Alexa

Sri Lanka suicide blast kills 10, wounds minister

Sri Lanka suicide blast kills 10, wounds minister

A suicide bomber attacked a gathering of Muslims celebrating a religious holiday in southern Sri Lanka on Tuesday, killing 10 people and critically wounding a government minister, officials said.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but officials quickly blamed ethnic Tamil rebels who are facing defeat in the South Asian island's 25-year civil war.
The bomber appeared to have targeted six ministers as they walked in a procession toward a mosque in the town of Akuressa to celebrate Mawlid, which commemorates the prophet Mohammed's birthday.
Television footage showed men in white robes and caps slowly parading down the street before the blast and then people running in all directions afterward.
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.
Police and bystanders were seen lifting the badly bleeding Minister of Posts and Telecommunications Mahinda Wijesekara into a van.
Aruna Jayasekera, a doctor at Matara hospital, said Wijesekera was in critical condition and had been airlifted to the capital for surgery to remove "blood and foreign objects in his brain."
Another 41 people wounded in the blast were being treated in Matara, he said.
The blast came as government forces stood poised to rout the Liberation Tiger of Tamil Eelam from their last stronghold in northeastern Sri Lanka after a 20-month offensive.
The government has vowed to crush the rebel group, but Tuesday's suicide attack, near the southern tip of the island, could show that the guerrillas can still launch strikes far from their traditional strongholds in the north and east.
Military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara said the attack was "definitely" the work of the rebels.
Listed as a terror group by the United States, EU and India, the Tamil Tigers 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 rebels 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.
More than 200 rebels and an unspecified number of soldiers have been 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.
TamilNet said army shelling has killed more than 300 civilians in recent days, and Dr. Thurairaja Varatharajah, the top government health official in the war zone, said heavy shelling continued Tuesday. The army denies shelling the area.


Updated : 2021-04-17 16:29 GMT+08:00