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Post subject: LTTE bombing of Central Bank - 31 January 1996
Sun Feb 05, 2006 7:03 pm
|LTTE bombing of Central Bank - 31 January 1996
The Central Bank Bombing was one of the most devastating and deadliest terrorist bombings of the 1990s by the Tamil Tigers.
The attack took place on January 31, 1996, in the capital of Sri Lanka, Colombo. A truck containing about 440 pounds of high explosives crashed through the main gate of the Central Bank, a seaside high-rise which managed most of the financial business of the country. As gunmen traded fire with security guards, the suicide bomber in the truck detonated the massive bomb, which tore through the bank and damaged eight other buildings nearby. The blast left a crater eight feet deep, and the front of the Central Bank collapsed into the street. Debris was hurled up to a kilometer (one-half mile) away. Watch QuickTime Movie
The blast killed 91 people and injured 1,400 others. Most of these were bystanders or civilians manning small shops set up near the bank. The street was littered with mangled bodies, shards of glass and pieces of metal. Blood-stained survivors were hobbling away, moaning in pain and shock. Small stalls outside the bank building which sell newspapers, cigarettes and soft drinks, bore the brunt of the explosion and had disappeared in the rubble. Watch QuickTime Movie
The Sri Lankan government arrested two suspects immediately after the attack, and launched a massive manhunt for others. It was eventually determined the bombers had come from Jaffna, in the north of the country. Police identified the suicide bomber who drove the truck into the Central Bank building as Raj. Two other members of the hit squad, who were arrested later, were identified as Ragunathan and Kutti.
The attacks by the Tamil Tigers continued in 1996 with the deaths of a further 78 people in a bomb attack on a crowded train.
Sri Lankan police name suicide bombers
February 1, 1996
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (CNN) -- Sri Lankan police have reportedly identified members of the Tamil Tiger guerrilla squad who blew up a truck packed with 440 pounds of explosives in the heart of Colombo on Wednesday. At least 60 people were dead and some 1,400 others were wounded.
Criminal Investigation Department officials said the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam hit squad arrived in Colombo from their northern Jaffna stronghold on January 8.
They identified the suicide bomber who drove the truck into the Central Bank building as Raj. Two other members of the hit squad, who were arrested later, were identified as Ragunathan and Kutti.
Rescuers were hampered by flames and fears of additional blasts after the truck smashed into Sri Lanka's central bank Wednesday.
Some of the people died in high-rise fires sparked by the explosions in Sri Lanka's capital of Colombo, officials said. Military sources said the truck was packed with 200 kilograms (440 pounds) of explosives. Police said they arrested two Tamil suspects who were fleeing the scene in a hijacked scooter-rickshaw.
No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, but the military suspects Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelan rebels who have waged a 12-year war for their own homeland in northern Sri Lanka. Security in Colombo has been tightened since the fall of the Tamil stronghold of Jaffna almost two months ago.
Wednesday's explosion (10:45 a.m. local time; 0515 GMT) tore away the outside of the nine-story bank building. The blast left a crater eight feet deep, and the front of the Central Bank collapsed into the street.
The nearby offices of Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga were not damaged. But several buildings closer to the blast site, including hotels, were destroyed by fire and the force of the explosions. Debris was hurled up to a kilometer (one-half mile) away.
Cautious rescue workers picked through the rubble, fearing the collapse of structures weakened by the blast, said reporter Amal Jayasinghe of Agence France Press. People trapped atop burning buildings waved frantically for help. Helicopters hovered over rooftops and tried to get low enough to pick up survivors.
The street was littered with mangled bodies, shards of glass and pieces of metal. Blood-stained survivors were hobbling away, moaning in pain and shock. Small stalls outside the bank building which sell newspapers, cigarettes and soft drinks, bore the brunt of the explosion and had disappeared in the rubble.
Witnesses come forward
Prasanna Wijewardhana, a guard at the central bank, said a blue and brown truck drove into the security barricade outside the bank. Two men leaped out and opened fire. Some guards returned fire, but many of them fled, he said. The attackers "were firing automatic weapons and had the advantage of surprise."
Other witnesses said roads out of the capital were jammed as people fled the city, fearing more attacks. Rebel suicide bombers have killed more than 59 people in Colombo in recent months. The government says the war with separatist Tamil rebels has killed more than 50,000 people since July 1983. Tamils, who are an ethnic minority on Sri Lanka, accuse the Sinhalese majority of discriminating against them. Tamils make up 17 percent of Sri Lanka's 18 million people.
Fifty dead in Sri Lanka suicide bombing
@ BBC / 31Jan1996
At least 53 people have been killed and another 1,400 injured in a suicide attack in the capital of Sri Lanka. A lorry loaded with explosives crashed into the central bank in the heart of Colombo's financial district.
The authorities said the explosion, which ripped through the business district at 1100 local time was the work of the separatist Tamil Tigers. The group's fight for an independent homeland has resulted in the deaths of nearly 40,000 people over the last 12 years.
