Prison gunbattle stuns Sri Lanka capital

Amal Jayasinghe | AFP

Published — Saturday 10 November 2012

Last update 10 November 2012 9:21 pm

| نسخة PDF Print News | A A

COLOMBO: A bullet-riddled taxi and a bloodstained road were mute testimony on Saturday to Sri Lanka’s worst prison riot in three decades in which 27 people died and 43 were injured in an overnight gunbattle.
The gunfight at Colombo’s maximum security Welikada prison between guards and prisoners erupted late on Friday during a police search for drugs and smuggled mobile phones.
It sounded like “there was a mini-war at the prison,” said nearby resident Mahinda Perera.
The sounds of shooting caused panic in Colombo, which is still recovering from decades of ethnic war that ended in 2009.
Murderers and other convicts serving life terms fired automatic assault rifles that they grabbed from a prison armory which they broke into after overpowering 25 guards.
Bare-bodied inmates climbed to the roof and attacked police commandos ringing the penitentiary. “The police should have known there would be trouble — they were not prepared,” a prison guard said on condition of anonymity.
Sri Lanka’s elite police Special Task Force swapped fire with inmates for several hours until calm was restored early on Saturday, leaving bodies of the dead — mostly prisoners — strewn around the sprawling premises.
Army troops, who were later called in to quell the riot, used armored personnel carriers to enter the prison as convicts fired at them.
“Bullets were flying all over,” an army officer, who asked to remain unnamed, told AFP.
“The area is now calm,” army spokesman Brig. Ruwan Wanigasooriya told AFP on Saturday.
Most of the dead were believed to be inmates. But officials said one guard may have died in the violence — the worst prison riot since 1983 when over 50 ethnic Tamil prisoners were massacred at the same jail by majority Sinhalese prisoners during anti-Tamil unrest.
The head of the Special Task Force deputy inspector-general R. M. Ranawana had just told a radio station his forces had seized a large haul of phones before he was hit by a bullet.
Ranawana was in intensive care on Saturday recovering from surgery, hospital director Anil Jasinghe told AFP.
A news photographer also suffered a bullet wound while capturing the dramatic scene, which evoked memories of gunbattles in the capital of 600,000 people at the height of fighting with Tamil rebels.
Authorities had closed the road outside the prison to avert civilian casualties during the riot. When the road reopened on Saturday, a blood-splattered three-wheel taxi stood outside the main gates.
Police said half a dozen convicts had hijacked the vehicle to make a getaway but were killed.
Prisons minister Chandrasiri Gajadeera said the prison headquarters inside the grounds suffered extensive damage. Meanwhile Colombo police chief Anura Senanayake said the decision to send in troops saved lives.
“There could have been a bigger disaster if the inmates had got hold of the bigger armory at the prison. By killing the prisoners who were armed, we prevented a much bigger disaster,” he said.
In January another riot had broken out at the prison, also during a drug raid, which had left some 25 people wounded.

What's happening around Saudi Arabia

The Kingdom has shared very friendly relations with the United States since the beginning of bilateral ties in the 1930s when full diplomatic relations were established. Despite all the ups and downs in recent years on certain policies, especially on...
AL-NAIRIYA: Women in Al-Nairiya governorate have called on the government to only allow gender-based voting because they believe this would allow women to get places on the new municipal councils.Nouf Al-Otaibi, a businesswoman in the area, said men...
Eighty-six-year-old American twins who met King Abdul Aziz in 1947 and King Abdullah in 2008 are now set to meet Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman in Washington on Saturday during his official visit.North County twins Jackie Voskamp and J...
RIYADH: Women in Saudi Arabia have been allocated a package of services to ensure their development and employment, Labor Minister Mufrej Al-Haqabani said Tuesday.The minister was speaking at the first panel discussion at the second National Business...
JEDDAH: Security authorities in Turaif in the Northern Border Province have arrested a young man in his 20s for killing his parents and wounding his siblings at their house on Wednesday.The arrested man reportedly used a sharp object to kill his pare...
The Date and Palm Festival, organized by the Royal Commission for Jubail (RCJ) at the Al-Fanateer waterfront in Jubail Industrial City, has received more than 90,000 visitors since its launch last Thursday.In addition, on Sunday the event received mo...

Stay Connected