Colombo air attack was a suicide mission: LTTE
Colombo (IANS): Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger rebels have claimed responsibility for the late Friday air raid over the capital Colombo that left at least two people dead and 50 injured. The two-light wing aircraft were on a suicide mission, a pro-rebel Website said.
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have claimed that two men from their elite Black Air Tiger suicide squad piloted the two light aircraft that carried out the attack on the headquarters of the Inland Revenue department in the heart of the capital, causing a huge explosion.
The Tigers have claimed that the targets were Sri Lankan Air Force facilities in the heart of the capital as well as the main airbase adjoining the country's only international airport, located about 28 km north of here.
Although the pro-LTTE Tamilnet.com said the attacks were "successful", the defence authorities here said the guerrillas had clearly missed the intended targets because of the swift action of the air force and intense anti-aircraft fire from the troops on the ground.
One of the Tiger aircraft was shot down near the Katunayake International Airport while the other crashed into the multi-storeyed Inland Revenue building, located close to the air force headquarters in Colombo.
"Why should they attack the Inland Revenue department building complex? They must have come for some other targets, but the successful anti-aircraft gunfire from the ground have failed their mission miserably once again," Military Spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara told IANS.
The military has recovered the wreckage of the aircraft and a body of the LTTE pilot from Katunayake area. The military, quoting initial investigation, said in a statement that that the pilot, whose body was found intact, had a large quantity of explosives and bombs inside the aircraft.
"The dead Tiger pilot was carrying two cyanide capsules and a powerful bomb with his seat," the statement said.
Tamilnet published a photograph of the two suicide pilots together with Tiger supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran, claimed to have been taken shortly before embarking on their mission. It also said the two planes were piloted by a self-styled 'Colonel' Roopan and 'Lieutenant Colonel' Siriththiran.
This was the seventh LTTE air attack since March 2007 in its tiny aircraft, which are believed to be Czech-built Zlin - Z-143. But this is for the first time they lost both aircraft during their mission outside the areas held by them in the north.
Latest military details reveal that the first light aircraft, though believed to have dropped a bomb on the Inland Revenue Department Headquarters, "has apparently crashed on to the floors between third and 12th amid air defence system, which might have struck the hovering aircraft".
"Detection of parts of strewn pieces of flesh, said to belong to the Tiger (LTTE) pilot, found on some floors proved that the pilot would have lost control of it after hit by Air Defence Systems," the military statement said.
"Investigating teams have so far collected one arm belonging to the Tiger pilot who had been blown to pieces along with the crash or counter fire and the explosion that followed," it said, adding that the extent of the damage to the Inland Revenue building was yet to be evaluated.
The last Tamil Tiger air attack was on Oct 29 last year when two LTTE light-wing aircraft flew out of their hideouts in the north and dropped bombs on a power plant station at Kelaniya, Colombo, and on a military base in the north-western Mannar district simultaneously.
Sri Lankan troops operating in the northern battle-zone last month captured at least six airstrips and tarmacs in the Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu districts, which had been under the control of the rebels over the past one decade.
The advancing Sri Lankan troops have cornered the rebels in an area of less than 100 sq km in the north-eastern Mullaitivu district. The military has accused the rebels of holding thousands of civilians as human shields.