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Post subject: 30 killed in Rajagiriya attack - 10 March 2000
Wed Aug 03, 2005 2:19 am
|30 dead and 53 wounded in aborted assassination attempt
By Roy Denish
@ Sunday Leader / 12th March 2000
At least 18 persons, including men, women and children were killed and scores wounded when suspected LTTE guerrillas launched a suicide and grenade attack in the heavily guarded Colombo city on Friday evening.
It is believed the target was a cabinet minister returning after the emergency debate in parliament, but the attack occurred after a lone policeman guarding a checkpoint near the Rajagiriya Ayurvedic hospital stopped the bus the assassins were traveling in to check passengers.
This correspondent was an eye witness to the incident.
There is no concrete evidence available as yet as to how exactly the attack occurred, but according several eye-witnesses, it happened when a policeman stopped a private passenger bus travelling to Borella. Four men alighted from the vehicle, snatched an automatic rifle from the policeman, hit him with the butt and forced him to flee.
While the drama was taking place another batch of men clad in T-shirts (similar to army issues) hiding behind the thickly grown bushes (opposite, the N.M.Perera statue) appeared from hiding firing at the policemen, killing one of them instantly.
One of the suicide bombers who was hit by a policeman's bullet detonated the explosives he was carrying. A private passenger bus, a private vehicle carrying office staff, a private car and a jeep were caught in the blast resulting in the death of the 17 persons.
Soon after the bombers detonated the explosives, a series explosions rocked the area. Police said the explosions were the result of the hand grenades thrown at the security personnel who rushed to the scene of the incident.
Immediately after the explosions heavy firing broke out between the bombers and the security forces which resulted in two of them being shot dead. The others fled the scene after hijacking a jeep.
Last night police and security forces launched a massive cordon and search operation in Colombo for the perpetrators.
Black Friday: Assault in Rajagiriya
Why peace is a distant dream
By Roy Denish
The two day drama on the streets of Colombo last week that saw 30 dead and 53 wounded, left no one under any illusion that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) could strike at will, anywhere, at anytime and could penetrate any place.
By D.B.S. Jeyaraj
"Was it for this the wild geese spread The grey wing upon every tide For this that all that blood was shed... - W. B. Yeats
Friday July 29th in 1983 was a black Friday. It was the day on which a wildfire rumour spread throughout Colombo that a Tiger squad had come to the metropolis to seek revenge for the anti-Tamil pogrom in progress then by wreaking havoc and mayhem.
The initial reaction was panic with almost everyone running home. But when it became clear that there were no Tigers anywhere in Colombo or the suburbs except for those four legged felines in the Dehiwela Zoo violence reared its ugly head again. Mobs went berserk and began searching out Tamils on the streets and elsewhere. The previous days of the week had seen most Tamils taking shelter in refugee camps or in safe houses. On Friday many had ventured out thinking the worst part was over as Wednesday and Thursday had been relatively quiet. Instead many were butchered on the streets on that Black Friday.
July 1983 was a watershed in the history of this country and altered the nature of ethnic relations to a seemingly irreversible state. The cry for secession got strengthened, international intervention occurred and a full fledged war was launched by armed Tamil youths. In spite of several politico-military initiatives the war grinds on brutally.
As the war went on, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) adopted various strategies. One was taking the war to Colombo.
It must be said that the group which pioneered the concept of taking the war to the south was the Eelam Revolutionary Organisation (EROS) with its explosives. The LTTE followed suit and soon established a ruthless pattern in this. Bombs, sabotage, assassinations, suicide attacks, etc. have become part and parcel of this strategy. In one way it is reminiscent of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) tactic of conducting operations in London. But unlike the IRA, the scope, intensity and number of LTTE attacks in the greater Colombo area are proportionately more.
The wheel turned full cycle and 17 years after July 29, 1983, metropolitan Colombo experienced another Black Friday on March 10, 2000. Only this time the Tigers had really come to Colombo with powerfully destructive weapons and explosives. Of course the Tigers have been coming to town for quite some time now. Many of them are suspected to be living in Colombo and suburbs. They have made their presence felt in numerous ways. Apart from the solitary suicide bomber attack there have been strikes by squads too as in the case of the Central Bank and Galadari Hotel attacks, the assault on the Kolonnawa Oil Storage, and the attempt on Eelam Peoples Democratic Party Leader Douglas Devananda etc. But the incident on March 10, and its attendant high drama has brought home the stark reality of an LTTE 'invasion' as never before perhaps.
