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Eight killed in blast at Army HQ; Commander injured

COLOMBO: Army Commander Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka was critically injured and eight others killed yesterday when a female Black Tiger suicide cadre disguised as a pregnant woman, blew herself up in front of the exit of the Military Hospital inside the Colombo Army headquarters.

Twenty seven others, most of them visitors to the Army Hospital, were also injured, some critically. "The Commander is now in a stable condition and out of danger," Military Spokesman Brigadier Prasad Samarasinghe said.

Investigations revealed that the LTTE suicide bomber disguised as a pregnant woman had been transported to the hospital premises from the main gate in an Army vehicle. Yesterday was Maternity Day at the Army Hospital.

As a practice, pregnant women entering the Army Hospital premises for Maternity Day are not subject to stringent security checks.

She had walked towards the vehicle the Commander was travelling in on his way home for lunch. When his personal security staff on motorcycles tried to block the woman from advancing towards the car, she exploded herself.

"The bomb went off in the 'rush hour' when family members of soldiers were visiting their relatives, and officers were going to have their lunch or were coming from lunch.

"There were also groups of family members of soldiers and officers who had come for treatment," an officer at the scene said.

The official said they launched a search operation inside the Army premises just after the attack as a precaution.

General Fonseka is the second seniormost Armed Forces commander to come under a LTTE suicide attack after former Navy Commander Clancy Fernando.

He is also the second high profile personality targeted by the LTTE suicide cadres since the February 22, 2002, ceasefire.

The first attempt was made on Minister Douglas Devananda in July 2004.

A special team attached to the Criminal Investigation Department also rushed to the scene to conduct investigations.

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