Suspected Tamil Tiger rebels set off a powerful roadside bomb in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo on Wednesday, killing five people and wounding 28 others, police and hospital officials said.
The powerful Claymore mine — a fragmentation bomb packed with ball bearings — targeted an army bus transporting wounded soldiers but hospital officials said most of the victims were civilians.
It was the second high-profile attack in the capital in as many days. Prominent opposition Tamil lawmaker Thiagarajah Maheswaran was gunned down while he prayed at a Hindu temple on Tuesday.
Maheswaran of the United National Party was a vehement critic of the government's escalating war against Tamil Tiger rebels and a campaigner for the rights of Tamils in the Sinhalese-majority island.
A police official at the scene of Wednesday's blast said five people were killed — three died instantly while two others died en route to Colombo National Hospital.
Hospital spokeswoman Pushpa Soysa said the facility had so far received four bodies.
"A total of 28 people are receiving treatment right now. We are holding three of them in the intensive care unit," she said.
Hospital director Hector Weerasinghe said most of the killed or injured were civilians — with just one soldier reported killed and 11 hurt. There were no reports of any foreign nationals among the casualties.
The mine went off as the army bus passed the low-budget Nippon Hotel in Colombo's commercial Slave Island area, where the military has several key installations, police and witnesses said.
"It was a roadsi de bomb," a police official at the scene said. "It appears to be an explosive device weighing six to seven kilos and set off by remote control."
Sri Lanka's defence ministry blamed Tamil guerrillas, who have frequently used roadside bombs in their decades-old war for an independent homeland in the north and east of the ethnic Sinhalese-majority island.
The attack comes amid renewed heavy fighting in the north of the island, and after Sri Lanka's top military commanders vowed to push for victory against the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) this year.
"LTTE terrorists have carried out a cowardly bomb attack targeting civilians and an army bus carrying sick personnel," the defence ministry said in a statement.
It said the mine had been placed inside an air conditioning unit installed at the Nippon hotel, which suffered extensive damage. Some of its staff were among the wounded.
Police and troops cordoned off the scene as forensic experts began sifting through the wreckage and rubble strewn across a four-lane highway.