COLOMBO: Sri Lanka's president is banning two groups allegedly linked to the Easter bombings under emergency powers that came into effect on Tuesday.
The office of President Maithripala Sirisena said in a statement Saturday evening that National Thawheed Jammaath, or NTJ, and Jamathei Millathu Ibraheem, or JMI, would be banned by presidential decree.
Presidential spokesman Dharmasri Ekanayake says the move allows the government to confiscate any property belonging to the two organizations.
On Monday, officials confirmed that the alleged leader of the Muslim extremist group, an offshoot of NTJ, had died in one of the coordinated suicide bombings at churches and hotels that killed more than 250 people.
Authorities could not act earlier to ban the two little known groups because the law required them to show firm evidence against them, officials said.
Police believe the suspected mastermind of the bombings, Mohamed Hashim Mohamed Zahran, led either the NTJ or a splinter group. Less is known about Jamathei Millathu Ibrahim, whose members are also believed to have played a role in the bombings.
Daesh has claimed responsibility for the attacks.
Nearly 10,000 soldiers have been deployed across the island to carry out searches and boost security since the bombings in three churches and four hotels, most of which were in the capital Colombo.
Security forces have detained 100 people, including foreigners from Syria and Egypt, police said.
A gunbattle erupted on Friday evening during a raid on a safe house in Sainthamaruthu in Ampara district on the island’s east coast, killing at least 15 people including three people with suicide vests and six children, a military spokesmkan said.
The wounded included the wife and a daughter of Zahran, his family said.
“Yes, the wife and daughter were injured in the attack,” said Mohamed Hashim Mathaniya, sister of Zahran. “I was asked to come to identify them but I am not sure I can go,” she told Reuters from the town of Kattankudy in the east where Zahran was originally based.
Zahran’s driver was detained in a separate raid, according to a police statement. Bomb-making materials, dozens of gelignite sticks and thousands of ball bearings were found in a search of a separate house in the same area, along with Islamic State banners and uniforms, the military said.
Zahran appeared in a video released by Islamic State days after the bombing, the only one showing his face while seven others were covered. In the video the men stand under a black Daesh flag and declare their loyalty to its leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi.
Authorities have said there could be more attacks against religious centers. Last Sunday’s bombings shattered the relative calm that the Buddhist-majority country has seen since a 26-year civil war with mostly-Hindu ethnic Tamil separatists ended a decade ago.
Sirisena and the government of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe have faced strong criticism after it emerged that India had repeatedly given warnings of the possibility of attacks.
Both Sirisena and Wickremesinghe have said intelligence was not shared with them, exposing rifts at the top of the government and raising questions about its ability to deal with the security crisis.
The national police chief had refused to accept Sirisena’s request to step down, two sources told Reuters on Saturday, a further embarrassment for the president.
The US State Department said terrorist groups were continuing to plot attacks and cautioned its citizens against traveling to Sri Lanka, as well as ordering the departure of all school-age family members of US government employees.
India and Britain have also warned their nationals to avoid traveling to Sri Lanka.
The security forces’ response has included raids on mosques and homes of people in the town of Negombo where scores died in the bombing of a church.
Police said on Friday they were trying to track down 140 people they believe have links with Daesh.