Ten dead in downtown shootout and bombing in Sri Lanka
Oct. 15, 1997
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) _ Nine people were killed in a series of bomb blasts in downtown Colombo early Wednesday, and security forces shot a suspected Tamil rebel to death in a gunfight near the presidential office.
At least 104 people, including 31 tourists, were wounded in the explosions, which could be heard as far as 15 miles away, said a government minister, A.H.M. Fowzie. The nationalities of the tourists were not immediately known.
Police said up to eight rebels were holding several hostages inside the offices of a government publishing company. Earlier in the morning, the sound of automatic gunfire echoed for 20 minutes through the business district as rebels battled with police and soldiers.
Two explosions ripped through the parking lot of the Galadari luxury hotel just before the 7 a.m. gunbattle began. At least one of the bombs was concealed in a car.
A third explosion was heard some two hours later, followed by more gunfire near Lake House, headquarters of the government-run newspaper publishing house.
The ball room of the Galadari Hotel was destroyed and parts of the newly built twin towers of the World Trade Center were damaged, witnesses said.
Army helicopters hovered over the district looking for suspected assailants. Gunfire could be heard from Lake House, and hundreds of soldiers surrounded the building where rebels were believed to be holed up.
``I saw one of the rebels running toward me and I opened fire and shot him dead,'' said Rohan Wijenaike, an army corporal who was at a military checkpoint near the hotel.
Bomb squads were trying to detonate a gray jacket on the corpse that was apparently packed with explosives.
There was no immediate comment from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, which has been fighting the government for Tamil independence since 1983.
It was the first major terrorist attack this year in the Sri Lankan capital, where security has been stepped up as the war in the north with the Tamil rebels intensified.
President Chandrika Kumaratunga was at her home about a mile away. She rarely uses the presidential office, an old Dutch building that once served as the parliament building, opposite the seafront.
The explosions and gun battle were barely 200 yards from the site of the 1996 bombing of the Central Bank that killed 88 people and injured 1,400. A suicide-bomber rammed an explosive-laden truck into the Central Bank building.
Police cordoned off a square mile that included a major railway station and some of the city's largest hotels and business houses. Main roads leading out of the city were blocked.
The bombings came less than one week after the U.S. State Department added the Tamil Tigers to its list of recognized terrorist organizations, outlawing its activities and fund-raising in the United States.
The Tigers, calling the U.S. action unfair, said it would only escalate the war for Tamil independence.
A unit of the U.S. Green Berets, in Sri Lanka to train Sri Lankan soldiers in non-lethal operations like rescue missions, normally stay at the Galadari. It was not known whether they were at the hotel Wednesday.
The incident came during a holiday, the Buddhist Full Moon Day, which meant that fewer people than normal were inside the presidential office or in the business district.
Tamil rebels have been fighting for a separate homeland in the north and east, alleging discrimination by the majority Sinhalese who control the military and the government.
More than 50,000 people have been killed since the war began in 1983.
Since May, the Tigers have been locked into one of the largest battles of the war, defending the northern highway to the Jaffna Peninsula against a major military assault. According to military figures, about 2,000 people have died in the five-month battle.