A handicapped female suicide bomber blew herself up at Sri Lanka's social services ministry in the heart of Colombo yesterday, killing a government employee in a failed attempt to assassinate a government minister, the military said.
The attack took place outside the office of Douglas Devananda, the minister of social services and the leader of the Eelam People's Democratic Party, an ethnic Tamil party considered a rival to the separatist Tamil Tigers rebel group, the military said.
Devananda, the repeated target of assassination attempts, was not injured in the attack, the military said. The blast killed one of his staff members and critically injured another, said Hector Weerasinghe, the medical director of Colombo National Hospital.
A third worker was lightly injured, he said.
The bomber was also killed.
"This was an attempt to kill the minister," said military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara, blaming the separatist Tamil Tigers.
Rebel spokesman Rasiah Ilanthirayan said he was unaware of the blast.
The Tamil Tigers, listed as a terror organization by the US and the EU, has carried out more than 240 suicide bombings.
The rebel group has been fighting since 1983 to create a separate homeland for Sri Lanka's minority Tamils following decades of discrimination by governments controlled by the Sinhalese majority. The fighting has killed an estimated 70,000 people.
In addition to attacking government forces and Sinhalese officials, the Tamil rebels routinely target Tamils they perceive as rivals.
The Eelam People's Democratic Party, once part of the rebel cause, renounced violence and joined the political mainstream in 1987.
The bomber, a polio victim with a limp, was allowed past the gate and into the ministry complex yesterday with other members of the public who had gathered for the minister's weekly open meeting to discuss their problems, Nanayakkara said.
When Devananda's security personnel searched her at the door to the building about 8:05am, she detonated the bomb vest she was wearing, he said.
Meanwhile, a bomb exploded yesterday evening outside a clothing store in a busy Colombo suburb, killing at least 16 people and wounding more than 20 others, the military said.
The blast occurred in the town of Nugegoda when a security guard outside the popular store became suspicious about a parcel and tried to open it, a defense official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
The attacks came a day after 11 schoolchildren and two adults were killed when Sri Lanka's military detonated a roadside bomb near a vehicle traveling inside the Tamil Tiger's stronghold in northern Sri Lanka, the rebels said.
Nanayakkara denied that the military was behind the blast.
The children were on their way to a cemetery to participate in the annual Hero's Day memorials for dead rebel fighters when they were hit by the blast about 25km west of the Tigers' de facto capital of Kilinochchi, rebel spokeswoman Selvy Navaruban said in a statement.
Also on Tuesday, air force jets dropped 12 bombs on the Tamil Tigers' radio station just an hour before it was to broadcast his traditional Hero's Day address by rebel leader Velupillai Prabhakaran.
The airstrike killed five station employees and four local residents, a rebel statement said.