The LTTE staged an air attack on two strategic oil storage facilities in and around Colombo at 1.50 am on Sunday, as Sri Lankans remained glued to their TV sets watching the finals of the World Cup taking place at Barbados in the West Indies.
The LTTE claimed that the aerial bombing of the "strategic assets" was successful. But the Sri Lankan government said that very little damage had been inflicted, and that the air defence systems had proved to be effective.
The Sri Lankan Air Force (SLAF) spokesman, Group Captain Ajantha Silva, confirmed that the attacking aircraft, believed to be a pair, had targeted the oil storage facilities at Kolonnawa, inside Colombo city, and at Muthurajawela at the outskirts.
While the two bombs dropped on Kolonnnawa did not explode, the two dropped on Muthurajawela had caused "minor damage" to the guard room of the private Shell Gas company and the water supply system in the complex, the Defence Ministry said.
There were no casualties in either place, officials said.
Defence expert Iqbal Athas said that at least five persons, including three soldiers, were injured in the incident and hospitalised. Ground fire had contributed its bit to this, he said.
The intruders were sighted first at Palavi, about 100 kms North of Colombo, Athas said.
The Indian made radars had cited them and had alerted the defence authorities at Katunayake and Colombo. Air defence systems were immediately activated, and anti-aircraft fire was directed from several places, ranging from the air base at Katunayake, 30 kms to the North, and the air base at Ratmalana, 10 kms in the south.
Interceptor aircraft took off from Katunayake in search of the intruders.
Lights went off throughout the metropolitan area.
But the ground firing seemed to be indiscriminate. The aerial search too was in vain as the intruders were able to enter Colombo and leave safely after dropping their bombs on the intended targets.
LTTE sought strategic targets
Claiming success, the LTTE's military spokesman, Rasaiah Ilanthirayan, said that the pilots of the two squadrons of the "Tamileelam Air force" which had staged the attack, saw flames leap into the sky from both places.
"But we have no details of the damage," he added.
"The planes returned to the base safely after completing their mission successfully," he said.
Ilanthirayan described Kolonnawa and Muthurajawela as " strategic targets" because they supplied fuel to the Sri Lankan Air Force.
"The LTTE's air action had followed the SLAF's raid on the outskirts of Kilinochchi, at 1 am," he said in justification.
He refused to state how many planes constituted a "squadron".
Deafening sounds and blackout
People in the city and its suburbs had heard deafening and incessant sounds of anti-air aircraft fire from about 1.10 am onwards.
The lights had gone off too. The area around the Presidential Palaces in the Fort and Colpitty and the Army, Navy and Air Force headquarters was rocked by very heavy anti-aircraft fire. Residents said that they heard at least three loud explosions resembling bombs.
Those in multi-storeyed apartments ran downstairs thinking that their buildings were going to be bombed.
The roads were blocked, and there was sporadic firing by troops on some streets. Anti-aircraft firing could be seen till 3 am, even after power was restored.
The Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa was in Barbados watching the World Cup finals at the time of the attack.
Earlier alarm and raid
On April 26, there had been a false air raid alarm in Colombo, and anti-batteries had opened fire. The international airport was shut for a while.
A day earlier, LTTE aircraft had bombed the Myliddy army base near the Palaly airbase in the Northern district of Jaffna.
On March 26, two LTTE single engine propeller driven aircraft of the LTTE had bombed the Sri Lanka Air Forces' main airbase at Katunayake, 30 kms north of Colombo, killing three airmen and injuring 16.
On all the three occasions, the Flying Tigers had returned to their bases safely.
This is believed to be worrying defence experts in Colombo and also New Delhi, which had gifted radars for the defence of the Sri Lankan capital and trained SLAF personnel.
The damage inflicted by the Tiger air force may be negligible, but the fact that its pilots are able to fly 300 to 400 kms over government held land and sea, back and forth, without getting a scratch, is an aspect which Colombo, New Delhi and Washington will have to think about deeply, Sri Lankan military experts say.