Grenade attack kills 11 in gang clash at Sri Lankan pop concert

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The Independent Online
Eleven people were killed and some 200 wounded in a grenade attack at a packed pop concert in north-western Sri Lanka yesterday.

Eleven people were killed and some 200 wounded in a grenade attack at a packed pop concert in north-western Sri Lanka yesterday.

Police blamed the explosion on rival gangs in the city of Kurunegala, where the main football stadium was crammed with more than 100,000 fans for a performance by two singers from India.

Investigators turned for clues to an old feud between two villages. "There was a gang fight and then some madman lobbed a grenade," said a police officer in Kurunegala, about 80km (50 miles) north of the capital, Colombo.

"We have made no arrests," he said, adding that investigators believed the clash was sparked by an old rivalry between the villages of Malkaduwawa and Samanpura in the outskirts of Kurunegala.

Police ruled out any connection with the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a rebel group that has in the past been linked to bombings in Colombo and other cities. The rebels declared a unilateral ceasefire in December.

Samapath Perera, a fan who had spent hours queuing to get into the stadium for the show by the two singers, Shar-mila and Rithika, said: "There was a commotion behind me before I was thrown off my feet by a powerful explosion."

Police cordoned off a small, blood-spattered patch of the dusty stadium floor, about 25 metres (82 feet) from the garishly decorated stage.

Police Sergeant S Karunad-asa said: "I was behind the stage and heard a loud noise even though the concert was in full swing. When the music stopped we heard screaming and saw people running from the fire."

The flames initially prompted speculation that the blast had set off a gas cylinder used by one of the many tiny food stalls around the stadium.

But police found two or three bottles filled with petrol and ready to be used as bombs and they suspected petrol was the cause of the fire.

Eight people were killed instantly and another three died later of their injuries in hospital. Last night about 150 people remained in hospital, many for burns and injuries suffered in a stampede to get out of the stadium.

The man who threw the grenade was among the dead and police said they were still puzzled how he managed to smuggle the device into the stadium when there had been searches at the gate.

Kulasri Kariyawasam, the news editor of Sri FM, the radio station that put on the concert, said: "It was a terrible blast. Fortunately none of the performers or staff were injured."

Sri Lanka's 18-year ethnic conflict between Tamil rebels and government troops has been accompanied by a big increase in non-political violent crime, often committed by army deserters.

Weapons such as hand grenades and assault rifles are illegal but easily obtained, giving rise to increasingly deadly clashes between underworld gangs in Colombo and other cities. ( Reuters)