COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — A car bomb exploded today at the crowded main bus terminal here in the heart of the Sri Lankan capital, and officials said as many as 150 people were killed and more than 200 were injured.
Among the victims were passengers trapped in six buses parked near the terminal, police and witnesses said. Many people burned to death or died of smoke inhalation as the buses were engulfed in flames.
The car bombing was the third terrorist attack in five days in the predominantly Sinhalese island, where minority Tamil insurgents are fighting for a separate state. At least 145 people were killed by Tamil insurgents in the earlier attacks.
There was no claim of responsibility for the bombing, but the government issued a statement blaming two Tamil separatist groups, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the Eelam Revolutionary Organization of Students.
Tamil Shops Stoned
Shortly after the explosion, mobs of Sinhalese civilians stoned Tamil-owned shops about half a mile from the bus terminal. Police dispersed the crowd.
The explosion occurred at about 4:45 p.m. (4:15 a.m. PDT), as many workers were leaving their offices in this city of 750,000 people.
Witnesses said many of the wounded suffered severe burns. Rescue work was hampered by heavy rain, and police took over private cars, buses and trucks to help take the injured to hospitals.
The windows of many cars and buildings were shattered by the blast, but no major structural damage was reported.
No official count of the dead and injured was issued by the government. However, a Health Ministry official said late today that as many as 150 people were killed by the bomb.
A policeman at Colombo General Hospital said said about 200 people were admitted for treatment there while others were taken to nearby hospitals.
Men Seen Parking Car
Siri Sena, a railway worker who was wounded in the legs by the bomb, said he saw several men park a white car outside the Bank of Ceylon branch office near the bus terminal. The car exploded minutes after the men walked away, he said.
The army cordoned off the area around the bus terminal, and police imposed a curfew on the Colombo district.
The main bus station is on Gas Works Street near the main railway terminal, and the two stations are used by tens of thousands of Sri Lankan commuters every day. Thousands of commuters were stranded by the bombing.
On Monday, Tamil guerrillas invaded the remote Sinhalese village of Vannela and killed 18 people, including five women and five children. (Story, Page 5.)
127 Killed on Jungle Road
Last Friday, Tamil rebels killed 127 civilians, mostly Sinhalese, after dragging them from buses and other vehicles on a jungle road 10 miles outside Vannela.
Tamils, most of whom are Hindus, account for 18% of the 16 million people on Sri Lanka, an island off the southern coast of India. They claim they are discriminated against by the majority Sinhalese, who are Buddhists.
The Tamil rebels have been fighting for four years to establish an independent homeland in the island's northern and eastern provinces, where most of the Tamils live.