A suspected LTTE suicide bomber rammed his motorcycle into a bus packed with policemen, killing at least nine and injuring more than 80 in a high-security area of Colombo on Friday.
The explosion occurred at around 12 noon in front of the Hilton Hotel on Lotus Road, near the finance ministry building. The bus, which had a riot police team waiting inside, was parked in front of the hotel.
The impact of the blast damaged the Samboddha Loka Vihara temple across the narrow road besides damaging scores of passing vehicles and several three-wheelers parked in front of the hotel. Several window panes of the five-star hotel were smashed in the blast but there was no report of any guest being injured.
It was learnt that the riot police team from the Kelaniya police station was deployed at the spot as a preemptive measure to counter a protest meeting planned by the main Opposition party, the UNP, against last week’s eastern provincial election. The protest was planned for the afternoon and the police team was waiting for further orders.
Hector Veerasinghe, director of Colombo National Hospital where the injured were rushed, told HT at least 10 were in critical condition. “Ninety-five persons were brought to the hospital. Of them, seven police personnel, including three women, along with two civilians were brought dead. At least 30 more policemen were injured,” he said.
Salesman M. Thurerajh was passing by the area when he heard a deafening explosion which shook the earth beneath his feet, he said. “Within seconds, I saw a ball of fire hurtling towards the vehicle. The impact had broken the window panes of the car,” he said. While he escaped unhurt, two of his companions had to be treated for minor injuries.
The driver of sports and public recreation minister Gamini Lokuge was also killed in the blast. Lokuge said: “My driver was coming back from Galadari hotel after delivering a message to a friend who is staying there. But while he was on his way back, the explosion occurred and he died.”
Minutes after the blast, the road was cordoned off with a large number of policemen and army rushing in to throw multiple layers of security rings around the site. Forensic experts who sifted through the mangled remains of the bus refused to comment on the nature of the explosive.
Military spokesperson Udaya Nanayakkara said the LTTE had not claimed responsibility for the blast till evening. “But from the nature of the attack, it is clear that LTTE was behind it,” he added.