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Sri Lankan soldiers open fire on suspects as Easter bombing raids continue

Officials warned more attacks may still be possible.

by VICE News
Apr 26 2019, 6:16pm

Soldiers exchanged gunfire with suspected militants and explosions were reported in Sri Lanka Friday, as authorities continued to search for suspects tied to the Easter Sunday suicide bombings that killed hundreds. The country's prime minister warned more attacks may still be possible.

The gunfight broke out when soldiers tried to search a building in the eastern part of the island nation, a military spokesman said Friday evening local time, according to the Associated Press.

Explosions were reported in the eastern city of Kalmunai, while authorities in the nearby city of Samanthurai uncovered bomb-making materials and other incriminating evidence, including ISIS flags, during one of the raids.

Sri Lanka remains on high alert five days after nine suicide bombers walked into churches and hotels in several cities, destroying buildings and killing more than 250 people. Authorities are searching for militants they believe to be connected to the Islamic State group (ISIS), which claimed responsibility for the attack Tuesday. Authorities have taken more than 70 suspects into custody, and are receiving help from international agencies including Interpol and the FBI.

The government has been cautious to officially tie the terror group to Sunday’s attacks, which they say were carried out by a little-known local militant group called National Thowheed Jamaat. But ISIS’s role has started to come into focus.

On Friday, police seized a trove of explosives, ISIS flags and uniforms in a raid in the eastern city of Sammanthurai. Authorities have raided five safe houses across the country, according to CNN.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, meanwhile, appeared to confirm ISIS’s ties to the attacks, telling reporters Friday that the terror group helped identify targets.

Read: ISIS isn’t dead. It’s just moving countries like Sri Lanka.

Sri Lankan officials have faced the public’s rage for their failure to heed numerous warnings ahead of Sunday’s attack. The country’s defense secretary resigned earlier this week, accepting responsibility for the failures, and the government has vowed to overhaul its security operations.

But they haven’t had much time; more suspected attackers are still at large, intelligence officials warned. The government believes roughly 130 suspects with ties to ISIS remain in the country, with as many as 70 still on the run.

A nightly curfew was enforced for the fifth consecutive day, as was the government’s controversial social media blackout.

The death toll has been revised down to 253 from a previous estimate of 359. At least 400 more were injured in the attacks.

Cover: A cat walks as air force officers stand guard outside St. Anthony's Shrine, one of the three churches struck on Sunday in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Friday, April 26, 2019. Heavy security is out on the streets of Sri Lanka's capital after warnings of further attacks by the militant group blamed for the Easter bombing that killed at least 250 people. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)