COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for three men who blew themselves up in clashes with Sri Lankan police, the group said in a statement.
The men set off explosives after an hour-long gun battle with police Saturday, inside what was believed to be a jihadist hideout near the eastern town of Kalmunai, in the latest fallout from the Easter attacks.
In a statement carried by the extremists’ Aamaq news agency, IS identified the bombers by their noms du guerre as Abu Hammad, Abu Sufyan and Abu al-Qa’qa. It said they opened fire with automatic weapons and “after exhausting their ammunition, detonated … their explosive belts.”
Sri Lanka’s military said the gunfight Friday night near the town of Sammanthurai left 15 dead, including six children, when militants opened fire and set off explosives in suicide bombings as security forces closed in on their safe house.
IS falsely claimed their militants killed 17 “disbelievers” in the attack. The militants often exaggerate their claims.
The IS report carried a photograph of two men before an IS flag, one carrying a Chinese variant of the Kalashnikov rifle like the one found at the scene, another smiling.
A girl and a woman survived the explosion but were critically injured and being treated at a hospital, police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara said.
Photographs taken by The Associated Press show the charred remains of one child and the body of another wearing a green T-shirt with the words “good boy” written on the back. The bodies of an adult woman and man were found after the explosion with their clothes burned off.
The military said security forces had recovered explosives, detonators, “suicide kits,” military uniforms and IS flags during the raids in the area.
Gunasekara said officers acting on information from intelligence officials also found 150 sticks of blasting gelatin and 100,000 small metal balls, as well as a van and clothing suspected of being used by those involved in the Easter attacks on three churches and three luxury hotels that left more than 250 people dead and hundreds injured —the bloodies assault linked to the IS in South Asia.
The violence came six days after the Easter Day bombings on three churches and three luxury hotels which killed at least 253 people and injured 500.
Security forces armed with emergency powers have stepped up search operations for Islamic extremists since the bombings.
Kalmunai is in the same region as the home town of the jihadist Zahran Hashim who founded the group accused of staging the attacks.