The prime target of this LTTE operation was obviously Irrigation, Power and Energy Minister not allowed Deputy Minister of Defence Anuruddha Ratwatte. He is seen as the driving force behind the present government's military efforts. In practical terms Ratwatte is the minister of war and his elimination is viewed by the LTTE as a symbolic, psychological and utilitarian victory. There have been several attempts in the past and the fact that Ratwatte has survived them all is particularly galling to the LTTE psyche thereby causing an intensification of effort to achieve this goal.
Apart from this prize target the Tigers would also not have been averse to killing or maiming the three service chiefs, the police chief, top defence ministry officials, and of course ministers and members of parliament. The choice of March 10, was determined by these calculations.
For that day was significant in two matters concerning Ratwatte. It was the day for the monthly extension of the emergency regulations by parliament.
More importantly it was also the day on which budgetary allocations for defence ministry expenditure was to be passed at committee stage. There have been days on which Ratwatte was absent from the house on emergency day but the double voting meant he would have been there and what is more with all his top men and officers in attendance.
The LTTE correctly gauged that while they would have proceeded to parliament during the day from different places at different times almost all of them would have returned together in a vehicular cavalcade after parliament in the evening. Operatives of the Tiger intelligence wing may also have discovered that this grand procession after parliament was a given on most emergency voting days. They may also have found that the pattern was for the minister, officials and even other ministers to return to Colombo city after parliament was over. In those instances the most obvious point they would have passed was the Borella-Rajagiriya intersection where one road Castle Street and Old Cotta Road proceeded on almost a parallel direction towards Borella. It may also have been observed that the vehicles slowed down at this point routinely before branching off either way.
In spite of the strategic suitability of the venue the practical difficulty from a Tiger perspective was that the area was reeking of security personnel. There was a special task force post near the Ayurvedic Hospital close by. There was the police post at the Parliament Road branch off. In addition there were extra policemen deployed at distances of 100 to 150 yards on the days that parliament convenes, particularly so on emergency debate day. Furthermore Borella Junction, Kanatte Junction etc. had its own security deployments. On the other side Wanathamulla had an airforce camp while Kolonnawa too had its own security set up. The other direction towards Battaramulla and Kotte etc. too were full of security personnel on that day. Under these conditions there was a very remote possibility of a Tiger assault on that spot. Furthermore bringing lethal weapons was another difficulty. The only chance perhaps was for a lone suicide bomber to make an attempt with minimum possibilities of success. These may have been some of the reasons for the security personnel lowering their guard.
The LTTE however had plans of a daring, spectacular assault. They knew that Ratwatte had very good security with several vehicles going before and after his car. Some were identical and with the glass being tinted virtually impossible to know in which vehicle the minister was. So a major onslaught on all vehicles in the convoy was necessary. The attack also had to be wider in scope so as to encompass other important targets if possible like the service chiefs, defence officials and political leaders etc. As a result the Tiger plan on that day was uniquely unprecedented and if successful would have rocked the nation and shocked the world.
Since the plan was never executed as intended it is not possible to outline what exactly the modus operandi would have been. But it is certain that it was a combination of suicide bomber assaults, bombs and landmine devices, usage of heavy weapons like anti-tank LAWs, rocket propelled grenades, powerful 40 mm grenades, several types of machine guns etc. It was to be an ambush of terrifying scale that had as its bottom line the minimum goal of definitely assassinating Ratwatte. Maximally the Tigers would have wanted to kill as many service chiefs, defence officials and government figures.
The wholesale destruction of the upper echelons of the defence establishment was the objective. The size and power of the arsenal as well as the deployment of a squad in double digits demonstrates that; it could be surmised that depending upon ground situation variables the Tigers may have exploded mines, detonated human bombs, unleashed RPGs and shells, and rained machine gun fire. If the convoy was interdicted at the spot as envisaged what might have occurred would have been a combination of all this.
