Law enforcement officers hunting for the perpetrators of last Monday’s deadly ambush of two prison buses in Ethanamadala, Kalutara concede it is one of the most meticulously planned and executed underworld operation. Police yesterday said they had identified five suspects directly involved in the attack, which left seven people, including alleged underworld kingpin Aruna Damith [...]


Kalutara assassins pounced when cops allegedly held back prison bus protection


A mother and child passing the spot where the massacre took place. Pic by Indika Handuwala

Law enforcement officers hunting for the perpetrators of last Monday’s deadly ambush of two prison buses in Ethanamadala, Kalutara concede it is one of the most meticulously planned and executed underworld operation.

Police yesterday said they had identified five suspects directly involved in the attack, which left seven people, including alleged underworld kingpin Aruna Damith Udayanga Pathirana alias ‘Samayan’ dead. Four others alleged to be his close associates also died, as did two prison officers. Two wounded prison officers are still being treated at the Colombo National Hospital. Doctors have amputated a part of the leg of one officer.

Investigators say an underworld leader identified as ‘Angoda Lokka’ is behind the planned attack. Details of the suspects, along with their photographs, are due to be released soon.

Five police teams under the leadership of Senior Deputy Inspector General (SDIG) (Crimes and Traffic), Nandana Munasinghe, DIG (Crimes) Priyantha Jayakody and DIG (Kalutara Range) G.K. Perera are investigating. Two special police teams are also at the Katunayake and Mattala International Airports, to deter possible attempts by suspect to flee the country.

Investigators believe between six and 10 gunmen took part in the ambush, targeting the prison bus transporting ‘Samayan’ and his alleged associates to the Kaduwela Magistrate’s Court.

The initial magisterial inquiry was held by Kalutara Chief Magistrate Bharathi Wijeratne who visited the scene of the crime.

Janith Dilanka, the driver of the lead prison bus had told the inquiry that the buses left the prison between 8.20 and 8.30am transporting ‘Samayan’ and the other suspects to the Kaduwela Magistrate’s Court.

A dark blue double cab had blocked the road ahead and several men dressed in police uniforms had stepped out. Just as the driver was wondering why police were barring their way, the ‘policemen’ and several others who emerged from hiding started firing at the bus.

The driver had been hit and slumped forward in his seat and the window closest to him was shattered. The driver had said several gunmen boarded the bus and fired on the suspects.

Chief Magistrate, Wijeratne, ordered the Judicial Medical Officer of the Kalutara General Hospital to submit a report after a post-mortem.

A further magisterial inquiry is to be held on March 16 where the JMO’s findings, together with reports from the police, are due to be submitted.

Police say that the position of ‘Samayan’s body, which was found slumped backwards on the footboard of the entrance to the bus, indicates that he had been dragged to the front by the gunmen before he was shot in the head. They believe that most of the weapons used in the attack were automatics.

Police believe at least some of those involved had military training and may be deserters from the armed forces. The ambush site is surrounded by bushes and the attackers are believed to have fired from an elevated area.

The road itself is narrow, which enabled the attackers to block the path with a double cab.

Witnesses we spoke to said there was even a bunch of king coconuts in the back of the pickup truck. Double cabs carrying king coconuts are not an unusual sight on this road as there are traders going round buying king coconuts from people, they added.

The attackers fled in a van and abandoned the double cab. The van was then found abandoned in Moragahahena. It had been stolen from an individual from Kinniya on January 6. He had told police that a man who hired him under the guise of taking a trip to Thalawakele had later drugged his food and stolen the vehicle. A search is also on for the owner of the double cab.

The day of the incident: The bullet-riddled prison van. Pic by Sarath Siriwardene

DIG (Crimes) Priyantha Jayakody told the Sunday Times that Monday’s ambush was the culmination of a long-standing territorial dispute between two powerful underworld gangs — one led by ‘Samayan’ and the other by ‘Angoda Lokka.’ Both groups were active in areas such as Ranala, Kaduwela, Korathota, Pittugala and Malabe. According to police, each gang wants control over distribution of heroin in these areas.

The region is also home to many sand and earth moving businesses as well as metal quarries. Thus, it provides an attractive target for criminal gangs looking to extort ransom from businessmen in the area.

