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 Post subject: Carnage at Habarana - 116 unarmed sailors killed - updated
 Post Posted: Wed Oct 18, 2006 3:10 pm 
Brutal suicide bombing at Habarana

17OCT2006
@ Agencies


A suspected LTTE truck bomber rammed into a navy convoy killing 103 unarmed sailors and injuring 116 others at a troop’s transit point at Digampathaha in Habarana yesterday afternoon.

A senior police official in the area said a large number of sailors were at Digampathaha, when the truck laden with explosives rammed into the Navy buses around 1.45 p.m. Sailors gather at this point before leaving for Trincomalee and Colombo. The truck with suicide bombers had come from Dambulla and rammed into the convoy of buses when the sailors were boarding them, he said.

“The victims were unarmed sailors, some returning home on vacation and the others returning for duty,” military spokesman Prasad Samarasinghe said.

The official said there were nearly 24 buses at the place and 340 sailors while 12 buses were damaged in the powerful explosion.

The injured sailors were immediately airlifted to Colombo and nearby hospitals in two helicopters, the official said.

The pro-LTTE Tamilnet website quoting Tiger Spokesman, Irasiah Ilanthirayan said, "When Sri Lanka Air Force bombers continue to bomb targets in Tamil homeland, far off the forward defence line localities where the government ground troops engage in frontal assaults, how could anybody expect the Tigers to refrain from targeting military installations." However the website said the Tigers were yet to claim responsibility for the attack in Habarana.

The brutal suicide bombing at Habarana which killed 103 Sri Lankan sailors on Monday, signalled LTTE's return to its signature style of inflicting violence through guerrilla tactics as it faced increasing pressure from Lankan military forces and was forced more and more into a defensive mode.


Habarana blast: Military intelligence pre-warned by TID?

By Kurulu Kariyakarawana & Senaka de Silva
@ DM /18OCT2006


Detectives probing the Habarana suicide blast which claimed more than 100 lives have learnt that the Terrorist Investigations Division had earlier warned military intelligence units of the vulnerable security situation in the area.

Meanwhile the investigators have identified the previous owners of the Canter truck which had been later sold to the LTTE.

The CID obtained statements from two Sinhala people including a woman, who had previously owned the ‘Canter’ truck.

The first owner – a woman in Mahara had sold the truck to a person in Kurunegala who had later sold it to a Tamil national in the East. The last buyer suspected to be an LTTE member who is currently absconding has two addresses in Vavuniya and Batticaloa.

Central Range DIG Nimal Mediwaka said according to initial investigations the Canter truck that hit the naval convoy was stuffed with more than 50kg of explosives.


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 Post subject: Sailors’ graveyard in Habarana
 Post Posted: Sat Nov 04, 2006 3:40 pm 
Sailors’ graveyard in Habarana

On Monday, October 16, 2006, a total of 342 sailors had arrived at Digampathana transit point from Trincomalee in 18 buses at around 1.35 p.m. Two hours before, six buses with 89 sailors had arrived from Colombo, Kandy and few other places in the South. The suicide bomber knew exactly where to explode his deadly cargo in order to inflict maximum damage. The truck which sped through the entrance of the compound, drove up near the amour bus and blew up. By the day’s end over 90 bodies were at the Dambulla Hospital while the final death toll in the incident has now risen up to 116, making this the most devastating single suicide attack by the LTTE in the history of the conflict.

Shocking enough, the subject of a possible attack on the transit camp was known, known well ahead, since there were warnings just days earlier. Yet, the precious lives of those men, who were not in battle, but were either going to see their loved ones or returning after seeing them, had to die.

By Gihan Indraguptha and Dharisha Bastians in Dambulla
@ The Nation / 22OCT2006


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There is a little jungle enclave off the Dambulla-Habarana Road, in a tiny village known as Digampathana. The enclave, bordered by jungle cover on one side and with a wide expanse of land which provides the ideal spot to park a vast number of buses – the kind that the navy uses to transport its troops from base when they are going home on leave. The enclave is separated by a small ditch, the spot at which the navy stations sentries whenever the buses are inside the lot. Well enclosed and barely visible to the road, the natural parking lot appears to be a fairly secure location.

