Originally Published 2004-07-08 05:18:41 Published on Jul 08, 2004
July 7, 2004, Wednesday, witnessed the first suicide attack in Sri Lanka since the signing of the Cease Fire Accord (CFA) between the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
Suicide Strike in Colombo
July 7, 2004, Wednesday, witnessed the first suicide attack in Sri Lanka since the signing of the Cease Fire Accord (CFA) between the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). 

The attack came two days after the LTTE commemorated the annual 'Black Tigers Day' on July 5. 'Black Tigers Day' is commemorated in memory of suicide cadre of the LTTE, and is the day on which the LTTE carried out its first suicide attack. 

The July 7-suicide attack came even as a three-day visit by the Norwegian Foreign Minister Jan Petersen to New Delhi, to discuss ways of reviving the peace talks, was coming to a conclusion.

Though the Norway-brokered peace deal and CFA, signed between the GOSL and the LTTE, has survived for over two years, even in the face of several violations of the Agreement, the latest suicide attack is certainly a big blow to the peace process and has surely made the situation more uncertain. The attack is likely to trigger a fear psychosis in the South of Sri Lanka.

The Wednesday Suicide Strike

In Wednesday's strike, a Tamil woman suicide bomber blew herself up inside a police station in the heart of Colombo after being taken there on grounds of suspicion. The police suspected her while she was attempting to enter the Eelam People's Democratic Party (EPDP) Leader and Minister in the UPFA government, Douglas Devananda's office.

An agency report detailing the sequence of events that led to the suicide bomber blowing herself-up said the woman suicide bomber had entered the floor on which Devananda's office was located and was accompanied by another woman. Wednesday being a public day for the minister helped the woman gain easy access into the Hindu Affairs Ministry.

After filling the routine security forms, the young woman visitor aroused the suspicion of the constable who was frisking her and was asked her to undress. The woman refused, following which the constable reported her suspicion to her superior officer who then requested the woman to undress and allow her self to be checked by the woman constable.

This angered the woman who protested, following which; the woman constable and the superior police officer took her to the Kollupitiya police station a few blocks away. 

At the police station, a woman constable was trying to check the woman suspect, even as another police officer was speaking to the bomb disposal squad. It was then that the woman suicide bomber blew herself up at around 12.25 p.m. killing four police officers and injuring ten others.

The police were reported to have arrested another suspected LTTE woman cadre a few hours after the blast. The woman arrested is said to be the accomplice of the suicide bomber and is being interrogated.

The suicide bomber is said to be 26-year-old Thiagarajah Jeyarani hailing from Manipay in Jaffna according to the information she had filled up in the visitor's form at the Hindu Affairs Ministry office. Security authorities in Jaffna were in the process of verifying this information, military sources were quoted as saying in newspaper reports.

The target of the suicide bomber was the EPDP leader Douglas Devananda who had a narrow escape. Douglas Devananda is leader of the EPDP and a Minister in the UPFA government.

The latest attack gains significance as it has taken place nearly three years after the last recorded suicide attack and is the first major attack in the South of Sri Lanka since the Cease Fire Accord was signed. 

The location of the blast also has a significant angle to it as the Kollupitiya police station adjoins the Prime Minister's official residence, "Temple Trees", and shares a compound wall. Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse was present at his official residence at the time of the blast. Just across the road from the Kollupitiya police station are the high profile Indian and British High Commissions and the American Embassy.

Past Attacks

The latest suicide attack is the first in nearly three years since a spate of attacks in the latter half of 2001, which lead up to the unilateral ceasefire declared by the LTTE.

On November 15, 2001 the LTTE had carried out a suicide attack in Batticaloa in Eastern Sri Lanka. Three soldiers were killed and nine others seriously wounded in the attack by a male suicide bomber in a market place in a High Security Zone (HSZ) in Batticalao town.

The latest suicide attack is the first in Colombo in almost three years since the October 29, 2001 attack by a male suicide bomber. In what was an unsuccessful attempt on the life of then Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake, the suicide bomber had blown himself-up after being questioned and chased by policemen guarding the Prime Minister.

On October 30, 2001 the Sea Tigers carried out two simultaneous suicide attacks on the ship, 'm. t. Silk Pride' carrying fuel to Jaffna peninsula off the Northern coast of Sri Lanka setting the ship ablaze.

July 24, 2001 saw a devastating pre-dawn attack by LTTE on Sri Lanka's only international airport and the adjoining Katunayake air base. 13 LTTE cadre including two suicide bombers attacked and destroyed 11 military and civilian aircraft. The attack resulted in three airmen and two soldiers being killed and a journalist also wounded in the crossfire. The attack on the military airbase saw Sri Lankan Air Force's two Israeli Kfir bombers, two Mi-17 transport helicopters, one MiG-27 fighter aircraft and three Chinese K-8 trainer aircraft being destroyed.

The Political Context

The LTTE plans each suicide operation meticulously to achieve a particular strategic military or political objective. Each suicide operation is executed in a certain political context and is used by the LTTE to further its objectives.

The LTTE does not claim responsibility for strikes on suicide attacks on non - military targets like former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, former Sri Lankan President Premadasa, UNP presidential candidate Gamini Dissanayake, and Sri Lankan Minister of State for Defence, Ranjan Wijeratne. 

The LTTE uses this tactic of not claiming responsibility for strikes on non - military but politically strategic targets, to escape censure from the international community. It is highly unlikely that the LTTE will claim responsibility for the latest attack.

