Remembering the victims of claymore attacks

A claymore mine similar to the one exploded by the LTTE in Kebithigollewa.

The Kebithigollewa massacre occurred on June 15, 2006, when nearly 70 civilians were killed by a LTTE claymore attack on a bus. The US and the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) claimed that the LTTE was the perpetrator.

The Kebithigollewa massacre happened exactly 14 years ago when a state-owned bus was struck by two claymore directional mines. Nearly 70 Sinhalese men, women and infants were killed as a result of this attack. The United States condemned the attack, noting: “This vicious attack bears all the hallmarks of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). It is a clear violation of the Ceasefire Agreement that the Tamil Tigers claim to uphold.”

Nearly 70 people, including 15 children, were killed on that dark Thursday morning. A total of 42 people were injured, some of whom were flown to hospitals in Colombo for treatment. The explosion is believed to have been caused by a 20kg claymore mine. It ripped through the commuter bus ferrying schoolchildren and workers from the countryside into Kebithigollewa town. It was a regular state transport bus and all the passengers killed were Sinhalese.

Then President and the current Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and then Defence Secretary and the current President Gotabaya Rajapaksa visited Kebithigollewa just after the LTTE claymore mine blast.

Then President Mahinda Rajapaksa went to the Anuradhapura Hospital to meet the victims and their loved ones. Minister Tissa Karalliyadda, President’s Secretary Lalith Weeratunga, and the IGP went with him. A distraught father wept, holding the bloodied remains of his little son when the President visited the hospital. President Mahinda Rajapaksa consoled him.

The LTTE was using claymore mines all over the country to kill a large number of people at once. A similar claymore mine was used to explode another commuter bus at Katubedda, Moratuwa, on June 6, 2008. The bomb placed at a location between Shailabimbaramya Buddhist temple and the University of Moratuwa, exploded targeting a bus, bearing number 29-1885, that was travelling from Kottawa to Mount Lavinia.

The explosion took place between 7.50 am and 8.00 am which is the busiest time in the morning with schoolchildren and office workers commuting to school and office. A total of 21 people were killed, 13 males and 8 females, and over 60 were injured in the attack. The injured were rushed to the Kalubowila Teaching Hospital and Base Hospital in Lunawa.

Around 4.00 pm, a second bomb went off inside another bus near the Mahaweli National College of Education in Kandy killing some passengers and injuring several others. The bus was travelling from Matale to Kandy. The injured passengers were taken to the Kandy National Hospital.

Unlike a conventional landmine, the claymore is command-detonated and directional, meaning it is fired by remote control and shoots a pattern of metal balls into the kill zone like a shotgun. The claymore can also be victim-activated by booby trapping it with a tripwire firing system for use in area denial operations.

The claymore fires steel balls, out to about 100m (110yd) within a 60-degree arc in front of the device. It is used primarily in ambushes and as an anti-infiltration device against enemy infantry. It is also used against unarmoured vehicles. The LTTE used them to bomb buses and many other targets.

The bus which was bombed in Moratuwa on June 6, 2008.

The claymore mine has a horizontally convex gray-green plastic case (inert training versions are light blue or green with a light blue band). The shape was developed through experimentation to deliver the optimum distribution of fragments at a 50m (55yd) range. The case has the words ‘FRONT TOWARD ENEMY’ embossed on the front of the mine. A simple open sight on the top surface allows for aiming the mine. Two pairs of scissor legs attached to the bottom support the mine and allow it to be aimed vertically. On both sides of the sight are fuse wells set at 45 degrees. Internally the mine contains a layer of C-4 explosive behind a matrix of about seven hundred one-eighth-inch-diameter (3.2mm) steel balls set into an epoxy resin.

When it is detonated, the explosion drives the matrix forward, out of the mine at a velocity of 1,200 m/s (3,937 ft/s), at the same time breaking it into individual fragments. The steel balls are projected in a 60-degree fan-shaped pattern that is 6.5 feet (2.0m) high and 50m (55yd) wide at a range of 50m (55yd). The force of the explosion deforms the relatively soft steel balls into a shape similar to a .22 rim fire projectile. These fragments are moderately effective up to a range of 100m (110 yd), with a hit probability of around 10 percent on a man-sized 1.3-square-foot (0.12m2) target. The fragments can travel up to 250m (270 yd). The optimum effective range is 50m, at which the optimal balance is achieved between lethality and area coverage, with a hit probability of 30 percent on a man-sized target.

The weapon and all its accessories are carried in an M7 bandolier (‘claymore bag’). The mine is detonated as the enemy personnel approach the killing zone. Controlled detonation may be accomplished by use of either an electrical or non-electrical firing system. When mines are employed in the controlled role, they are treated as individual weapons. They are not reported as mines; however, the emplacing unit must ensure that the mines are removed, detonated, or turned over to a relieving unit. The 100-foot (30 m) M4 electric firing wire on a green plastic spool is provided in each bandoleer. The M57 firing device (colloquially referred to as the ‘clacker’) is included with each mine. An M40 circuit test set is packed in each case of six mines. When the mines are daisy-chained together, one firing device can detonate several mines. (Source: Wikipedia).

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