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