It is believed that the intended target was the neighbouring navy headquarters. Brigadier Sarath Munasinghe, a Sri Lankan military spokesman, said: "It had to be the Tamil Tigers. Who else would have done such a thing like this?"
The blast is thought to be in response to the army's claim on the main Tiger guerrilla base at Jaffna, on the north of the island, during a long and bloody campaign that ended last December.
Witnesses said a lorry stopped near the bank at about 1045 local time and the driver was confronted by security staff. Three people jumped out of the vehicle with guns blazing and detonated two bombs. Meanwhile, the lorry reversed into the central bank and blew up. The police said the driver of the truck died in the blast. Two youths wearing jackets filled with explosives were later arrested at the Fort railway station nearby.
The blast caused the first two floors of the 10-storey central bank to collapse and it shattered the windows of a 39-storey trade centre that was still under construction. Office workers trapped on the upper floors of burning buildings nearby were lifted to safety by helicopters. The Intercontinental Hotel, one of several luxury hotels in the area, was evacuated.
Most of the dead and wounded were in the Central Bank building, where Sri Lanka's gold reserves are held and the country's financial policy is made. The director of the National Hospital's trauma unit, Hector Weerasinghe, said 53 people had died so far. Around 1,060 people were admitted to two hospitals nearby while hundreds of others were released after treatment.
The blast comes as the government prepares an ambitious political offensive to end more than a decade of fighting. It also follows a major government victory last month, when the Sri Lankan Army seized the city of Jaffna, a former stronghold of the Tamil Tiger rebels.
Anuruddha Ratwatte, the deputy defence minister, said on state television: "If Velupillai Prabhakaran [the Tamil Tiger chief] thinks that by these acts he can stop our military offensive, he is dreaming. "We say quite clearly that these acts will make us even more determined to destroy terrorism.''
The economic consequences of the blast for Sri Lanka will be catastrophic, both through direct losses and because of lost tourism and foreign investment.
Prasanna Wijewardhana, a guard at the central bank, said a blue and brown truck drove into the security barricade outside the bank. Two men leaped out and opened fire. Some guards returned fire, but many of them fled, he said. The attackers "were firing automatic weapons and had the advantage of surprise." Other witnesses said roads out of the capital were jammed as people fled the city, fearing more attacks. Rebel suicide bombers have killed more than 59 people in Colombo in recent months.
Ten Years after
Living with the horror
@ Sunday Times / 05Feb2006
10 years on, the effects of the Central Bank blast are still fresh in the minds of those who lost their loved ones or were physically maimed
By Smriti Daniel and Dhananjani Silva
The blast shook the capital for miles around. Everywhere people stopped in their tracks, staring at the ominous plume of debris and smoke rising in a column from the heart of the city. Fire trucks and rescue personnel raced to the scene as the news spread – the Central Bank had been bombed! The buildings around were severely damaged. Even at that very moment people were injured, dying, dead.
The date was January 31, 1996; a date that would be remembered not just by Sri Lankans, but by the entire international community as one of the most devastating terrorist bombings of the 1990s. Today, ten years later, the event is still a harsh reality they live with for many Sri Lankans. The blast killed 90 people and injured 1,400 others - most of whom were employed at the bank or working in the surrounding locale or just passers-by.
At the Central Bank - which was the intended target of the LTTE suicide bombers – 41 people lost their lives and nearly 1000 people were injured. Of this number, 26 people were to be permanently incapacitated. Blindness, loss of limbs, along with varied injuries meant they would never again be able to enjoy the life they had once taken for granted. For other families, the bomb simply snatched away their loved ones, leaving behind a grief that is yet to fade, 10 years down the line.
“My youngest son was only three months old when my husband died, the elder was three years old,” says Chandrika Surangi, who was widowed the day the LTTE struck the Central Bank, her husband’s workplace. “I was very young, only 28 and we had barely had four years together,” she says. Her 36-year-old husband, W.A. Shantha was working as a clerk at the bank.
As the young woman identified her husband’s body in the morgue, she couldn’t shake off the disbelief. After all, that morning had been like any other, with Shantha leaving to work as usual. But now, she knew he would never be coming home again.
Since then Surangi has struggled to overcome her own grief so that she can raise their two children. She has also been taking care of Shantha’s 83-year-old mother, who suffers from paralysis. Much to her sorrow, her youngest son has never come to terms with his father’s death. He tells his friends that his father has gone abroad and will be back in 10 years.
Jayanthi Manika Wimalasena was another who was widowed by the blast. She and her four children mourn a man who was only 47 at the time of his death. A staff officer, M.G. Wimalasena, had worked at the Central Bank for 25 years. Her brother initially identified Wimalasena, and later Jayanthi herself was forced to visit the mortuary, to identify her husband’s body. “He was covered with a polythene sheet which they lifted for me to see,” recalls a tearful Jayanthi, adding that “I was so upset that I could not contain my grief.” She was 39 years old when he was killed.
