Contrary to the initial belief that a refrigerated truck laden with over 1,000 kgs of explosives seized on Friday evening in Trincomalee was to be used to target Colombo, the military believes that the intended target would have been a political gathering in the eastern port city.
`They were probably planning to target President Mahinda Rajapakse or Senior Presidential Advisor Basil Rajapakse,` a senior official said.
Basil Rajapakse is a frequent visitor to operational areas, particularly in the eastern theatre, and is believed to be high on the LTTE hit list.
The monster bomb would have been kept in Trincomalee town area to be swiftly moved to the targeted area, the sources said.
There were altogether 56 steel boxes, each containing 20 kgs of C4 plastic explosives inter-linked to facilitate a single detonation. Interestingly there was not a single steel ball, a senior military official said, asserting that the blast would have been directed towards the front. `Even a bullet proof vehicle would not have survived the blast,` he said.
Initial inquiries and the interrogation of the middle-aged suspect had indicated that the plotters did not plan to bring the truck bomb to Colombo. Although the explosives had been neatly packed in a secret compartment in the large cargo hold of the vehicle, the LTTE would not have tried to take it through police and security forces checkpoints along the road out of Trincomalee, the official asserted.
Well informed sources ruled out the possibility of the LTTE making an attempt to drive through outer defences of the Trincomalee SLN base to enter the largest security forces facility in the East. They could not have overcome the defences set up over 600 meters away from the main entry points on both approach roads, the sources said.
They rejected the assertion that China Bay SLAF base could have been a target.
`There is general belief that the target would have been political,` another official said. ``Had they succeeded, the government`s success in driving the LTTE out of their all strongholds including Trincomalee would have sounded hollow.``
The SLN Friday seized the truck during a raid on Paddikkiya, a predominately Tamil fishing village situated about a kilometer away from the Trincomalee clock tower.
`The truck bomb was parked next to a badly dilapidated house where the suspect lived alone,` the official said. SLN intelligence is trying to establish the identity of the suspect who is widely believed to be the crucial link in an underground LTTE network operating in Trincomalee. The military did not rule out the possibility of the suspect being a suicide cadre.
Premier Ratnasiri Wickremanayake recently told the press that security forces were looking for an explosives laden vehicle. The revelation was made shortly after police deployed at a check point at Kotawehera seized a lorry carrying over 1,000 kgs of explosives.
The sources said that the LTTE is trying to offset their debacle in the Eastern theatre of operations with a major strike in Colombo.
The SLN had moved the truck to Trincomalee Dockyard after making it safe.
Since the use of an explosive-laden vehicle to attack an army detachment at Nelliady during Operation Liberation in early 1987, the LTTE had carried out over a dozen major vehicle bomb attacks with the strike on the Central Bank in January 1996 and last year`s massacre of over 100 SLN personnel at Diganpathana being two of the worst.
But the attack thwarted by the SLN would have been the biggest in terms of the loss of civilian life had they succeeded to detonate the monster bomb, the sources said.