Soon after nine o’clock in the morning on August 18, 1987, Senior Technical Officer T.K. Siriwardana rushed into our room in the Department of Forensic Medicine in the Faculty of Medicine and said, “Sir, there is an explosion in the parliament!” We immediately contacted the Welikada police station, which confirmed the fact and we were [...]

Sunday Times 2

Revisiting the 1987 Parliament bomb blasts


Soon after nine o’clock in the morning on August 18, 1987, Senior Technical Officer T.K. Siriwardana rushed into our room in the Department of Forensic Medicine in the Faculty of Medicine and said, “Sir, there is an explosion in the parliament!” We immediately contacted the Welikada police station, which confirmed the fact and we were asked to visit the scene.

The two grenades exploded close to where National Security Minister Lalith Athulathmudali was seated. The Sunday Times file pic

When we visited Committee Room A, we saw that the carpets in the room were soaked with the blood of MPs. Footwear, which the parliamentarians and ministers had been wearing, was strewn all over the place. Documents and diaries of members of parliament were also lying scattered on the floor, some smeared in blood. In the corridors, through which the injured parliamentarians had been taken to hospital, were patches of blood daubed here and there.

Where the grenades had exploded, there were two craters with a diameter of about one foot each. Not only tables and chairs but equipment fixed in the room was also badly damaged.

Large windows had cracked and pieces of glass were strewn everywhere.

What really happened?

The ruling United National Party Parliament group was meeting in Committee Room A at the Parliament building, with President J. R. Jayewardene presiding.

At 8.40 a.m. President Jayewardene arrived with Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa. The President was all smiles. This was the first day with his MPs after the signing of the accord with India. The MPs stood up, thumped their tables and cheered for two or three minutes.

At 8.45 a.m., the meeting began. About 120 MPs were present. President Jayewardene in the Chair addressed the Parliamentarians.

Few minutes later, Mr. Senadheera, who was looking after the work of the Secretary to the Leader of the House, bent down to draw the Prime Minister’s attention to a document. There was a door to the right of the President, which was never opened. Suddenly this door was opened about a foot from its frame. Just then an explosion was heard.

An object was lobbed inside, which bounced on the table right in front of the President and ricocheted to a side, in the region where Lalith Athulathmudali was seated, and blew up. The hall was engulfed in black smoke. In the meantime another grenade was hurled in and it also exploded almost simultaneously, throwing the Parliamentarians into panic, screaming and yelling “We are being bombed!”

With the explosion of the second grenade, several parliamentarians started yelling “Get down, get down!” By that time, the President who was in the Chair and the Prime Minister who was with him together with Chief Government Whip Vincent Perera had ducked under the table to escape the grenade attacks. It was Prime Minister Premadasa who promptly responded and got the President under the table for safety.

Gradually, the darkness inside the hall, which had been caused by the black smoke dispersed. The members of parliament and ministers who were cowering under the table left the Committee Room. It was reported that President Jayewardene was the first one to come out saying that it was not good for the President to stay under the table! The President’s security guards carried him away.

The female members who were, as usual, seated near the main entrance had run out of the main door and they were huddled together under the portico. MPs Lohini Wijesiri, Renuka Herath and Sriyani Daniel screamed when they saw a blood-stained Montague Jayawickrema walking towards the lawn unassisted!

Matara District Minister Keerthi Abeywickrema, who was seriously injured in the grenade attack was rushed to the National Hospital, Colombo.

The next person who was brought was National Security Minister Lalith Athulathmudali. He was taken to the Sri Jayewardenepura Hospital on the laps of Health Minister Ranjith Atapattu and Mahendra Wijeratne. Mr. Athulathmudali had his spleen removed in emergency surgery and shrapnel removed from his back at Sri Jayewardenepura Hospital.

Norbert Senadheera, a Parliamentary staff member who had received severe head injuries was admitted to the Colombo National Hospital. He and the Minister Keerthi Abeywickrema underwent surgery.

When President Jayewardene came out of the building his shirt appeared to have patches of blood. He commented “That is not my blood. It must be somebody else’s. I don’t know whose blood. I will keep this coat as a memento, though,”

His security officers were begging of him to come inside the car. “How can I go when so many members are injured?” he kept on saying. Absolutely unruffled, he was steady as ever and concerned about others.

He calmly walked to his official vehicle, got in and left. It was reported that the President’s face conveyed disgust while the Prime Minister’s face reflected great anger.
Several Ministers and MPs suffered injuries.

A day after the attack, the BBC reported that the Patriotic People’s Movement, which would later be identified as the military wing of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, claimed responsibility.

The anonymous caller told BBC correspondent John Rettie that the attack was carried out by the Patriotic People’s Movement to protest the Jayewardene-Gandhi agreement.

The BBC journalist said the caller also said that his group was behind the July 29 attack on Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi by a member of a Sri Lanka naval honour guard. As Gandhi reviewed the guard, one of the sailors raised his rifle and aimed a blow at the prime minister’s head. Gandhi ducked away and was not seriously injured.

Not long after the explosion took place, the Police Special Task Force arrived at the Parliamentary Complex. At the same time, official Police dogs were brought in too.

The Government Analyst visited the scene and did several checks to ascertain the type of “weapon” used and other details. The government decided to call in the experts from the Scotland Yard to assist in the investigation.