The animosity between the two groups has led to dozens of individuals linked to both gangs being killed over the past several years. ‘Samayan’ himself has been targeted several times. The last attempt was made on September 23, 2015 at the Kaduwela Magistrate’s Court premises. On that occasion, a gunman who was at the premises shot ‘Samayan,’ who was being guarded by armed prison officers, before making his escape. The suspect was arrested two days later and it was alleged that the ‘hit’ on ‘Samayan’ had been arranged by ‘Angoda Lokka.’

On March 5, last year, two gunmen on a motorbike shot a pregnant woman opposite the Welikada prison. Inquiries revealed that the gunmen had first asked the woman if she was the wife of ‘Samayan’ before shooting her. As it turned out, the woman was the wife of another inmate serving time for minor offenses. The incident came two days after two gunmen on a motorbike shot 32-year-old Danushka Harsha alias ‘Harsha’ in Welikada. ‘Harsha was a known associate of ‘Angoda Lokka.’

Even from prison, ‘Samayan’ is believed to have arranged the murders of three close associates of ‘Angoda Lokka’ within the past few months, namely ‘Harsha,’ ‘Raththaran’ and ‘Banda.’ Of these three, ‘Banda’ was the last to be killed on January 17 when he was shot dead at a saloon in Athurugiriya town.

Samayan’s group was known to be the more powerful of the two and ‘Angoda Lokka,’ sensing that it was only a matter of time before gunmen came for him, had used his men and weapons in one final operation to eliminate ‘Samayan’ and ringleaders of his gang in one fell swoop, investigators believe.

An initial attempt to target ‘Samayan’ may have failed after police arrested a suspected member of ‘Angoda Lokka’s’ gang some months ago along with a firearm and six sets of clothes similar to army uniforms. It is suspected that the planners of the attack then switched to police-style uniforms.

The gang ambush triggered concerns over security.

Minister of Rehabilitation and Prison Reforms D M Swaminathan, accused police of refusing to provide security for the prison buses despite a request.

The responsibility of protecting Kalutara prison buses falls to the Kalutara North Police Station. ‘Samayan’ had been transferred to the Kalutara Prison from Colombo on October 10, last year. According to DIG Jayakody, Kalutara Prison officials had requested security for buses transporting ‘Samayan’ to courts on 35 occasions until the February 27 ambush. “Police security was provided on 32 occasions. On three occasions, the Officer-In-Charge of the station had notified the prison that security could not be provided due to shortage of personnel.”

Prison officials requested police on February 25 for security for the bus due to take ‘Samayan’ to the Kaduwela Magistrate’s Court on February 27. The OIC however, had informed them on the same day it was not possible because he needed men for a vital security related matter that day.

DIG (Legal) Ajith Rohana told journalists on Friday that police would still initiate action against officers if an inquiry proved they had been negligent. “Our focus is to ensure that such incidents don’t occur in future,” he added.

While no police protection was provided, there were still 11 prison officers on board the two buses. The officers also had seven T56 weapons between them. Initial investigations have revealed that just two of the firearms may have been discharged. Investigators, however, note that officers may simply have been too confused and overwhelmed by the scale of the attack to fight back.

The task of investigating possible lapses on the part of authorities has fallen on two separate committees. The first is a three-member committee appointed by Minister Swaminathan. It is headed by former magistrate Rumy Marzook. The other members are former DIG Gamini Navaratne and former additional secretary to the Ministry of Defence, S. Medawewa. A separate panel appointed by Commissioner General of Prisons, includes the Commissioner of Prisons and two Assistant Superintendents of Prisons.

Meanwhile, security is being reviewed.

Thushara Upuldeniya, Prisons Department spokesman, said training would be upgraded. Meanwhile, police Special Task Force protection is being considered for prison buses transporting underworld members after a threat assessment. Police on Friday also launched a operation to seize illegal firearms.


From Deva Achuthan in Batticaloa 


S. Tharmgeegan (24) from Karaithivu in Ampara, was due to resign from the Prisons Department in April to leave for New Zealand next year for further studies. His father, P Sivanandam, said his son had informed him that he was coming home on March 10 to sit for his IELTS examination. He had joined the Prisons Department out of a desire to study in Colombo so that he could apply for further studies abroad.

The funeral of Tharmgeegan, who was one of two prison officers killed in the Kalutara, Ethanamadala prison bus attack, took place on Thursday with full honours from the Department of Prisons. He had been with the department for nearly two years and was grateful to prison authorities for providing him lodging and space to continue his studies while working, his father added.