Investigations are now continuing about how the LTTE managed to enter the premises where they planned the attack. It is felt that some made it by vehicles which left after dropping them off and others would have made it by bus or hired taxis etc. They were in civilian clothing but some had changed into military fatigues or commando type T-shirts later. One flaw in their planning seems to be that some Tigers despite the uniform were wearing rubber slippers or were barefoot. According to some reports the Tigers were in three groups: some in civils, some in uniform and some posing off as a surveying team with Tripos equipment and measuring gauges and tapes etc.
The LTTE team had taken up position in the empty piece of land and the abandoned dwelling first. Some had also moved into the empty house at one point. The whereabouts of the security guard who was supposedly in charge of overseeing the property when the LTTE infiltrated is a mystery but the man is now in custody. How the LTTE was able to creep in to this place in an overwhelmingly security saturated environ is another moot point. The usual Tiger method of bribing authorities cannot be ruled out.
The elaborate LTTE plan to attack Anuruddha's convoy was foiled entirely by chance and not due to the alertness of the security personnel. The owner of the empty house and property had arrived there in the evening around 5.50 pm and seen suspicious looking characters lurking. Upon making inquiries at the adjacent tea boutique about who they were he had been told that they were probably underworld characters taking or selling drugs. Thereafter instead of accosting the trespassers directly the man had gone over to the police post near the Ayurvedic Hospital and complained. Three policemen not realising that Tigers were involved, walked over to the place to inquire into the matter.
At the same time people in the tea boutique were now somewhat excited and were peering inquisitively into the behaviour of the trespassers presumed to be kudu karayas. The Tigers now became aware that their cover was blown and that people were now observing them. At the same time they saw the three policemen coming towards them. At this point of time one armed Tiger cadre wearing army type fatigues stepped out on the road and advanced forward gunning down the three policemen one by one. The time was 6.05. With that the situation transformed. The security personnel in the vicinity became alerted and started reacting.
One LTTE'er then ran down the road in the direction towards parliament and self destructed himself causing tremendous damage to a 175 route bus and passengers. Almost at the same time another Tiger fired either a LAW or RPG into another Dolphin private mini bus and destroyed it killing several innocent passengers many of whom were women. Two other Tigers began firing their machine guns and exchanged gunfire with the security personnel.
The Tiger action of targeting a passenger bus and van was not an act of random violence. It was a tactic to disrupt all traffic from one direction for a while. This may have had two purposes. One was to create conditions that would enable the 'black Tigers' among the assault squad to get away.
Some unconfirmed reports say that two groups proceeded along both Castle Street and Cotta Road in two vehicles. The second purpose was perhaps because the Tigers thought that their chief quarry was on the way and that there was still a chance to attack him. The traffic standstill may have given them a brief opportunity. But that was not to be as Ratwatte was still in parliament when the fighting erupted.
Usually on emergency debate day voting is taken at 6 pm or slightly earlier. There is also a possibility that the Tiger squad may have been informed that Ratwatte would have left even earlier. This may have caused the plan itself to be timed for 6 p.m. plus. But unfortunately for the Tigers parliamentary proceedings on that day were delayed. There were two votes to be taken. Moreover, the TULF had insisted on a division at voting time for both the emergency and defence ministry votes. This meant more time than usual. The votes were passed with the count on emergency being 96 to 68 and defence being 95 to 7. With the delay there was absolutely no chance of Ratwatte venturing out of parliament to suit the Tiger timetable. Once information about the attack was known all parliamentarians and VIP officials were sent under heavy escort through different longer routes.
So the shooting ruckus that went on at Rajagiriya for nearly 35 to 45 minutes was without any purpose as far as the targeting of Ratwatte was concerned. The mayhem and melee however was a new hitherto unknown experience for residents of greater Colombo. As the shoot out continued, frightened people deserted their homes and ran. People in vehicles abandoned them and took shelter elsewhere. Many simply lay down on the ground. With more and more reinforcements coming and time moving fast the remaining Tigers decided to call it a day. They split up into two groups and retreated leaving behind quite a lot of their well equipped arsenal. Their trail of destruction on that Black Friday was 29 dead and 84 wounded, 12 very seriously. The carnage however was a waste even from a Tiger point of view because they had not succeeded in their primary objective of ambushing Anu- ruddha Ratwatte. The day or rather evening of the tiger was over but not the action packed drama that continued into the long night.
