Sri Lankan President Maithrapala Sirisena on Friday said that Zahran Hashim, a Sri Lankan Islamist extremist who allegedly played a key role in the Easter Sunday bombings, died in the blast at the Shangri-La hotel in Colombo, PTI reported.
The bombings, which targeted churches and hotels on April 21, killed 253 people.
According to Sirisena, Hashim was the head of the extremist group National Tawheed Jamath, which allegedly led the attack on the hotel, and was accompanied by a second bomber identified as Ilham Ahmed Ibrahim. The president said Hashim had died in the blast, but did not clarify what his role was in the attack on Shangri-La, according to AFP.
Sirisena said the information came from military intelligence and was based in part on CCTV footage recovered from the scene. Hashim had appeared in a video released by the Islamic State group after the outfit claimed responsibility for the attacks. Hashim’s location was not known after the blasts.
Sirisena said the country’s intelligence head had got “highly descriptive information” from a friendly nation on April 4, including the targets and methods of the planned attack, reported Ceylon Today. He claimed the defence secretary did not act on it with seriousness.
Sirisena claimed that when he asked the police chief and the defence secretary why they had not given him the information, they remained silent. He blamed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s government for weakening the intelligence system.
Hemasiri Fernando, the defence secretary, resigned on Thursday, and Inspector General of Police Pujith Jayasundara quit on Friday, Sirisena said. He had asked both officials to resign on Wednesday after public outrage against them for their failure to prevent the bombings despite intelligence.
Sirisena said police are looking for 140 people believed to have links with the Islamic State group, Reuters reported. He said some local youths had been involved with the group since 2013.
The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the serial bomb blasts. However, the group did not provide any evidence of its involvement.
On Thursday, the government revised down the toll in the serial blasts that struck the country on April 21 by over 100, to 253, BBC reported. Officials had initially said that at least 359 people had died and more than 500 were injured in the serial blasts that struck the country on Easter Sunday.
Revising down the toll, Anil Jasinghe, the director general of health services, said they had reached a larger toll because of a calculation error. “The approximate total of the dead would be 253 and not 359 as reported in media,” Jasinghe said, according to PTI.
He added that 485 people were initially admitted to hospitals across the country. But by 10 am on Thursday, only 149 were still undergoing treatment.
The Health Ministry said many of the bodies were severely mutilated and had been double-counted, according to AFP. The toll released by the police was reduced by 106 after the autopsies were completed by late Thursday.
“As it was not easy to count the correct number of dead due to extensive damages suffered in some cases, the figures issued [on April 22] were all approximate numbers,” Jaisinghe said.
The Sri Lankan Police have also released names and photographs of six suspects wanted in connection with the bombings. The police have appealed to the people to provide information on the suspects to the Criminal Investigation Department. Sri Lankan authorities intensified their raids with assistance from the Army and arrested 16 more suspects.
Earlier on Thursday, Sri Lanka had suspended plans to grant visas on arrival to citizens of 39 countries.