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Senior Army officer shot dead

Terror at traffic lights: Major blow to military intelligence apparatus

By Senaka De Silva

Striking a major blow to the military intelligence apparatus, a top officer of the Army intelligence unit was gunned down at Polhengoda by two suspected LTTE pistol gang members around 8.30 yesterday morning.

The killing of Major Tuwan Nizam Muthalif took place about 200 metres from the Polhengoda army camp in the thick of morning traffic along Elvitigala Mawatha at Narahenpita.

The 39-year-old intelligence officer was travelling from his official residence at the army quarters in Manning town to the Kotelawela Defence Academy in Ratmalana when he was gunned down.

According to initial investigations, the Major had left home around 7.30 a.m. He was seated on the rear seat of the Toyota Corolla car driven by an Army driver.

Major Muthalif who was stationed in Vavuniya had come to Colombo about three months ago to follow a computer course at the Kotalawala Defence Academy.

When the car arrived at the Polhengoda Badrawathi Maha Vidyalaya it was about 7.45 a.m. and the traffic lights had turned red. There were two more vehicles in front of the Major's car. Just then, the killers came on a Honda trailer motorbike.

The pillion rider got off the bike and started shooting, piercing the shutters of the vehicle. Even after the Major fell on his seat after receiving gun shots, the assassin came near him and continued to shoot.

Police say that after the slaying, the assassin ran back to the motocycle, got on to the pillion and they sped off along Polhengoda road.

The killers came on an unregistered bike bearing CC numbers and the assassin wore a black jacket and a black helmet.

Police say the Army driver had spotted a person approaching the car with a pistol. He told the Major that a man was approaching with a gun, the Major pulled his own pistol out and tried to get out but it was too late.

The driver said that to escape the bullets, he bent his head and took cover in the front seat.

While the shooting was taking place Inspector Dharmapriya and Constable W.L.K. Fonseka were on duty opposite the Badrawathi MV. On hearing gunshots, PC Fonseka had run towards the scene and said he saw two people fleeing on a unregistered motorcycle. The two officers were not armed.

The injured officer was rushed to the nearby Apollo hospital but was pronounced dead on admission.

The shots had caused three severe injuries to his head. Police said they recovered nine spent shells of 3.8 mm pistol ammunition from the scene of the crime.

Military sources said major Muthalif was under threat and had been assigned special security.

They said Major Muthalif had been responsible for the arrest of several LTTE operatives and was known to be on the hit list of the Tigers.

A senior army officer said that although an army escort accompanied the major providing him security, yesterday they did not travel with Major Muthalif. 

It was not known whether the army escort men did not accompany him because they were on leave. The officer said if leave was given it would have been approved by Major Muthalif himself.

Immediately after the killing, a cordon-and-search operation was launched to track down the assailants. Police said they recorded statements from several eyewitnesses while the Government Analyst and fingerprint experts also rushed to the scene. Police Chief Chandra Fernando said the Colombo Crime Division and the CID were leading investigations.

Major Muthaliff is the 10th member attached to the army intelligence unit killed since the signing of the ceasefire agreement and is the highest-ranking officer to be assassinated in recent times.

The last intelligence officer to be killed was Lance Corporal Rupasinghe who was gunned down in Jaffna in November last year. So far 25 members attached to the intelligence units of the Navy and the Air Force have been killed.

A leading figure in the military intelligence unit, Major Muthalif joined the army as a cadet officer in 1986. Hailing from Mount Lavinia, he had his education at D.S. Senanayake College, Colombo. For four years he had served in the Gemunu Watch and was later assigned to the intelligence unit due to special skills shown by him in that field.

He received special training in intelligence gathering and special operations at military academies and training centres in several countries including the United States, Pakistan, and Malaysia.

Major Muthalif was married to the Commanding Officer of the Army Women's Corps, Major Kumudini Amerasinghe Muthalif and they have two children, a nine-year-old daughter and a four-year-old son.

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