The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) used a small fixed wing aircraft to bomb the Sri Lankan Air Force's main base in Katunayake, north of Colombo, on Monday.
Group Captain Ajantha Silva told Hindustan Times over the phone that the aircraft had dropped two bombs on the airbase at 12.45 am killing three airmen and injuring 16 other servicemen. Four were in a critical condition.
No aircraft on the ground was damaged, Silva claimed.
But unofficial sources said that two helicopters might have been damaged.
The attacking aircraft was not detected, intercepted or shot down, Silva said.
But one agency reported that the invading aircraft had been detected on radar, forty minutes before it struck the airbase.
The LTTE's military spokesman Rasaiah Ilanthirayan said that the attacking aircraft had returned to base after completing its mission. The spokesman also said that there were two airfact involved in the mission.
Gr Capt Silva said that the civil international airport at Katunayake was not damaged.
This is the first time in Sri Lanka that a militant group has used aircraft to attack a state establishment.
The airport, which was closed immediately, became operational at 3.45 am with all flights operating as scheduled.
This is the first time, the LTTE is using an aircraft in its two decade old war for an independent Tamil Eelam in North Eastern Sri Lanka.
The LTTE was known to have a couple of fixed wing aircraft and an airfield in Iranamadu near Kilinochchi. But nobody had seen them.
The Sri Lankan Air Force had been bombing the Iranamadu airfield and claiming that the LTTE's air assets were destroyed.
The Sri Lankan government had been aware of a threat to the capital city of Colombo from the air, and had got a radar system installed.
But it is not known if this system was operational at the time of the attack.
The LTTE had attacked the airbase in Katunayake earlier on July 24, 2001 with ground infiltrators, and damaged 13 civil aircraft causing a huge loss to Sri Lanka.
International freight insurance rates to Colombo went up 300 per cent ,ruined the economy, and led to a change of regime in the country.
Monday's air attack introduces a new element in the Sri Lankan war, in which only the Sri Lankan government had been using air power till then.
The SLAF uses supersonic Kfirs and MIG 27s, and has been conducting air raids almost daily in the North and East.