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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Airstrike Against Sri Lankan Base is First for Tamil Tigers

ReutersSri Lankan air force troops guarding a closed road at the base on Monday.
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka -- Tamil Tiger rebels launched their first airstrike in the nearly quarter-decade conflict with Sri Lanka's government, using at least one small plane to bomb an air base outside the capital Monday, killing three airmen, officials said.

The rebels said the overnight raid, which also wounded 16 air force personnel at the base about 30 kilometers northwest of Colombo, was aimed at halting what they called "indiscriminate" aerial bombing of Tamil areas. The rebels warned of more attacks.

The Tigers said two aircraft carried out the raid, though it was not immediately clear what kind of planes were used or where they obtained them.

A Sri Lankan air force spokesman said the attack involved a single light aircraft and that it was the first airstrike by the Tigers.

The government said the rebels failed in their mission to destroy bomber jets and helicopters, but added that the Tigers' newfound air capability was a worrying development.

"No terrorist group in this part of the world has any air capability. This is a clear threat to the security of the whole region," Cabinet minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle told a news conference.

He said the government had appointed a five-member security committee to investigate the incident.

Sri Lanka's former air force chief said the rebels might have smuggled the aircraft into the country in parts.

"You can get in parts of a whole small aircraft in five or six packets; the Tigers may have done that," retired Sri Lankan Air Marshall Harry Goonetilleke said.

The attack took place around 12:45 a.m., with a single light aircraft dropping three bombs near the base's engineering section, the Sri Lankan Defense Ministry said in a statement.

No planes on the ground were damaged, the statement said.