Second bus bomb kills 15 at Hikkaduwa

A bomb exploded inside a private bus at Hikkaduwa yesterday, killing at least 15 and injuring 42. The incident prompted words of warning from the government for civilians to be more vigilant than ever to the threat of terrorism.

The blast occurred around 2.35 pm at Seenigama, Hikkaduwa, within a bus bound from Colombo to Matara. A witness said there had been more than 65 passengers inside the vehicle. The latest incident happened just nineteen hours after six people died and at least 50 were injured inside a Giriulla-bound bus at Nittambuwa.

K. P. Mahinda, a nearby resident, told the Sunday Island that the explosion had occurred at the rear of the bus. "We went to site immediately afterwards and saw bodies being taken away," he said via telephone. "On the rear footboard of the bus was a length of female hair, about eight inches long. It was not a scalp, just the hair."

Parts of the roof had been blown off in the blast while windows had shattered. However, unlike the explosion which occurred at Nittambuwa, the bus had not caught fire.

Ambalangoda police said that the blast was likely to have been caused by a parcel or similar bomb. Military Spokesman Brig Prasad Samarasinghe said speculation that a female suicide bomber had been involved could not be verified till there was some identification.

Another security officer said it was unlikely the LTTE would deploy a suicide bomber inside a civilian bus, commenting that it was more probable for a time bomb to have been left on board the bus.

"Even in the case of the bomb at Nittambuwa, there were rumours of a suicide bomber being involved because a body was found with its arms missing," Brig Samarasinghe said. "But we have identified all six persons who died in that blast."

Samarasinghe slammed the Tigers over what he said was "clearly the targeting of innocent civilians". "This is what they did in the 1980s and early 1990s," he said. "When they are getting a beating from security forces in the north and east, they are targeting innocent civilians in the south in order to trigger a backlash."

He urged civilians not to succumb to Tiger tactics and also cautioned the public to be more vigilant than ever about their surroundings.

Police initially took three people in for questioning but said this figure may change as investigations proceed.

Meanwhile, at least 10 people were taken in for questioning over the bombing of the passenger bus at Nittambuwa. The Media Centre for National Security says that, according to initial investigations, the bomb had weight two kilograms and had been set under a seat. Among the critically injured in the Nittambuwa incident were two children aged nine and 15.

In the meantime, sponsors of an elaborate international literary festival to be held in Galle from Tuesday through Sunday lamented at the latest incident and condoled with those who lost their lives in the explosions.

"The tragedy and horror of the bombs in buses on the roads to Kandy and Hikkaduwa, extend beyond their immediate victims," said Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne, a director of Jetwing Hotels.

Jetwing Hotels part owns and operates the Lighthouse Hotel in Galle, one of the eventís venue sponsors.

"Several thousands also suffer in lost livelihoods as the war drains the economy and tourists stay away," he pointed out. "The Literary Festival in Galle would have helped  Galle to regain momentum as the southern riviera of Sri Lanka."

"The bomb in Hikkaduwa will dampen spirits and add to the misery of a nation mourning the indiscriminate killing of so innocent people."



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