Rush-hour suicide bomb kills 32

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 March, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 06 March, 1998, 12:00am

At least 32 people, including at least three children and two police officers, were killed and 257 wounded when a suicide attacker rammed a bomb-laden bus into a stationary jeep in Colombo yesterday.

Witnesses said at least two school vans were caught in the explosion. Blood-stained satchels were scattered at the scene.

The bus was being chased by police following a hit and run minutes earlier and it was not known if the busy junction in the Maradana commercial area was the intended target.

The Defence Ministry said the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam carried out the lunchtime attack - a claim denied by the separatist movement.

According to police, the driver was the only person in the 26-seater bus when the bomb exploded near a rail station. It was packed with ball bearings which caused most of the casualties.

Emergency service workers said most of those killed were in vehicles stuck in traffic near the bus.

'There were about 10 to 15 children brought in and doctors are still looking at them,' said an official at the National Hospital.

Dharshana Gunaratne, 24, told how his car was a short distance away from the blast site.

'I heard a huge explosion and saw people falling off the overhead bridge,' he said. Mr Gunaratne saw a man with a broken arm and burnt hair trying to get a lift to hospital.

All that remained of the bus was its smoking chassis. Strewn around were the mangled remains of about 40 other vehicles.

The train station, a police station and about 40 shops were damaged.

There was panic as ambulances and police tried to move the dead and injured to hospital along jammed roads made worse by hundreds of parents rushing to get their children from schools. Some victims died on the way to hospital.

Phone lines were jammed as residents sought information on the blast.

The tragedy came a month after a suspected Tiger suicide bomber blew herself up in Colombo, killing nine people.

Tiger guerillas used a truck bomb to devastate the World Trade Centre in Colombo on October 15 and a similar vehicle in a blast at Buddhism's holiest shrine, in Kandy, on January 25. Those two attacks claimed 37 lives.