Soldiers stand guard outside St. Anthony's Shrine in Colombo on April 25, 2019, following a series of bomb blasts targeting churches and luxury hotels on the Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka. (Photo: AFP)
An extremist leader considered a central figure in Sri Lanka's Easter suicide bombings died in the attacks, the president said Friday as the police chief became the latest figure to quit over the failure to prevent the massacre.
With the country still on edge, heavy security was put in place for Friday prayers at mosques, but authorities revised down the bombings' toll to 253 dead from 359, saying some badly mutilated bodies had been counted twice.
President Maithripala Sirisena told reporters that local extremist Zahran Hashim, believed to be a key player in the attacks, died in one of the blasts at three packed churches and three luxury hotels used by foreign tourists.
"What intelligence agencies have told me is that Zahran was killed during the Shangri-La attack," he said.
He said Hashim led the attack against the hotel and was accompanied by a second bomber, who has been identified as Ilham Ibrahim.
Authorities had been on a desperate hunt for Hashim after the government named his group, National Thowheeth Jama'ath as perpetrators of the attack.
Hashim, who founded the NTJ, appeared in a video released by the Islamic State group when it claimed the strikes. He is seen leading seven others in a pledge of allegiance to the IS chief.
With the country on the defensive over ignored foreign warnings that attacks were likely, police chief Pujith Jayasundara became the second major resignation.
Sri Lanka's top defence ministry official Hemasiri Fernando stepped down late Thursday and the inspector general of police has also tendered his resignation, Sirisena announced, insisting that security institutions must "take responsibility."
"The defence secretary (Fernando) and IGP must take responsibility for the security failure," Sirisena said.
"That is why I asked them both to resign before I hold a disciplinary inquiry."
The government has faced recriminations over its failure to prevent the attacks despite receiving warnings.
Indian intelligence shared several warnings about planned attacks with Sri Lankan authorities; an Indian source told AFP, but the information was not given to ministers, in what Colombo has called a "major" lapse.
The military has poured troops into the streets to bolster police as they search for suspects using newly granted powers under a state of emergency.
At least 74 people are in custody so far, including a man believed to be the father of two of the bombers.