The attacks also proved that the country’s intelligence wings are incompetent and these organisations need a complete revamping.
Just 24 hours after the attacks in the highly guarded Colombo, a security council meeting attended by the staff of the ministerial security division (MSD) and the defence ministry, reviewed security in the city. It is comical that on each and every occasion that the Tigers launch strikes, high level military officials hold discussions.
Incidentally, the attack at Borella is the 25th violent strike by the LTTE since 1986.
In the aftermath of the attacks, questions were raised as to why there were no intelligence information from the military intelligence (MI) and the police’s national intelligence bureau (NIB).
The attacks were planned to coincide with the big matches. And it is established that those who took part in the savage strikes were just over 20 years. (see below for their names, age and the places of birth).
On the day of the attack the the LTTE cadres were clad in black slacks/jeans and T-shirts. They wore the black shirts over the T-shirts only when they entered Rohita Cooray’s partially demolished residence.
The weapons were concealed in bags which schoolboy cricketers carry and since all those involved in the attack looked similar to schoolboys, they allayed suspicions even though some people saw them trooping into Cooray’s house.
The terrorists killed were:
Selvadurai Shashikumar (10.10.70 ) Place of birth - Chunnakam, Jaffna
Sinnavan Thavarasa (14.05.78 ) Place of birth - Jaffna.
P. Shashikumar (23.05.75 ) Place of birth - Chullipuram-Jaffna.
Sathivel Jayakumar (18.11.76 ) Place of birth - Sangani, Batticaloa.
Sandanam Pathmashri (7-10-76 ) Place of birth - Point Pedro, Jaffna.
Logarasa Kamaladas (23.10.78 ) Place of birth - Chullipuram.
The NICs of all six give their occupation as students. But only more checking will reveal whether the identity cards are genuine.
Although the places of birth indicated that the boys were born at different places in the north and east, it prompted policemen from the Crime Detection Bureau (CDB) to raid several jewellery shops owned by nationals of recent Indian origin on Sea Street since prior to the attacks, these men had associated with several goldsmiths who hail from Periyaporaithivu in Batticaloa. (These revelations came to light because a number of visiting cards with Sea Street addresses were found in the possession of the attackers).
Following the attacks, sleuths from the CDB arrested a Tamil person from Sarasavi Uyana on a tip-off given by some persons at Bandarnayakapura that just a few hours before the attack, he had closed his business establishment. The CDB assumed he had prior knowledge of the attack.
But it later transpired, the suspect, an expert in gemmology, had closed his place of work because the lease of the rented building had expired.
The attackers arrived at Cooray’s house between 1.30 and 3.00 pm, one by one. The place from where they originated is still not known although police believe they had come to the house in a private passenger bus from Borella.
Their presence was noticed by Cooray, an employee of the Maharagama Ayurveda Hospital when he had visited the house to light the oil lamp and place flowers in worship. Noticing unidentified’ persons, he notified Ananda (a police sergeant attached to the police women’s bureau). Ananda accompanied by three other policemen arrived at the scene in a three-wheeler around 6.05 pm during the traffic rush hour. The incidents which followed are now history.
The writer was caught in the crossfire for about half an hour. The incidents which I witnessed after the blasts are incomprehensible. I saw youths (mostly drug addicts from the Rajagiriya area under the pretext of assisting the paramedics removing cash, jewellery and other valuables despite the presence of a large group of policemen and soldiers).
I saw Sub Inspector Maldeniya being shot dead in a hail of bullets because Maldeniya arrived at the scene without wearing a helmet while the army’s quick reaction team (QRT) and the Tigers were trading small arms fire.
Apparently, SI Maldeniya had arrived from the Kanatte roundabout on hearing gunfire after snatching an automatic from a policeman on duty along the Parliament Road.