Three times a week, the navy brings its sailors to and from base; some of them returning from home leave, and others on their way to see their families after a tour of duty. The buses plying from areas in the South and those bringing troops in the North, meet halfway at a point between Trincomalee and Dambulla, to hand over or pick up weapons and change from civvies to uniform or vice versa. It is a moment for sailors to take a brief respite at a tea boutique across the road and prepare for the rest of their travel.

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‘Last Monday, in the case of leading electrician Sudath Yasantha Atipolla, it was also a moment to catch up with three of his batch mates from the 74th naval intake. The four friends were chatting, when a white Mitshubishi Canter truck came speeding in to the compound where the buses transporting navy personnel were parked.

“Look, where is that truck speeding to?” was all Atipolla had time to ask. Within seconds, the truck came to screeching halt at the centre of the lot, exploded immediately killing two of Atipolla’s good friends with the other being critically wounded. Atipolla who is now warded at the Dambulla hospital undergoing treatment for shrapnel injuries, cannot come to terms with how he survived while the three others he was talking to were caught up in the massive explosion at Digampathana.

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Though still in shock from the sudden explosion, Atipolla was able to stop a private bus and get few of his colleagues to hospital. On the way to Dambulla, a few of his mates breathed their last. “He kept on saying 025..025 trying to remember his home number,” recalls Atipolla of how one of the injured men died on the bus with his head on his palms. The sailor couldn’t finish the number. After attempting several times to go beyond the third digit he gave up on life. Another sailor was calling out for his mother says Atipolla adding, “All I could do was to stroke his head.” He too died before been taken to hospital.

This was the tragic story at Digampathana last Monday.

The tiny village, relatively unscathed by the North-East violence experienced a nightmare for a few hours, as some 24 buses blazed and naval personnel stopped private vehicles and civilian buses to transport their wounded as soon as possible. At 1.40 p.m. in what can only be called a perfectly timed and executed mission by an LTTE suicide cadre, inflicted the single most devastating blow to the military in recent memory. The carnage was such that according to eye witnesses, only a few body parts were left of many of the sailors. A massive quantity of explosives had been used along with either claymore bombs or similar bombs with hundreds of pellets. According to a bomb disposal expert at the site, most of the victims had died due to the heat of the explosion, while others would have had their internal organs destroyed due to the vacuum the large explosion created immediately afterwards. Many more had died due to the pellets and other shrapnel hitting them as well.

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Several measures had been taken to enhance the security of this naval convoy which shuttles sailors back and forth on a daily basis. The convoy which brings sailors from Trincomalee, stops over at one of four locations in order to exchange sailors who are returning from leave. Digampathana is considered the safest of the four transit locations and the decision as to where the convoy would stop is decided randomly, a few hours before the actual stopover. However on two consecutive days prior to the incident, the exchange of personnel had occurred at Digampathana.

On Monday, October 16, a total of 342 sailors had arrived from Trincomalee in 18 buses at around 1.35 p.m. The number had been relatively large, since a Navy transport ship had brought in many sailors going on leave from the North. Two hours before, six buses with 89 sailors had arrived from Colombo, Kandy and few other places in the South. At the transit point, the sailors going on leave have to hand over their fire arms, helmet and body armour while the sailors going back to duty have to collect these items. This mini operation happens outside a bus which the sailors call “armour bus” where through one door the items are collected and through the other they are distributed. To hand over and pick up their weapons in this fashion, hundreds of sailors had queued up in front of the “armour bus.”

