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Tamil Tigers Launch Suicide Air Raid on Sri Lankan Capital

At least three people are dead and 48 injured in an air raid on the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo Friday night carried out by Tamil Tiger rebels who appear to be on the brink of defeat in their 25 year war for a separate homeland.

At Colombo's main hospital, the parents of a 14-year-old girl had just been told that their daughter had succumbed to her injuries, one of the victims in a bombing raid Friday by at least 2 Tamil Tiger planes. The girl's younger sister was inconsolable, pushing away those who try to comfort her.

In the emergency ward of the hospital, M.F. Raheed, a 56-year-old salesman, was being treated for a bullet wound in his left shoulder. "Just around 10 o'clock, when I was getting ready for bed, a bullet came through the roof and stuck in my shoulder," said Raheed.

He unwrapped a wad of paper to show the brass-colored bullet.

The brazen air attack by at least two Tamil Tiger planes comes as Sri Lanka's military closes in on the last rebel strongholds in the country's northeast. Sri Lanka's 25-year civil war - Asia's longest-running - appears to be almost at an end.

Many in the capital were surprised by the Tamil Tigers' ability to launch an air strike over the capital, which was lit up Friday night by anti-aircraft gunfire and red tracer flares as spotlights beamed across the sky looking for more rebel planes.

But Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara, Sri Lanka's military spokesman, says the country's air force was ready for the attack.

"No, we were not surprised because we knew that they had two aircraft," he said. "We knew that they were going to use these as a last resort or a last weapon against the military and against the other important installation. We were prepared and we managed to shoot down both."

Sri Lankan state television showed video footage of one of the rebel planes, shot down in a marsh near the international airport, about a 45-minute drive from the capital. The dead pilot's body in a rebel uniform lay sprawled in the grass.

Brigadier Nanayakkara says he suspects one of the targets in Friday's attack was the country's air force headquarters, near a government building damaged in the air raid.

The attack is a stark reminder that the Tamil Tigers, though boxed into a tiny sliver of land in northeast Sri Lanka, are not yet ready to give up.