3/10/09

Blast kills 10 near mosque in southern Sri Lanka

. 3/10/09


A suspected rebel suicide bomber attacked a gathering of Muslims celebrating a religious holiday outside a mosque in southern Sri Lanka on Tuesday, killing 10 people and wounding at least 20 others, including a government minister, the military said.

The bomber appeared to have targeted six ministers as they walked in a procession toward the mosque to celebrate Mawlid, which commemorates the prophet Mohammed's birthday, said H.M. Fowzie, Sri Lanka's oil minister, who was at the event.


"A suicide bomber tried to kill us, but we escaped," Fowzie told The Associated Press.

Fowzie said he was splattered with blood and flesh after the bomb went off behind the ministers. The road was covered with dead bodies and blood, he said.

Ahamed Nafri, 29, said he was walking toward the mosque when the blast went off.

"I heard a huge sound and then I saw people had fallen everywhere. They were covered with blood and flesh and the wounded people were screaming," he said by telephone from the hospital in the nearby town of Matara.

The blast came as government forces stood poised to rout the Tamil Tiger rebels from their last stronghold in northeastern Sri Lanka after more than a quarter-century of civil war.

More than 200 rebels and an unspecified number of soldiers were killed in intense fighting in the north since Thursday, the army said. The pro-rebel TamilNet Web site, quoting rebel radio, said at least 100 government soldiers were killed in fighting Sunday. Army shelling also killed more than 300 civilians in recent days, the Web site reported. The army denies shelling the area.

The government has vowed to crush the rebel group, but the suicide attack Tuesday on the town of Akuressa, near the southern tip of this Indian Ocean island nation, showed the Tamil Tigers retained their ability to launch strikes far from their traditional strongholds in the north and east.

The blast killed 10 people and wounded 20 others, including Minister of Posts and Telecommunications Mahinda Wijesekara, said military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara. Security officials initially said three ministers were wounded.

Witnesses in the town said at least 40 wounded people had been brought to the hospital, and the health ministry said it was airlifting a team of doctors there.
Kamaldeen Ahamed Sabri, a government official at the event, said he saw Wijesekera lying on the ground after the blast.

Nanayakkara blamed the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam for the suicide attack.

"Definitely, it's LTTE," he said.

The rebels — listed as a terror group by the United States, EU and India — have repeatedly targeted senior government officials for assassination and have been blamed for hundreds of suicide attacks.

With most communication to the northern war zone severed, rebel spokesman were not immediately available for comment.

The Tamil Tigers have fought since 1983 for an independent state for the Tamil minority, which suffered decades of marginalization at the hands of governments dominated by the Sinhalese majority. More than 70,000 people have been killed.

Fighting has escalated in recent months, as the military routed the rebels from most of their de facto state in the north and cornered them in a narrow strip of land along the northeastern coast along with tens of thousands of trapped civilians.
Source: AP





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