Monday September 24 2:19 AM ET Sri Lanka Towers Tall After '96 Bomb

Sri Lanka Towers Tall After '96 Bomb

By DILSHIKA JAYAMAHA, Associated Press Writer

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) - Four years after being shattered by a truck bomb, the twin towers of Sri Lanka's World Trade Center are proudly in business, their windows shining from the tropical sun.

Colombo's skyline with Twin Towers and Bank of Ceylon
Colombo's skyline with Twin Towers and Bank of Ceylon, right, is seen from Colombo harbor in a picture taken in April 2001. Four years after being hit by a massive truck bomb, the twin towers of Sri Lanka's World Trade Center are in business. Some say the return of government officials, airline sales clerks and others to the towers could offer hope to New Yorkers suffering from the much greater devastation of the terror attack on the World Trade Center in Manhattan. (AP Photo/Neel Jayantha)

Some people say the return of government officials, airline sales clerks and others to the towers could offer hope to New Yorkers suffering from the much greater devastation of the terror attack on the World Trade Center in Manhattan.

But scars remain from the attacks here.

``My fears after seeing the New York World Trade Center attack is that the same thing may happen here,'' said D. Warusavitharana, a manager of a stock research company that moved into one of the Colombo towers in 1998.

Like the New York buildings, Colombo's towers have been hit twice by terrorism. And they've been rebuilt twice - in five years.

The government blames Tamil rebels who have been fighting for 18 years in an effort to create an ethnic homeland in the north and east of this Indian Ocean island of 18 million people. More than 64,000 people have died in the conflict.

The Tamil Tigers, branded an outlaw organization by the United States, Britain, India and Sri Lanka, have denied attacking the Colombo buildings, which at 37 stories are far shorter than the destroyed New York towers.

The Sri Lankan government has accused the Tamil Tigers of carrying out 66 major suicide bombings during the last 18 years.

The towers, which rise in the heart of the capital's business district a half mile from the president's office, were first damaged a week after the United States banned the Tamil Tigers.

Suicide bombers driving an explosives-filled truck attacked the neighboring Central Bank on Jan. 31, 1996. The towers - consisting of almost 78 percent glass - were under construction and heavily damaged.

``Suspended glass sheets crashed to the floor in smithereens and shards of glass flew everywhere,'' said L. Uduwara, senior manager at Pan Asia Bank. Most of the 88 killed and 1,400 wounded were in neighboring buildings.

The towers were hit again on Oct. 15, 1997, a year after the damage was repaired, and three days after a highly publicized opening ceremony with President Chandrika Kumaratunga as the chief guest.

This time a truck filled with about 880 pounds of explosives was driven through a neighboring hotel parking lot and detonated almost directly underneath the West Tower, destroying a large section. The East Tower and two hotels sustained significant damage.

``Our ninth-floor office looked like a car park with several vehicles being thrown into the building due to the force of the bomb,'' said Uduwara, who was not in the building during the attack.

Gunbattles broke out in the streets when several of about a dozen attackers fled from the bombing site. By evening, 23 people were dead, including five suspected rebels. More than 100 people, including 30 foreigners, were wounded. Only one person died at the towers because the attack came on a Buddhist holiday, when most offices are closed.

The towers were repaired again and now house offices of government ministries, banks and airlines. Security is tighter since Kumaratunga moved into her official residence a block away last year.

The World Trade Center and many other buildings in Sri Lanka like the neighboring Central Bank, which too was rebuilt, continue to stand as symbols of the challenges from terror attacks Sri Lanka continues to face. Uduwara wants to see New York rebound, too.

``Despite the horrendous crime, I hope the U.S. will rise up from the ashes without a problem,'' Uduwara said.