The timing of the latest attack is significant: it came just two days after the commemoration of Black Tigers Day by the LTTE and just a day after the EPDP leader gave a public call to LTTE chief Prabhakaran to give up arms and enter the democratic mainstream. It is also hardly a week since Devananda publicly stated that Karuna had approached him for advice on starting a political party and that he was helping Karuna.

The message of such an attack placed against such a context is unmistakable. The LTTE will not brook any encouragement to Karuna's faction or anyone taking advantage of its weakness in Sri Lanka's East. The objective of the attack is to create fear in the hearts of Tamils who aim to pose a challenge to the 'sole representative' status of LTTE and also put pressure of the Sri Lankan govt on the Karuna issue and peace talks.

The attack, if successful, would have sent a message to the Government of the LTTE's cability to strike at will even in the heart of Sri Lanka's capital. The attack also stands testimony to the LTTE having infiltrated Colombo with its suicide cells and pistol gangs.

The killing of Devananda would have not only dealt a severe blow to the EPDP as well as putting paid to hopes of any political alliance between Karuna and Devananda. The LTTE for now is very determined to make sure that it does not have any political opposition to it in the East which will undermine its claims to be the 'sole representative of the Tamils'. The LTTE already has to deal with an alliance against it, between ousted Tamil leader Anandasangaree of the TULF who has been isolated and Devananda's EPDP. It does not want any new political opposition to it.

The LTTE prepared its ground slowly to distance itself from the attack as can be seen from the statements pronounced by the Trincomalee district political head of the LTTE, Elilan. Addressing the Black Tigers Day celebrations on July 5, he said, "Because of the sacrifice by the Black Tigers, the LTTE has emerged as a strong liberation force in the world and even now we prepared to face a war if it is thrusted on us. However we do not want to be responsible for the outbreak of the fourth Eelam War."

Is this a familiar LTTE tactic of distancing itself from any blame of provoking a conflict while at the same time allow itself to be seen as being forced to react. The question is how the Sri Lankan government reacts to this situation.

Should the attack have been seen coming?

The attack should certainly have been seen coming, however, it should also be said that accurate intelligence about LTTE suicide cells is hard to come by and it is very difficult to penetrate their deep penetration networks. It is definitely difficult to prevent a suicide bomber from carrying out his or her mission. 

Even in this case, the officers doing their duty and checking the suicide bomber on suspicion lost their lives. The interception was based on chance discovery during a security check and not on intelligence, a fact that should not be lost on the intelligence agencies in Sri Lanka.

However, security could have been tightened further. It was only about twenty days ago on June 17 that a suicide bomber's outfit and two claymore mines had been discovered near the Sugathadasa Stadium in Colombo. Only a few days before that had police discovered a claymore mine near the Kelnitissa Thermal Power Station. The police also found explosives and night vision goggles hidden in the jungles of Maha Oya a few days prior to the previous find.

These findings were enough reasons for the police to be on high alert and that was what probably prevented the suicide bomber from getting through to her target and being intercepted.

The Government Response

The Sri Lankan Government has raised the issue of the latest suicide attack with Norway. Jayantha Dhanapala who heads the Government Peace Secretariat raised the issue with Hans Brattskar, the Norwegian Ambassador.

The suicide attack is a clear violation of the Cease Fire Accord. The Cease Fire Accord states in Article 1, which deals with the modalities of the ceasefire:

Article 1.2 Neither Party shall engage in any offensive military operation. This requires the total cessation of all military action and includes, but is not limited to, such acts as: 

a) The firing of direct and indirect weapons, armed raids, ambushes, assassinations, abductions, destruction of civilian or military property, sabotage, suicide missions and activities by deep penetration units;

The Sri Lankan Government has however, said, that they would not enforce any additional security or revert to the roadblocks and security barricades that existed before the signing of the Cease Fire Agreement in 2002. According to an agency report published late on Wednesday night, the government assured that the country's existing security measure would be fully monitored and necessary steps taken to prevent future terrorist attacks even while not enforcing additional security.

The Government has also said that the peace process would continue despite the suicide bomb attack. Peace Secretariat Chief, Jayantha Dhanapala reiterated the government's commitment to the Ceasefire Agreement and the peace process.

The Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission yesterday has said it was too early to conclude whether the suicide bomb attack was a violation of the Ceasefire Agreement. It added however that the incident would certainly sour relations between the government and the LTTE. SLMM spokesperson Disa Finnboga was quoted saying that the SLMM were conducting a full-scale probe on the incident and two officials had already visited the scene. She has been reported saying that the SLMM was in contact with the Colombo Peace Secretariat and the LTTE. 

Devananda's Reaction

EPDP Leader Douglas Devananda decried the point of complaining to the Scandinavian truce monitors while speaking to the media after the assassination attempt. He was reported saying to 'The Island' based in Sri Lanka, "I have no confidence in them. They'll never take action against the LTTE."

This is the fourth attempt by the LTTE on Douglas Devananda's life and the second time he has been targeted in Colombo. Devananda who is on the LTTE hit list has escaped three previous attempts on his life. The three previous attempts had been at Jaffna, Flower Road in Colombo and at Kalutara prison. 

Devananda urged the international community to pressurise the LTTE to give up terrorism and enter the political mainstream. He also asked Prabhakaran to give up his violent tactics and find a solution to any problem through negotiations. He also promised his party's support to future peace endeavours even while requesting the President Chandrika Kumaratunga to go ahead with her peace efforts.

The latest attack has helped raise the EPDP leader's profile and shot him into the limelight and positioned him as an important rival and counter to the LTTE.

The latest attack is yet another reason for the need to view the LTTE as the terrorist organisation it is and a reminder to countries like US and UK not to de proscribe it.

* Views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Observer Research Foundation.
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