The attacks were aimed at the three service commanders, cabinet ministers and several other VIPs who were expected to take the route after attending the emergency debate. Immediately after the attack was relayed to Air Force Commander, Air Marshall Jayalath Weerakkody on his cellular phone, he detailed an American built Bell 212 and 412s to carry out reconnaissance missions and provide air cover to the men from the special task force, QRT and Rapid Deployment Force (RDF).
Meanwhile, another helicopter was detailed to descend at the parliament complex in which the air force commander and the Deputy Defence Minister Anuruddha Ratwatte were airlifted to safety.
With two days fighting over, the government appointed CDB Director Bandula (Show) Wickramasinghe to pick up the leads to determine from where the LTTE cadres originated. The task is enormous since the LTTE cadres left no clues proper and were willing to even die for their cause.
In the meantime, the navy destroyed an LTTE Sea Tigers wing mission named Fukara’ on the high seas just two days after the Borella attack.
The craft, the Sri Lanka Navy fast attack craft (FAC) 408, was on a routine patrol under a lieutenant commander. Just an hour before the craft moved into the Palk Straits there was an urgent message from the navy headquarters in Colombo that the LTTE had planned to carry out suicide missions on naval units between Delft Island and Thalaimannar between March 11 and 13 codenamed Fukara.’
Although the FAC 408 was initially detailed for the routine patrol, the captain was ordered to proceed to the location. Around 0730 hours on March 12, the FACs off Delft detected two suspicious trawlers moving abreast. One trawler was moving at 7.5 nautical miles south east of Delft and the other at 5.5. nautical miles south west of Karaithivu Island among the fishing trawlers.
The FACs discovered through a process known as contact motion analysis (CMA) that the movements of the two trawlers were suspicious. The navy fired two warning shots. The trawlers increased the speed and began moving south towards Vidaththalthivu, without dropping anchor as ordered by the navy.
When the orders went unheeded, the navy engaged both trawlers. The trawlers, hit by navy gunfire attempted to steer towards the coast with the FACs in hot pursuit.
When the navy units were observed pursuing the trawlers, two LTTE craft fitted with heavy guns from Nachikudah were seen moving towards the scene of battle, but they were fired upon and withdrew. In the engagement, one sailor was killed when he was knocked off board by flying debris, while two others were injured by shrapnel. The two trawlers exploded, which is believed to be because they were both laden with explosives.
The attacks at Borella and planned attacks on the SLN units is a clear signal to the Sri Lanka government that peace is a distant dream, at a time when the government and the Tigers are reportedly preparing to hold talks in Oslo mediated by the Norwegian government.
But the National Movement Against Terrorism, on Wednesday, organised a demonstration opposite the Norwegian embassy in Colombo demanding the Oslo government to refrain from mediation.
They never came home from Rajagiriya
By Ranee Mohamed
The heartache is to do with separatism. But to them the lament is not about a separate state. They are crying for their loved ones - somebody’s husband or wife, son or daughter or a close friend from whom they were separated last Friday, March 10.
"I feel very sleepy," Udeni had confided to a friend that Friday afternoon. "I will go home and have a long sleep." But she was called to rest before she went home - closing her eyes with the blast at Rajagiriya.
Her family who looked for her in the wards, found her in the mortuary with a torn face and heart. Their house is hidden down a by-lane, but the sorrow lay thickly everywhere. The flags were white and new, as the sadness was. Udeni’s sister Tharanga came outside to greet us, but no greeting came, there was only grief and hopelessness in her eyes. It seemed as if nobody could bring any good news for this family now. Udeni Dayananda lived her life to the fullest and had shown signs of an angel long before she died. "She loved babies, flowers and the beautiful things in life," said Tharanga Dayananda. "She spent her money lavishly on friends and family. She hesitated to even kill a mosquito," she said. The sorrow of the Dayananda family engulfs their little house. In every dark corner is a memory of their youngest daughter.
