AMPARA, Sri Lanka (AP) — Militants linked to Easter suicide bombings opened fire and set off explosives during a raid by Sri Lankan security forces on a house in the country’s east, leaving behind a grisly discovery Saturday: 15 bodies, including six children.
The gunbattle that began Friday night and the carnage that followed come amid widespread fear of more attacks as officials hunt for militants with explosives believed to still be at large after the coordinated bombings of churches and luxury hotels that killed more than 250 people last weekend.
Raids and police curfews have shut down areas of eastern Sri Lanka, and Catholic leaders have canceled Sunday Masses indefinitely. Officials also urged Muslims to stay home for prayers in an extraordinary call by the clergy to curtail worship.
The government on Saturday also formally banned two extremist groups purportedly linked to the attacks, allowing officials to confiscate their property, presidential spokesman Dharmasri Ekanayake said.
The U.S. Department of State, citing terror groups plotting more possible attacks, urged Americans to reconsider travel to Sri Lanka and ordered the school-age children of government workers to leave the country. The U.S. Embassy in Sri Lanka has previously warned the public to stay away from places of worship over the weekend, a stark alert underlining that authorities believe some attackers remain at large.
The gunfight Friday came after police tipped off soldiers about a suspected safe house near the town of Sammanthurai in Sri Lanka’s Ampara District, where authorities said the militants set off three explosions and opened fire.
Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara said some of the dead likely were militants who blew themselves up in suicide bombings. Earlier, the military said at least one civilian had been killed in the attack.