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Sunday, 2 February 2014





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Government Gazette

January 31, 1996 - the darkest day

Amidst the heat of terrorist threats, Sri Lankans warmly celebrated the dawn of 1996, not expecting the month to end with a landmark tragedy. Except for the perpetrators, no sane person would have thought that a truck loaded with explosives, would destroy the Central Bank of the country, robbing hundreds of innocent lives and causing irretrievable damage to the Sri Lankan economy.

The Central Bank after the bomb blast

Being one of the mostly visited economic centres of the island, the Central Bank, a key place which managed the financial affairs of the country, was crowded with hundreds of people on January 31, 1996.

It was in the height of activities around 10.45 am that a truck numbered 42-6452, loaded with nearly 400 kilograms of explosives, rammed in to the Central Bank through the main gate and exploded in an LTTE suicide mission. The ruthless bomb tore through the bank and damaged eight other buildings nearby. The LTTE murdered 91 ordinary people while injuring 1,400, most of them permanently. Blindness, loss of limbs and other injuries meant that they would never enjoy a normal life.

During the investigations carried out later, witnesses said a lorry stopped near the bank at about 10.45 in the morning and the driver was confronted by the CB security staff. Three people jumped out of the vehicle with guns blazing and detonated two bombs. Meanwhile, the lorry reversed into the Central Bank before blowing up.

The bomb was powerful enough to destroy two storeys of the 10-storey Central Bank building, damage eight other buildings and leave a crater eight feet deep.

The front of the Central Bank collapsed into the street. No one would forget the people moaning in pain and the sight of mutilated bodies scattered everywhere. Most of these people were bystanders or civilians manning small shops near the bank. It was one of the deadliest attacks carried out by the LTTE. And the scars remain!

Over 20 vehicles parked near the Central Bank were also destroyed of which the damage was later estimated at over Rs. 5.5 million. The damage caused by the bomb blast was estimated at Rs.375million. The estimated damage to the surrounding buildings was around Rs. 1,050 million.

Those who got killed and injured had nothing to do with the LTTE. They were not in any war zone or combat zone. Many people were fleeing in fear and among them had been a few brave civilians who apprehended some of the LTTE attackers. Yet, as the terrorists were carrying explosives with them, the civilians had to let them go. These factors were revealed during the extensive investigations carried out by the law enforcement authorities.

Raju, the main bomber, died immediately. Two terrorists wearing jackets filled with explosives were later arrested near the Fort railway station.

The investigation

It was revealed during the investigation that Subramanium Vigneswaram alias Kittu and Sivasamy Dharmendra alias Raju were key players in the mission. Immediately after the bombing, several tourists and local and foreign travel agencies received calls from Ellalan Force, a front organisation of the LTTE, to boycott travel to Sri Lanka.

As reported in the media, quoting security experts, this attack could have been the response to a major government victory when the Sri Lanka Army seized the Jaffna city, which the LTTE had till then kept as their stronghold.

The then Deputy Defence Minister Anuruddha Ratwatte, said on television, “If Velupillai Prabhakaran thinks that by these acts, he can stop our military offensive, he is dreaming. We say quite clearly that these acts will make us even more determined to destroy terrorism.'’

In October 2002, High Court Judge Sarath Ambepitiya issued an open warrant to arrest the LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran in connection with the 1996 Central Bank bombing. The judge found him guilty on 51 counts and sentenced him to 200 years in prison.

The judgment was 126 pages long. Alongside Prabhakaran, nine other LTTE members were charged. Prabhakaran's finger print, found on the plaque presented to one of the suicide cadre, was verified from that taken during his arrest in 1982 in India. Other LTTE terrorists caught admitted that they took part in the mission, on the instructions of ‘Charles’ and Pottu Amman.

Judgments have been given, damages estimated, yet those ordinary people who were lost, have been lost forever!

- DY



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