An Islamic extremist Zahran Hashim believed to have played a key role in Sri Lanka’s deadly Easter bombings died in an attack on a Colombo hotel, the country’s president confirmed Friday.
“What intelligence agencies have told me is that Zahran was killed during the Shangri-La attack,” President Maithripala Sirisena told reporters, referring to Zahran Hashim, leader of a local extremist group.
Hashim appeared in a video released by the ISIS group after they claimed the bombings, but his whereabouts after the blasts were not immediately clear.
Sirisena did not immediately clarify what Hashim’s role was in the attack on the Shangri-La, one of six bomb blasts that killed over 250 people on Sunday.
Security forces had been on a desperate hunt for Hashim, believed to be around 40, after the government named the group he led — the National Thowheeth Jama’ath — as its prime suspect.
His appearance in the ISIS video, where he is seen leading a group of seven others in a pledge of allegiance to ISIS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, only heightened fears about the radical.
He was a relative unknown before the attacks, though local Muslim leaders say they had reported him on more than one occasion to authorities for his extremist views and behaviour.
Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan authorities have revised the death toll from Easter Sunday’s string of bombings down to 253 people from the previous estimate of 359.
Police on Thursday released the names and pictures of six suspects and sought information regarding them from the public.
Many of the arrested people have suspected links to the NTJ, the group blamed for the bombings.
On Tuesday, the Islamic State or the ISIS had claimed responsibility for the deadly attacks without providing any major evidence.
The blasts targeted St Anthony’s Church in Colombo, St Sebastian’s Church in the western coastal town of Negombo and Zion Church in the eastern town of Batticaloa around 8.45 am (local time) as the Easter Sunday mass were in progress.
Explosions were also reported from three five-star hotels — the Shangri-La, the Cinnamon Grand and the Kingsbury in Colombo.
Authorities have deployed thousands of troops to help police carry out search operations.
Police have intensified search and arrested 16 more suspects, taking the number of those in custody to 76.
Over 5,000 army personnel have been deployed around the country.
(With AFP inputs)