ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, October 29, 2006
Vol. 41 - No 22

Suicide bomber’s age to be ascertained through jaw bones and dental evidence

  • LTTE attack on SLN Base in Galle

By Kumudini Hettiarachchi

Was one of the alleged suicide bombers who attacked the naval camp at Galle below 18 years of age?

This is what forensic pathologists along with dental surgeons are now attempting to ascertain by checking out the jaw bones and dental evidence available.

The Sunday Times learns that usually the third molars (wisdom teeth), four in all, erupt when a person is between 19 and 25 years but in the case of one of the bodies recovered after the abortive Galle attack, the person does not have a single erupted wisdom tooth.

“As there are suspicions that he may be below 18, we are in the process of cleaning the jaw bones, after which we will refer them to a dental surgeon for an opinion,” said Dr. Clifford Perera, Lecturer at the Department of Forensic Medicine, Ruhuna Medical Faculty who is working with the JMO’s Office of the Karapitiya Teaching Hospital.

Remnants of a suicide kit worn by one of the LTTErs

The mandible and maxilla (lower and upper jaws) would have to be X-rayed, he said, adding, “Presumably, this person is less than 18, not a small child but maybe close to 18.”

Four bodies of the alleged suicide bombers were recovered from the sea near the pier of the naval camp on October 19 and two more from the same location on October 20, while the seventh body was found in the sea near the Galle Fort and the last one at Gintota. Although at the magisterial inquiry it was ordered that the bodies be kept for a week for possible identification, due to decomposition and logistics, a request to the Magistrate to allow the postmortem examination had been granted.

Thereafter, full autopsies on four were done by Karapitiya’s Consultant Judicial Medical Officer Dr. Mahinda Hettiarachchi and the other four by Dr. Perera last Sunday, October 22. After retaining specimens for further investigation, the bodies were due to be handed over to the ICRC on October 23, but as no relative or group had indicated an interest in accepting them, the remains were buried at the Dadella cemetery, close to Galle.

“Such postmortems on alleged suicide cadres are a rare occurrence in the south and this maybe the first time that we were able to carry out a detailed examination on complete bodies,” said Dr. Perera when contacted by The Sunday Times.

All eight bodies were of males and were bloated and decomposed, according to him, with the facial features disfigured beyond identification. Forensic evidence shows that all eight died of blast injuries and not firearm (gunshot) wounds. “Three bodies were headless, with a fourth having only the lower part of the body, the upper-half missing. In these, the age-determination was impossible because the teeth which enable experts to find out the age range were missing,” he said.

In the other four, the teeth indicated that three of the males were over 18 years of age. Usually all those over 18 should have 32 teeth including four wisdom teeth, explained Dr. Perera.

The last body recovered from Gintota had no injuries below the neck. There was only a head injury caused by shrapnel. The skull was fractured, along with brain damage.

The teeth and lower and upper jaws will have to be examined and the latter also X-rayed by dental surgeons to verify whether this person was below 18, said Dr. Perera adding that this would be possible only by mid-week because they have to clean the bones, which was a laborious process. The wisdom teeth, if about to erupt, would show when the jaw bones are X’rayed.

All the bodies, except the one which had only the lower limbs, had sleeveless, grayish-black T-shirts. They had black shorts or full black pants.

A piece of metal, found embedded in the flesh on the forearm of one, had the number 0011 on it along with four Tamil letters. “The metal-tag may have been tied to the forearm but got embedded in the flesh during the blast,” Dr. Perera added.

“Currently there is a ‘Scene of Crime Lab’ at the Galle Police Station. The officers who have been trained there were also involved in the Post-mortem examination.”

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Copyright 2006 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.