Their children, one of whom was doing his A/Ls and the other his O/Ls, were so devastated they were unable to cope with the demands of their examinations. Jayanthi worries that this might have ruined many academic and professional opportunities for them.“Bringing up my four children without their father hasn’t been easy,” she says, “earlier it was just a matter of feeding and clothing them, but now I have to ensure they get a good education, and also a good job. It is I who has to make sure they don’t go astray.”
For four other children, their father – Anura Kumara Madurawala - is still with them, but far from untouched by the tragedy. Anura who lost both eyes and his left leg (below the knee), narrates what happened on that fateful day. “I heard some noises, and so I rushed to the window to see what was happening. Barely a moment later, the whole building shook…concrete blocks had been loosened and were falling, the glass had shattered.” All Anura remembers after that one cataclysmic moment was his friend helping him out of the building.
He was rushed to hospital where he slipped into a coma that lasted two weeks. When he came out of it, darkness did not give way to light. This 55-year-old man had had his body bruised and battered – so much so that when his son saw him for the first time, the 8-year old fainted. His wife was two months pregnant at the time and so Anura is left sorrowing over the fact that he has never seen and will never see his youngest son.
The doctors had wanted to amputate Anura’s wounded left leg but he had been determined to resist. “Now that I am blind, I’m ready to die even, I will not let you chop my leg off,” was what he said at that time, adding that “I don’t care what happens.” He was gripped by absolute despair. The leg went from bad to worse, however, so that five years later, nerve damage was to force Anura to accept amputation.
The trauma apart, Anura has had to cope with a fortune spent on hospital bills. The situation was not improved by his wife having to leave her job at the Habib Bank to take care of him 24 hours of the day, week after week. The Central Bank took care of all Anura’s initial medical expenses. Initially he was given a monthly stipend of Rs 17,000 and a compensation of Rs. 29 lakhs. Yet Anura feels the bank has not done all that they should have.
Anura, who understandably cannot use public transport, is disappointed that the bank has not offered a satisfactory travel allowance either. Currently, the offer is for Rs. 1,500 a year, which Anura feels there is no point in accepting. The medical bills he puts in are also rejected when they exceed Rs.4,000, Anura reveals, explaining that specialists, x-rays, tests etc cost a lot more for him.
For Surangi and Jayanthi also, monetary problems have dogged their heels. For Surangi in particular, her husband’s monthly salary of Rs.10, 000 multiplied by five years has not even begun to compensate for his loss. She received only Rs.7000 for 8 years as a monthly stipend due to errors in calculation. This confusion was resolved only in 2003, after numerous complaints. For Jayanthi, financial constraints have meant that she had to discontinue giving a dane for her husband after a mere three years. She is bitter that more security wasn’t provided, leaving her husband and so many others vulnerable to the terrorist attack.
On the other side of the coin are ex-employees like C.E Jayasuriya. A secretary at the bank, he lost vision in his right eye and suffered minor body injuries. He was twice sent to India, accompanied by his daughter, for medical treatment – all at the bank’s expense. He was 57 at the time and had children living abroad.
Another employee, who prefers to remain anonymous, says that he has been able to move on with his life. Having recovered from extensive injuries to his face, he chose to remain at the bank. “Altogether I had 140 wounds all over my body…wounds which they had to stitch up without anaesthesia, because if they had delayed I would have bled to death,” he says. He wears glasses now, though he recalls that he had perfect vision before the incident. He has also had to undergo plastic surgery. “The first thing I remembered after the blast was my two little girls,” he says, “it was such a traumatic experience…a battle for survival…”
In the end, survivors and victims alike, are still trying to cope with a tragedy that was not of their making. Families, friends, colleagues, and even strangers found themselves in the same nightmare that day, ten years ago. This anniversary of terror is witness to the many people who are struggling desperately to leave the horror behind and yet mourn as Alfred Lord Tennyson did –
But O for the touch of a vanished hand,
And the sound of a voice that is still!
How the Central Bank helped
Immediately after the blast, the Central Bank appointed an eight-member task force to look into the plight of those affected. They began work at once identifying, locating and caring for those affected by the blast - both employees and their families. A highly placed Bank official told The Sunday Times that “the Central Bank as a good employer wanted to give the best to them”. This translated into taking care of all medical bills, including sending those who required it abroad (to the U.K, U.S, Australia and India) for treatment. Those badly injured were sent up in front of medical boards which then recommended whether they should return to work or not. For those who had to retire, the Bank came up with multiple compensation packages, from which individuals were asked to select one.
A total of Rs.96.7 million was distributed amongst the families of the 41 individuals who had lost their lives, while Rs.53 million was distributed amongst those permanently incapacitated by the blast.
Since then, bank spokespersons say, the Welfare Department has kept an eye on the victims, helping in any way they can. In addition, “we hired social workers from the National Hospital to help people cope with psychological trauma,” stressed the spokesperson, adding that a series of lectures was given to the staff to help them adjust. “We understand that there can be no compensation for someone losing their sight, for instance, but there is only so much we can do as a public institution,” said the spokesperson.
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