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POSTED AT 06:41 PM 03-03-2017

Black Maria to Hearse: Deconstructing the Kalutara Prison Bus attack

7 Killed in Brutal assassination of underworld figure

Notorious underworld character Aruna Udayashantha, alias ‘Samayan’ - Image courtesy: Ada Derana

Since the end of a thirty year Civil war, there still appears to be no decline in the violence that has engulfed the Island of Sri Lanka. Although there remains no war nor political insurrection or such, gang wars, targeted assassinations and contract killings  seem to be gradually becoming commonplace in the reportings of Sri Lankan news media. Most recently, coming in the form of a well planned out attack on a Black Maria; which led to the death of seven individuals transporting suspects from the Kalutara Prison to the Kaduwela Magistrate’s court on  27th  February.


The Ambush as it happened

Image courtesy: Daily News

The successful attack was allegedly carried out targeting the notorious underworld character Aruna Udayanga, alias Aruna Udayashantha, alias ‘Samayan’. Seven persons, including a prison guard and a jailer identified as S. Sannigam and S.R. Wijerathne were killed in the attack (The other four deceased are thought to be part of ‘Samayan’s’ entourage in custody). The Police reportedly suspects that the attack was a tit-for-tat by a rival gang; allegedly masterminded by another notorious underworld figure - ‘Angoda Loku’. Initial police investigations show a well thought out and intricately planned attack.

The white Toyota van, which the gunmen  are suspected to have fled the scene in, was reported  stolen in early January by a group of individuals who hired the van and then proceeded to drug the driver before stealing it. Similarly, the SUV which had blocked the prison bus was reportedly stolen from a woman in Athurugiriya. The 15 or so gunmen were described by witnesses to be disguised in Police attire.

Further evidence shows that  the attackers were familiar with the route taken by the bus, and had thus planned their attack with extreme precision.


Tracing the the history of the Attack


Image courtesy: Daily News

This is indeed not the first reported event of an attempt on Aruna Udayashantha’s life. A similar attempt was made at the Kaduwela Magistrate’s court in September 2015, where Aruna was lucky to have escaped with injuries. Moreover a Gunman had also targeted his wife on 5th  March 2016 near the Welikada prison, a pregnant woman was shot in the process. It was reported that the deceased gang members received death threats while serving their terms at the Kalutara prison.

While it can be said that turf wars among gangs will exist so long as there remains some underworld activity, the recent chain of events have proved how ominous and daring such attacks are proving to be. The most glaring element in these bloody affairs is  how closely these attackers have brushed themselves with law-enforcement officers. All three attacks have been in the presence of the law - an attack on a prison bus, at a Magistrate Court and in front of the most heavily guarded prison in Sri Lanka.

Furthermore, all these attacks were carried out in broad daylight. The chain of incidents present a well organized, funded and daring group of attackers who are gradually challenging and disregarding law-enforcement. While the attack on the Black Maria was not with the intention of causing casualties among the Prison guards, nor was it in some sort a ‘symbolic’ assault, challenging the Judicial branch of the country, the casualties sustained by prison officials show the meticulous and merciless intent posed by the aggressors.


The Present Situation of the Investigation

Representative File Image courtesy: Sunday Times

The attack, similarly, appears to shed light on how the prison guards were ill-equipped to retort to the all out assault. Minister of Prisons and rehabilitation D.M Swaminathan in a statement released, blamed the police for the attack on the prison bus; saying that although Police protection had been sought out to transport the suspects, no such protection was provided due to an apparent lack in manpower.

Nevertheless, the eight police teams deployed to investigate have thus made progress in closing in on the culprits behind the shooting. Sniffer dogs were able to trace a glove found in the getaway vehicle to an abandoned factory thought to have been where the ambush was planned. Furthermore, Police tightened security around the country’s two international airports at Katunayake and Mattala  when intelligence suggested that the assailants  were in possession of illegal passports and were trying to find their way out of the country.

Police are currently looking into telephone calls made by prisoners to outside individuals in the hours leading up to the attack; while forensic investigations are reported to have ascertained vital information to further progress the case.