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The suicide bomber knew exactly where to explode his deadly cargo in order to inflict maximum damage. The truck which sped through the entrance of the compound, drove up near the amour bus and blew up. We were told by a sailor who travels with the convoy every day that usually, a truck would be placed at the narrow entrance to the compound but on the day of the incident, this particular truck had not been in place. Though there were two sentries at the entrance, they could do very little against the explosive laden truck speeding in at breakneck pace that Monday afternoon.

Though several security measures were in place to protect the convoy some serious questions have arisen after the incident which clearly indicated the LTTE was constantly observing the convoy to time their attack perfectly. The suicide bomber struck within five minutes of the buses arriving from Trincomalee which had come two hours late on that particular day. He knew that the truck blocking the entrance to the compound was not parked at its usual place allowing the attacker an easy ride. The attacker knew exactly where to drive the truck to cause maximum damage and knew the exact time to carry out the attack. This of course indicates that the suicide cadre was directed by someone who was keeping a close watch on the convoy. The navy had refurbished their buses to counter the claymore mine threat, with many of them been armour plated. Also only a limited number of sailors - 20 - were transportaed in each bus coming from Trincomalee. Although most of these measures had been successful in minimising casualties from claymore mine attacks, the Navy seemed to have underestimated their vulnerability at transit points. It is now known that an intelligence report issued on October 2, had indicated an imminent LTTE attack on a military convoy at such a transit point.

The Dambulla Hospital was in a state of pure chaos in the afternoon of the October 16, with dozens of wounded arriving in private vehicles. Almost all the Navy buses totalling over 20 were damaged in the explosion and the sailors had to rely on vehicles travelling on the Habarana Road to bring their wounded colleagues to hospital. Since Dambulla Hospital couldn’t handle the numbers coming in some were diverted to Matale, Kurunegala and Colombo hospitals. By the day’s end over 90 bodies were at the Dambulla Hospital while the final death toll in the incident has now risen up to 102, making this the most devastating single suicide attack by the LTTE in the history of the conflict.

Atipolla had been slightly further away from the armour bus where the blast’s biggest impact was felt, because he had moved away briefly from the crowd to call his wife in Matale and inform her that he was on his way. Having survived the nightmare that day and now warded at the Dambulla Hospital, Atipolla’s chief concern is now to try and locate at least one of his colleagues who he was talking to at the time of the explosion who he knows did not pass away in the bus that day.

By Tuesday (17), the blast site is a mass of body armour, weapons, sailors’ bags, clothes, uniforms and rotting flesh. Everything in the vicinity was blood splattered. The CID’s Scene of the Crime investigators were already at the scene, to conduct forensic investigation. Also ubiquitous at any site of carnage, mongrels were there in their numbers waiting to pick up any meat morsels they could locate from among the debris. Sober and impassive, naval personnel gather together the possessions of their fallen comrades, carefully piling up uniforms, caps and weapons. Among the tell-tale head gear, there were many officers’ caps. There were about seven midshipmen among the victims of Monday’s blast.

An officer surveying the damage and supervising the men at the blast site, expressed concern about how desertions would increase in the immediate aftermath of such an incident. “When something so big happens, we get at least 100-200 desertions immediately. There is this instantaneous drop in troop morale,” the officer told The Nation, sadly. He said that since almost all the navy’s buses had been used in this operation to transport sailors that Monday, the navy would now face further problems with regard to troop movement, with the Sri Lanka Navy now being compelled to order new buses with many of them at Digampathana damaged beyond repair.

The Sri Lanka Navy has had a bad week of it. It has thwarted and repulsed and effectively preempted attacks by the LTTE on several occasions since skirmishes broke out between the two sides in the last two months, and on Monday, it paid a heavy price for courage and valiance in the face of rebel attacks. Many of the sailors killed in the explosion that day, probably evaporated into vapour as a result of the heat released from the blast. Digampathana will go back to being just another remote village in the North Central Province soon, but the area is destined, as of October 16, a dark day for the Sri Lanka Navy and the armed force as a whole, to remain forever a sailors’ mass graveyard.


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