Frontline World

Sri Lanka - Living With Terror



INDEX

THE STORY
Synopsis of "Living with Terror"

REPORTER'S DIARY
34 days in Sri Lanka

THE MAKING OF A SUICIDE BOMBER
Interview and Analysis

A LONELY WARRIOR FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Profile of Rajan Hoole

FIGHTING TERROR WITH PAINT BRUSHES
Slideshow

ANIL'S GHOST BY MICHAEL ONDAATJE
Excerpt from the Novel

LINKS & RESOURCES
Sri Lanka News and Information

MAP

   

 


Bombed Out Mini Van



October 30, 2001

Most documentaries I've been involved in have had something of a predestined structure. But this experience feels like a genuine journey, full of surprises, both horrific and heroic.

I was on my way to a meeting when I got a phone call that changed my plans. A young journalist named King, who had been giving me some advice on my story, rang me and in a calm voice said, "Joe, there's been some kind of bomb blast. You might want to check it out."

I had no idea what I'd find, but the low-key tone of King's voice made me think it must be a small incident or a hoax. In fact it was a small incident, but only in the universe of relativity that is Sri Lanka.

I pulled up in a taxi at the address King gave me on Chitra Lane. There was a big crowd and an eerie calm that reminded me of the movie Crash. I had to navigate past a police line and about a hundred bystanders. To give the scene an "in the moment" feeling, I was rolling tape as I walked. I stopped in an area with a few photographers and did a 360 pan with the camera.

Rescue WorkerThrough the viewfinder, I realized that I was looking at what appeared to be a separated hand. Then, a few feet away, several fingers. In another place, a leg, and most disturbing, a completely severed but fully intact head of a man in his early 20s with a mustache.

The incident could have been much worse. Police had somehow become suspicious of the suicide bomber, who was trying to demolish the motorcade of the Sri Lankan prime minister, and had given chase. Encircled, he detonated a bomb taped to his body, causing random carnage. A policeman on a bicycle was wounded by shrapnel. About half a dozen cars were totaled. A humble storefront had been pierced by small slices of bomb shrapnel. Only the window of the shop needed to be replaced, but, tragically, the owner of the shop was hit in the chest and later died. All told, six people were killed and two dozen injured.

Child Watching From Behind FenceThe atmosphere at the bomb site was one of sad resignation. No one seemed shocked, not even the small children who looked on with their parents.

Back in my hotel room, I sat staring at my shoes -- vintage 1960s wing tips from a thrift store in Berkeley. Now, the fact that I had been standing in a sea of body parts in Colombo a few hours back started to sink into my psyche. I considered tossing the shoes but decided against it. I still had to do my interview with the president, and it's always difficult to find size-12 dress shoes. Instead, I washed off the remnants of the carnage in a bidet in my hotel bathroom.

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