On the day of the incident, Sivanandam, a retired government employee, said he had received a text message in the morning informing him of the attack. “I called the Kalutara Prison but received no answer. Then one of my son’s colleagues working at the Jaffna Prison confirmed that an attack had taken place. My family then hired a van and we came to Kalutara hoping and praying that my son was unharmed.”

The family was directed to the Kalutara Hospital, where the JMO confirmed their worst fears, informing them that Tharmgeegan was dead.


POSTHUMOUS RECOGNITION FOR PRISON OFFICERSThe funeral of S. R. Wijeratne (53) one of the two prison officers killed in the attack, took place on Wednesday. The father of two was a jailer at the Prisons Department since 1985 with a service record dating back 22 years.Wijeratne’s son, Tharindu, told the Sunday Times that his father was an exemplary officer who was dedicated to his job. “Ultimately, it was this dedication that cost him his life.”

According to Tharindu, his father and another officer were assigned to the bus transporting ‘Samayan’ to court on an alternate basis.

Tharindu said his father was enthusiastic about social service and was closely associated with the village temple.

Wijeratne also liked gardening, according to his family. He was also a family man, Tharindu added. “Even that morning, he only left after dropping me where I wait for office transport and my sister at the train station.”

Meanwhile, both the deceased officers are to be posthumously promoted. Minister of Rehabilitation and Prison Reforms, D M Swaminathan is due to present a Cabinet paper next week on awarding compensation to their families.



Pushpa Ranjani

Pushpa Ranjani is struggling to come to terms with what happened opposite her home. Standing on her doorstep, she showed us a flower pot lying in pieces in the garden. “They pulled a bullet from that.’’ She also pointed to a bullet hole on a wall. The 59-year-old mother of two said she and her family have been shaken by the events of last Monday.

She’s not alone. When the Sunday Times visited the scene of the attack at Ethanamadala on Wednesday, area residents were still in a state of shock, disbelief and terrified.

Residents have covered up the bloodstains.

Several buses from the Kalutara Prison — each flying a white flag in front as a mark of respect to the deceased officers, passed by as we spoke.

Ms Ranjani works at the Agrarian Development Department’s office in Nagoda. Last Monday morning, she and her daughter had been at home when they heard what sounded like firecrackers. The time was between 8.20 and 8.30am. She rushed to the door see two prison buses on the road. The sound of ‘firecrackers’ continued. “As I cried out to my brother next door, I saw something strike a piece off a tile on the roof of his house and there was a puff of smoke.” At this point, she knew both their lives were in danger. She shut her front door and together with her daughter, ran out the back to her brother’s house. “Judging by the damage, if we had tried to run out the front door, both of us could have been hit.”

At her brother’s house next door, Ms Ranjani’s mother Tiulin Silva (80) said she still gets the chills. More bullets had struck this residence, with bullet fragments found even inside the house. “The police told us to inform them if we find any more bullets or fragments,” she said. Her 7-year-old grandson had cried uncontrollably that day from sheer terror and had to be taken to the doctor after falling ill.

Wasantha Silva (59), who also lives close to the scene, said she can’t forget images of the dead and injured. “I’ve been having headaches since that day,” she said. She mistook the gunfire for firecrackers and thought there was a wedding nearby. “But when I came near my gate, I could see bullets striking the bus and I ran back inside.”

While the attack was taking place, K B Silva (63) was desperately trying to alert officials at the Kalutara prison, which is less than a kilometre from the site of the ambush. Silva once served at the Kalutara prisons and had retired as a sergeant. On the morning of the incident, he had just returned home after visiting the prison for a personal matter and had seen his son-in-law, also a prison officer, board the second bus in which ‘Samayan’ was being transported to the Kaduwela Magistrate’s Court. When he heard the gunfire, he had suspected an attack. “I rushed to the prison with a friend in his vehicle and raised the alarm.”

When he returned to the site, Silva searched for his son-in-law. “I saw Samayan lying dead and had this terrible vision of carrying my son-in-law’s lifeless body in my arms,” he added. However, his son-in-law had escaped with only minor injuries after being cut by flying glass.

All those we spoke to said they had not seen any of the attackers. Mrs Ranjani, who lives closest to the ambush spot, said she was awake from 4.30am that day and went to the temple for a Bodhi Pooja. Before the attack, “no one noticed a thing,’’ she said

Share This Post


Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.