Two rebel Tamil Tiger aircraft have attacked the Sri Lankan capital Colombo with air force jets shooting down one plane and engaging the other, the air force has said.
At least 43 people were admitted to hospital following the bombing of the government office.
Plane shot down
“The air force was able to shoot down and destroy one of those planes … the body of the pilot is now available,” Keheliy Rambukwella, the government spokesman for security and national defence, told Al Jazeera.
“The other one the air force is following by air at the moment,” Rambukwella said.
Tracer fire from the centre of the city could be seen and heard, witnesses said.
The international airport is closed and flights are being diverted to India.
Blackouts were ordered over parts of Colombo, which is heavily secured, and searchlights were pointed to the sky
“Ground troops in the north of the island have seen two light aircraft heading towards Colombo,” a military official said earlier.
“We have activated the air defence system,” he said.
The rebel Tamil Tiger fighters have a small fleet of aircraft that they have previously used to carry out aerial attacks on Colombo.
Minelle Fernandez, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Colombo, said: “We have had since March 2007, when the LTTE launched its first air raid on Colombo … a number of occasions when air raids have been launched, but they have not managed to hit any targets.
“Having said that they have managed to come all the way to Colombo.”
The Sri Lankan military claims to have put the LTTE under significant pressure since the start of the year, pinning the rebels back into an ever tighter area of the northeast of the island nation.
Rambukwella said that the military has destroyed or taken over six LTTE airstrips in the north east during their offensive, but that there could be a seventh one allowing the Tigers to launch the raid.
However, he said that the LTTE would be defeated.
“Right now we are very confident that this will come to an end,” he said.
The LTTE has been fighting for a separate homeland for ethnic Tamils in the northeast of the country since the early 1980s.
Thousands have been killed in the conflict till date.