Four persons including a 12-year-old were killed and 25 injured when unidentified armed men opened indiscriminate fire at a moving passenger bus in southern Sri Lanka about 200km from Colombo on Friday morning.
The Sri Lanka Transport Board bus, passing a thick cluster of forest area in the southern district of Hambanthota, was packed with passengers at the time of the attack. Defence officials, who blamed the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE) for the attack, said the gunmen were hiding in the forests on either sides of the road and opened fire as the vehicle came within firing range. The bus was plying between Buttala and Kataragama.
Showing presence of mind, the driver drove through the firing and halted only after he realised that the spot of the ambush was several kilometres behind.
The injured were taken to the nearest clinics and nursing homes for immediate medical attention before 19 of them were transferred to the district hospital in Hambanthota. Two women were among the four passengers who died in the attack.
Soon after the incident, which took place at about 10.15 in the morning, the police and the military sealed the Buttala-Kathirkaamam road. Subsequently, the police and the Sri Lanka Army launched a search operation in the area.
What sent alarm bells ringing among the military establishment was the fact that the attack took place in southern Sri Lanka, far from the country’s north where the armed forces and LTTE are locked in a pitched battle.
Military spokesperson Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara told HT the gunmen took advantage of the fact that large swathes of the area are covered in forests. “Lot of it is either reserved forest or sanctuaries. More than 300000 acres is forested. It provides opportunity (for the LTTE) to move in small groups. The incident took place on a road, which is bordering a sanctuary,” Nanayakkara said.
In January, 26 people died in a bomb attack on a bus in the same area.