Though working at a bank Udeni had never believed in saving. To her life seemed too short, human beings too important to hoard money. To Udeni’s family however, there seemed to be no way out of the loss of their little girl’ who spent all her money making people happy. Tharanga sighs and sighs again. It is difficult to imagine a smile on her face again. "Why are innocent people not protected?" "What did my sister have to do with all this? Why is the common man not protected by public funds? Why are only the politicians given tight security?" she questions, tears streaming down her pale, sad face. Udeni’s mother who had been paralysed sometime ago had been brought back to life by Udeni, both by her presence and by the money she had spent on specialists and medicine As the aging woman made her way into the living room this Tuesday, March 14, the lost look in her eyes, the tear-stained cheeks and dishevelled hair told us that she was paralysed again, but this time in her mind. It is a mother’s grief. "She worshipped me, her father’s picture and she worshipped the Lord Buddha before she left to work," she wept. The tears that Udeni’s mother shed seemed uncontrollable. "She will always be my little girl, even though she was twenty seven years, I had to feed her when she came after work. Time and again she used to tell me Amma put me to sleep’," she said.
Udeni it seems had a sense of fear that week. Even her sister Tharanga who was very close to her had experienced an inexplicable foreboding of disaster
"Mother, hug me I am scared," Udeni had said barely two days before she died. Her sister Tharanga too felt a strangeness that had made her lifeless with trepidation. That Friday evening Tharanga had felt her chest tighten. "I tripped and almost fell over in Nugegoda around the time the bomb went off," said Tharanga.
The sorrow is painful, it not only touches the human heart,but clamps and wrings it.
How can a few people wanting to take political revenge wreak so much sorrow in the hearts of innocent people who are leading hard yet peaceful lives? "Ordinary citizens have feelings, they have loved ones too," pointed out Tharanga. Dilrukshi Kandaramage, Udeni’s friend in life, also died with her. Dilrukshi had planned to buy a car and two weeks ago she had visited Udeni with a saree and taken some plants from her house. All the discussions were about buying a car. Dilrukshi who also had no father had great aspirations about her banking career.
The girl in saree’ who was taken in for surgery that evening was Damayanthi Premachandra, another employee at Commercial Bank. But Damayanthi who was alive when she was taken to hospital succumbed to her injuries there. A.G.M. of the Personnel Department of Commercial Bank, Jayantha Jayaratne said that the bank was sorry about the sudden loss of three young employees. "We are sorry for what has happened. They were happy here and were enthusiastic workers. We are very sorry to lose them," he said.
The size of the houses didn’t seem to make a difference. The grief seemed to have settled thickly all around. By the look on Kanchana Upasena’s face we knew we had come to the house we were looking for - the house of Niranjala (Upasena) Gamage. "My sister phoned us a few hours before her death. She told me and my mother to be ready to go to the Millennium Park," said Kanchana tears brimming in her eyes. Niranjala, her children, her mother and sister were to have dinner at the Millennium Park that Friday night. But even this last meal was never to be. For that afternoon Niranjala had made her way to her husband’s company to sign a cheque as her husband had gone to England that week. On her way back she had stopped at Main Street to buy some curtains. But the shop was closed. She had hurriedly made her way back home - driving her car. She had sent the driver home that evening as he was feeling ill. But it was a well and healthy Niranjala who died that evening. "My daughter was an accomplished woman. She excelled in cookery, cake making and flower arrangements and imparted her knowledge to many young girls," said her grief stricken father Upasena in tears. "My daughter was an innocent child. Even from her school days she never got into any kind of violence with anybody. Students from Nuwara Eliya, Kurunegala, Kandy and Anuradhapura came in search of her," he said.
The steel chairs still lay scattered all over the large garden of their little house. People were playing cards, outside, but inside luck seems to have run out for the family of Somadasa.
Seelawathi who had arranged their marriage was there for the funeral too. A. H. Somadasa’s wife Dayawathie had waited for him to return from the flower shop at which he worked. "I saw his bicycle on TV and was horrified. I knew something terrible had happened to my husband," she said. But all she imagined was that he was in hospital. "He promised me that he will come early to go to temple that evening," she said. "I waited till morning standing near the gate the whole night, but he never came."
His coffin was a garden of flowers, for he worked at a flower shop.
"I don’t know how we are going to live. We have no source of income. He used to bring me flowers to make garlands. But now there will be no flowers," Dayawathie cried.
It seemed that the both the flower and fragrance have died in Dayawathie’s life.
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