SAINTHAMARUTHU, Sri Lanka — The murder and mayhem that have gripped Sri Lanka for days may have ended Friday night when security forces closed in on a group of men, women and children — some armed with guns and explosives — in a rented home in this small eastern town.
Fifteen people were killed in the confrontation, nearly all of them in three bomb blasts that ripped holes in the roof and wall of the house and left behind charred remains. Six men, three women and six children were killed, police officials said. One of the men was shot by security forces after he came into the lane and began firing a rifle, said Lucian Sooriyabandara, a local police official.
The group is connected to the suicide bombers who carried out attacks on churches and luxury hotels in three cities on Easter Sunday, killing more than 250, police said. Earlier the same day, police raided a safe house about 3 miles away from the rented home. There they found a cache of explosives, police said, plus the flag and clothes worn by the attackers in a picture distributed by the Islamic State claiming responsibility for the bombings.
Local residents in Sainthamaruthu said the group arrived at the rented house five days ago. But they grew suspicious when they saw the group unloading boxes and learned they were from Kattankudy, a town an hour’s drive away where Zahran Hashim, the mastermind of the attacks, was based.
Mohammad Rizwan, 31, a local shopkeeper, said he alerted a nearby traffic cop to the group’s presence early Friday evening. When the officer approached the lane, Rizwan said, the first of several explosions rang out from the house. When police and soldiers arrived, a gun battle ensued.
On Saturday morning, crime scene personnel in fluorescent vest roamed the lane collecting ball bearings, torn pieces of clothing, and fragments of flesh. The body of the man shot by security forces, whom Sooriyabandara identified only as “Niyaz,” still lay face down on the cobbled pavement.
The dramatic and deadly confrontation came amid a nationwide security crackdown and intensive searches for suspects in numerous locations, as police warned of possible further attacks and used new emergency powers to stop and question individuals and raid homes and other sites.