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Jun 26, 2006 | 22:42 GMT

4 mins read

Sri Lanka: Artful Suicide Bombers and Lax Security

The Sri Lankan army's third-highest-ranking officer, Maj. Gen. Parami Kulatunga, was killed June 26 when an apparent suicide bomber riding a motorcycle rammed the general's car near Colombo. Kulatunga's driver and three civilians also died as a result of the blast, which damaged a bus carrying morning commuters. No one has taken credit for the attack, but the separatist group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam is the prime suspect. Although this was a sophisticated attack, most likely by a group that has perfected the art of suicide bombing, serious gaps in the general's security apparently made the bomber's job that much easier. The attack occurred as Kulatunga was being driven to work from his home in Pannipitiya, about 10 miles south of the capital. According to Sri Lankan police, the bomber rode his motorcycle parallel to Kulatunga's car for about 500 yards. Then, when the general's car was forced to stop at a narrow bridge, the bomber rammed it. Some officials later said a riderless, bomb-rigged motorcycle was parked on the side of the road, but the pro-Tiger Web site, Tamilnet.com, also reported this was a suicide attack, without identifying perpetrators. The force of the blast severely damaged the general's apparently unarmored white Peugeot, vaporizing the left side and crushing the rest. However, even had the vehicle been armored, the powerful improvised explosive device (IED) used in this attack would have cause significant damage, and probably would have killed Kulatunga anyway. Armored vehicles are not fail-safe, especially when a large IED is detonated right next to them. Based on the report that the bomber rode next to the general's car before moving in for the attack, it does not appear Kulatunga had a protective detail or security escort at all. Had a security team been present to notice the bomber's behavior, it would have engaged the attacker at a distance in order to stop him from closing in on his target. Creating a standoff distance is the only real protection from an IED, although this is hard to do in a congested urban environment. Furthermore, the plotters probably were able to conduct pre-operational surveillance of Kulatunga's route without being detected, allowing them to choose the best place for the attack. Kulatunga and his driver possibly also followed a regular driving route from the general's home to work, making it easy for the attacker to predict their movements. Using a motorcycle in the attack allowed the bomber to move rapidly and easily toward the target in congested traffic without looking out of place. In Sri Lanka, as in other countries, bicycles, motorcycles and small scooters carrying packages of all sizes are commonplace in crowded cities. In this attack, the IED likely was concealed in a package or container attached to the motorcycle's frame. The Tigers have used suicide bombers extensively in their decades-long campaign against the Sri Lankan government. This type of attack has targeted Sri Lankan soldiers and military infrastructure, as well as high-profile figures. In 1991, most notably, a female suicide bomber concealing a bomb in a basket of flowers killed former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. The Tigers also have displayed skill in penetrating secure locations. In April, Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka, the Sri Lankan army's chief of staff, was critically injured and at least eight bodyguards were killed when a female suicide bomber — believed to have been feigning pregnancy and concealing a bomb inside her clothes — attacked that general's motorcade as it drove through Sri Lankan army headquarters in the heart of Colombo. Although both the Tigers and the Sri Lankan government want to keep the idea of peace talks on the table, violence has been escalating for several months. Envoys from both sides are trying to avert a return to all-out war, but their chances of success diminish with each successful attack. In light of the April attack against army headquarters and the increasing violence overall in Sri Lanka, security appears to have been weak for such an important officer as Kulatunga.

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