At least fifteen persons were killed and 40 others seriously injured when an LTTE suicide cadre blew himself up at the Godapitiya Jumma mosque in Akuressa, where the national Milad-Ud Nabi festival was to be held to mark the birthday of Prophet Mohammed yesterday.
The suicide bomber, who arrived at the scene on a bicycle, triggered off the bomb around 10.15 a.m. while the chief guest and guests of honour were coming into the mosque in procession to participate in the national Milad-Ud-Nabi festival.
Posts and Telecommunications Minister Mahinda Wijesekera, who was critically injured in the blast was first admitted to the Matara hospital and later airlifted to Colombo. He was undergoing treatment at the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at the time of going to press.
Petroleum and Petroleum Resources Minister A. H. M. Fowzie, who was an eye witness to the blast, told The Island that the area was thronged by thousands of people who had come to attend the ceremony and the religious leaders and guests were being conducted to the mosque in a procession. Minister Wijesekera was walking ahead of the other politicians when the suicide bomber blew himself up.
Fowzie said Wijesekra was walking along with him and the other ministers about 20-30 metres in front of the procession but suddenly he decided to move to the front despite appeals to stay with the other politicians.
"No sooner minister Wijesekera had moved to the front, we heard a loud explosion," he said.
"The next thing I saw was Minister Wijesekera and many others lying on the ground and people running for their lives," he said.
Defence Spokesman Minister Keheliya Rambukwella said that an investigation had been launched to ascertain whether there were any security lapses on the part of the Police.
Among the other ministers who were at the scene of the blast were Cultural Affairs Minister Mahinda Yapa Abeywardane and Home Affairs Minister (non-cabinet) Chandrasiri Gajadheera.
A large number of wounded were warded at the Akuressa and Matara hospitals.
A special team of nine doctors had been sent to the Matara hospital in a helicopter. The team included a neurologist and an anaesthetist, Secretary to the Health Ministry Dr. Atula Kahandaliyanage said.
Director of the Matara General Hospital Dr Aruna Jayasekara told The Island that 44 persons had been admitted to the hospital. Of them, three, including Minister Wijesekara and former Chief Minister of Southern Provincial Council H. G. Sirisena had been airlifted to Colombo. One of the 44 admitted to the Matara Hospital had succumbed to his injuries, he said.
Director, Accident Service of the NHSL, Dr. Prasad Ariyawansa said the minister’s condition was critical and others were out of danger.