Plane debris salvaged, LTTE says it was suicide attack (2nd Lead)

February 21st, 2009 - 4:27 pm ICT by IANS  

Colombo, Feb 21 (IANS) Sri Lankan investigators Saturday salvaged debris of two Tamil Tiger planes that killed two people in an audacious overnight bombing of Colombo that officials said held no military significance.
While the authorities said that both aircraft were brought down by anti-aircraft fire, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) claimed that it was a suicide mission.

The TamilNet website quoted the Tigers as saying that the dead pilots of the two lightwing aircraft were from the Black Air Tiger suicide squad and that the attacks were “successful”.

It published a photograph of the two smiling pilots together with LTTE supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran, claimed to have been taken shortly before the mission began. The LTTE identified the two pilots as ‘Col’ Roopan and ‘Lt Col’ Siriththiran.

One bomb fell over the headquarters of the Inland Revenue Department in the heart of the capital, causing a huge explosion and killing two people and wounding, according to some reports, more than 50 people.

The Tigers claimed the targets were Sri Lankan Air Force facilities in the vicinity and the main air base adjoining the country’s international airport at Katunayake, 28 km north of Colombo.

But the defence authorities said the guerrillas had clearly missed the intended targets because of the swift action by the air force and intense anti-aircraft fire from the troops.

One of the aircraft was shot down near the 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? They must have come for some other targets, but the successful anti-aircraft gunfire from the ground failed their mission miserably,” military spokesman Brig Udaya Nanayakkara told IANS.

A military official said the LTTE bombing would not impact the situation in Sri Lanka’s north where the guerrillas have been cornered in an area of less than 100 sq km in Mullaitivu district.

The military has recovered the wreckage of the aircraft and a body of the LTTE pilot near the airport. The military said the body was intact and the aircraft had a large quantity of explosives and bombs.

“The pilot was carrying two cyanide capsules and a powerful bomb with his seat,” a military statement said. All LTTE guerrillas carry cyanide vials so as to bite them to avoid capture.

This was the seventh air attack since March 2007 by the LTTE, which is known to possess an unspecified number of small aircraft of Czech origin.

The planes are believed to have been dismantled and hidden as the LTTE retreated in recent months following military advances into their areas.

This is for the first time the LTTE has lost an aircraft.

The debris of the other plane were found between the third and 12th floors of the inland revenue building.

“Detection of parts of strewn pieces of flesh, said to belong to the Tiger pilot, found on some floors proved that the pilot would have lost control of it after being hit by air defence systems,” the 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 building was yet to be evaluated.

The planes are believed to have taken off from an isolated airstrip, in darkness, in a small area of Mullaitivu district that is still held by the LTTE.

The last Tamil Tiger air attack was on Oct 29 last year when two LTTE aircraft flew out of their hideouts in the island’s north and bombed a power plant at Kelaniya in Colombo and on a military base in the north-western Mannar district simultaneously.

Sri Lankan troops have captured at least six airstrips and tarmacs in Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu districts, which the LTTE had held for the past one decade.

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