Sri Lanka Easter Bombings ringleader died in hotel attack – President

The alleged ringleader behind Sri Lanka’s Easter Sunday bombings was killed in the attacks, President Maithripala Sirisena said.

Mr Sirisena said Zahran Hashim, a radical preacher, died at the Shangri-La hotel in the capital, Colombo.

He said Hashim led the attack on the popular tourist hotel, accompanied by a second bomber known as “Ilham”.

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At least 250 people died in the wave of bombings on Sunday, which targeted churches and hotels in Colombo.

Mr Sirisena also said that Sri Lankan intelligence services believed around 130 suspects linked to Islamic State (IS) group were in the country and that police were hunting 70 who were still at large.

The president did not clarify what role Hashim took in the Shangri-La bombing – one of six attacks on Sunday that terrorised Sri Lanka’s Christian community.

Sri Lankan authorities have blamed a local Islamist extremist group, National Tawheed Jamath, for the attacks.W

A previously little-known domestic radical, Hashim gained some local notoriety a few years ago after posting videos on YouTube calling for violence against non-Muslims.

In the days after the Easter Sunday attacks, he appeared in a video released by IS in which seven men – thought to be some of the bombers – pledged allegiance to the group. Hashim was the only one to show his face.

But it was not clear whether Hashim had direct contact with IS or if he had simply pledged allegiance to the group, which has claimed it was behind the attacks.

Hashim was from the coastal Sri Lankan town of Kattankudy. There, earlier this week, his sister told the BBC she was horrified by what her brother had done.

“Even if he is my brother, I cannot accept this. I don’t care about him any more,” she said, adding that Hashim had been in contact with her until about two years ago, when he went quiet.

President Sirisena told reporters that police were still hunting a number of IS suspects, but it was not clear if others believed to be linked to the attacks had been detained or had fled the country.

The president added that Sri Lanka’s police chief, Pujith Jayasundara, had resigned over the bombings. His departure follows the resignation of the country’s top defence ministry official, Hemasiri Fernando.

Sri Lankan officials revised the death toll from the bombings down by about 100 on Thursday, to 253, blaming the difficulty in identifying body parts at bomb scenes. But the move raised questions over how the previous estimate could have been so inaccurate.

The bombings exposed a massive intelligence failure by Sri Lankan authorities after it emerged police and some government departments had received detailed warnings about possible attacks on churches.

The country’s Catholic Church has announced the suspension of all church services, and hundreds of refugee Pakistani Ahmadi Muslims, fearing revenge attacks, have been fleeing the city of Negombo, the site of one of the blasts.

The Sri Lankan government has said it will search schools, in one of a series of announcements designed to address public anxiety in the aftermath of the attacks.

Emergency powers announced in the wake of the attacks continue, allowing police to detain and interrogate suspects without court orders..

Nine people are suspected of carrying out the attacks. Two of the bombers were the sons of spice trader Mohammad Yusuf Ibrahim, one of Sri Lanka’s richest men, who was arrested after the attacks.

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