One employee of the Parliament was missing from the complex after the explosion. He was R. M. Ajith Kumara and the Police wanted him for questioning in connection with the attempted assassination of the President and others.

Keerthi Abeywickrema died in the General Hospital, Colombo, the same day and Dr. P.U Telisinghe, Senior Lecturer in my Department, performed the post-mortem examination of Mr. Abeywickrema at 9 p.m.

At the conclusion of the post-mortem, Dr. Telisinghe stated that death was due to cranio-cerebral injuries following a blast injury.

Geraldine Ganlath, the Additional Magistrate of Colombo, who held the-magisterial inquiry into the death, returned a verdict of homicide due to an explosion.

Norbert Senadheera, the 42-year-old clerk in the office of the parliamentary whip, who suffered serious injuries died at 7.50 a.m. after five days in critical condition at the Colombo General Hospital.

Mr. Senadheera had recently been promoted to the supra grade in the clerical service and his promotion became effective as from the ill-fated day. He was to be absorbed to the local government service shortly.

A team of medical experts and neurology intensive care unit doctors led by Dr. Colvin Samarasinghe, Consultant Neurologist of the General Hospital, Colombo made a tremendous effort to save Mr. Senadheera’s life. He was on the ventilator since admission on the 18th.

Ms. Ganlath, ordered the post-mortem, which I started at 7.30 p.m. and completed at 11.30 p.m. Forensic Medicine Professor H.V.J. Fernando, Dr. Colvin Samarasinghe and Dr. P.U. Telisinghe were present at the post-mortem conducted at the Medico-legal Morgue, Colombo.

Prior to the post-mortem examination, I had telephone conversations with Chandra Jayawardana and Bennet Perera of the CID. They were also present at the mortuary.

Mr. Senadheera was operated upon twice by Dr. Colvin Samarasinghe. During surgery, a piece of metal was removed from the brain. I was informed by Assistant Government Analyst Jegatheeswaran, it was as a part of a grenade and not a bullet.

The damage caused to the brain by the ‘shrapnel’ was considerable. The injury appeared to be incompatible with survival. Terminally, Mr. Senadheera had developed pneumonia.

I concluded that Mr. Senadheera had suffered a necessarily fatal head injury caused by ‘shrapnel’ from explosion/s. The ‘shrapnel’ has pierced the skull and travelled from left to a right-anterior direction more or less parallel to the ground level.

I gave the cause of death as “Cranio-cerebral trauma following explosive injury.”

The main suspect of the grenade attack, Ajith Kumara, for whom the police offered a reward of a million rupees, was arrested on April 8, 1988 in Naula.

Ajith Kumara was among the Parliament employees who were briefly detained and questioned immediately after the grenade attack, but was released since there was no suspicion at that time.

Ajith Kumara fell into police hands quite accidentally.

The Naula police were conducting a raid on a Kasippu (illicit liquor) den at Akaranduwa when they spotted two men and a woman carrying a child taking to their heels.

They gave chase and nabbed a bearded man while the others had escaped. The man escaped again after he was brought to the main road, but the police officers gave a dramatic chase and arrested him. Following interrogations, the police learnt he was Ajith Kumara. CID detectives brought him to Colombo in the early hours of April 11.

A policeman casually pointed him out as a JVPer and then, suddenly another policeman pointed at him and asked “Aren’t you Ajith Kumara?” Taken aback he answered “Yes”.

He was then put into a cell, one of his wanted photographs was brought and a positive identification was made.

Ajith Kumara, along with four others, was charged with carrying out the grenade attack. They were indicted on ten counts, including conspiracy to commit the murder of President Jayewardene and attempting to commit the murder of Minister Athulathmudali.

On October 12, 1990, the Colombo High Court at Bar delivered a unanimous verdict acquitting Ajith Kumara. Delivering the verdict, High Court Judge Ananda Grero said the prosecution had not proved the charges beyond a reasonable doubt. However, immediately following their discharge from prison, Ajith Kumara and Goonewardene were re-arrested.

Ajith Kumara entered politics becoming an active member of the JVP. He later became a JVP politburo member, a Pradeshiya Sabha member and an unsuccessful Chief Ministerial candidate of the JVP for the Sabaragamuwa Provincial Council elections.

In 2001, he gave up contesting elections to campaign for the UNP-led United National Front.

Interviewed in 2016, when asked “Did you accept a job in Parliament to carry out a plan in a decisive moment?” Ajith Kumara replied, “That is history and I cannot comment on certain incidents. History will reveal and decide what they are.”

“You were accused of hurling two hand grenades at the meeting of the government MPs held in Parliament with President Jayewardene on August 18 1987. Is that true?”

“I was accused and held in jail for six years. My wife and child were killed during that time. I was subjected to all kinds of torture and acquitted.”
When asked, “Who threw the bombs into the meeting,” he said that a witness had said a white hand in a long sleeved shirt had thrown the bomb. When asked, “Whose hand was that?”

Ajith Kumara said, “I don’t know. It was not my hand!”

Ajith Kumara was freed in August 1993.

(Excerpts from the soon-to-be-released book ‘Explosion in the Parliament of Sri Lanka’)

(The writer is Emeritus Professor of Forensic Medicine and Toxicology, University of Colombo, and Senior Professor of Forensic Medicine, General Sir John Kotelawala Defence University Sri Lanka. He can be contacted at

Share This Post


Advertising Rates

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