World News

FACTBOX-Facts about air wing of Sri Lankan Tamil Tigers

(Reuters) - Sri Lanka’s military said it had shot down two Tamil Tiger planes that launched an air raid on the capital Colombo on Friday.

At least two people died and 40 were injured when one of the light aircraft crashed into a government building.

The attack is the 10th carried out by the “Air Tigers” since their first in March 2007. Here are some facts about them:

* Security experts say the ramshackle force of single-engine propeller planes flown by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) may be the only combat air fleet operated by an insurgent group or any group on U.S. and EU terrorism lists.

* In March 2007, a single aircraft dropped homemade bombs on a barracks in an air force base next to the international airport in Colombo, killing three airmen and wounding 16.

* On October 28, two planes carried out separate raids on a power station in Colombo and an army base 250 km (150 miles) north of the city, wounding one soldier.

* On September 9, a rebel aircraft bombed a military base in Vavuniya, just south of the front lines, in conjunction with a ground attack by “Black Tiger” suicide fighters that killed at least 25.

* After that attack, the air force said it had shot the aircraft down, which the rebels denied. No evidence has been made public by either side. The previous inability of the air force to catch the small planes despite vastly superior air power had long been a source of embarrassment and frustration.

* Five other attacks comprise: an April 2007 attack that inflicted minor damage on Colombo oil storage facilities; an attack the same month on an airbase in northern Jaffna that killed six soldiers in combination with artillery fire; an October 2007 attack on an airbase in Anuradhapura in north-central Sri Lanka that killed nine and wounded 20; an April 2008 run at a military forward operations base in Welioya that damaged nothing; and an August 26 attack on the navy base at the eastern port of Trincomalee that wounded 10 sailors.

* Sri Lanka’s military has said the Tigers are flying three single-engine Zlin-143 light aircraft, believed to have been smuggled onto the island in pieces. During a rapid military advance that has now hemmed the Tigers into 87 sq km (34 sq miles), troops found at least seven airstrips, but no planes.

* The Zlin-143 has a small profile that makes it easy to fly at a low level to avoid radar detection. Since the military has put up anti-aircraft radar and stepped up combat air patrols, the rebels have usually kept their flights short. That has enabled them to strike and then land in camouflaged jungle hideouts before air force jets can intercept them.

Compiled by Bryson Hull and Shihar Aneez, Colombo Newsroom; Editing by Kevin Liffey