Islamist militants, on the east coast of Sri Lanka, in Kalmunai, Apr. 27, 2019.

Sri Lankan police entered the headquarters Sunday of the terrorist group believed to be behind the deadly Easter Sunday explosions at churches and luxury hotels that killed more than 250 people.

A day after Colombo declared National Towheed Jamaath (NTJ) a terror group, armed police in the town of Kattankudy in eastern Sri Lanka entered the organization's main mosque.

On Saturday, President Maithripala Sirisena formally outlawed two Islamist extremist groups suspected of carrying out the Easter attacks. Sirisena used his emergency powers to ban NTJ and another group, Jamathei Millathu Ibrahim (JMI).

Security officials said the NTJ was believed to have been the main group behind the Easter attacks. Officials said they were prohibited by law from banning the little known groups earlier due to the lack of firm evidence against them.

Catholic churches in Sri Lanka were shuttered Sunday in the aftermath of the attack. The faithful, however, were able to watch a televised broadcast of a Mass.

"This is a time questions such as, does God truly love us, does He have compassion towards us," Ranjith said in the Mass on television.

President Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe attended the Mass in a small chapel at the cardinal's residence.

Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the Easter Sunday explosions.

The terrorist group also says it was their men who blew themselves up in a clash with Sri Lankan security forces Saturday that killed fifteen people, including six children.

An IS statement said that "after exhausting their ammunition," the men "detonated on them their explosive belts."

In another development, Sri Lankan police say they arrested two "most wanted" suspects in connection with the Easter Sunday blasts. Police say the men were arrested in the central region of Nawaapitiya.

Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara said officers found a cache of 150 gelignite sticks, an Islamic State uniform, steel pellets, a drone, a laptop computer, as well as a van thought to be used during the Easter attacks.

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

Security forces combed the country, tracking down what they say are dozens of local militants with links to the Islamic State terror group.

Sri Lanka's police chief Pujith Jayasundara resigned Friday because of the security failures around the attacks. A day earlier, Defense Secretary Hemasriri Fernando quit in the wake of the bombings, heeding calls from Sri Lanka's president for his resignation. Sirisena had called on Fernando and Jayasundara to step down after he promised in a televised address to take stern action against officials who did not share with him the intelligence alerts that came from India days prior to the bombing of churches and luxury hotels.

As the government faces an outpouring of public anger over the failure to heed the warnings, senior officials admit it has been a "major lapse."

Fernando said that there had been no failure on his own part, but he resigned to take responsibility for the failures of some institutions he headed, Reuters reported.

Reports say Indian intelligence agencies sent out several warnings to Sri Lanka, and that Indian security agencies had gathered details about the Islamic militant group suspected of carrying out the attacks.

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