COLOMBO, Sri Lanka - A bomb hidden on the baggage rack of a packed, rush-hour bus exploded yesterday evening outside Colombo, killing 24 people in an attack that the military blamed on Tamil Tiger rebels.
Off-duty doctors and nurses ran to a nearby hospital to help the 40 people who were wounded in the blast. The hospital had to divert some of the injured to a second medical center.
Among the dead brought to the morgue were a Buddhist monk and a small child.
The bomb exploded at about 6:45 p.m. at the bus depot in the town of Piliyandala just south of the capital, sending pieces of seats flying, witnesses said.
The roof of the red public bus, which was about to depart for the nearby town of Kahapola, was torn apart and its windows were shattered, along with those of nearby buildings.
The bomb was hidden in a parcel on the overhead rack near the front of the bus, said a military spokesman, Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara, who blamed the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.
Saranga Sadara, who was covered in blood from helping the wounded, said he was in a nearby bus when the bomb exploded. Everyone began running in panic, he said.
Rebel spokesman Rasiah Ilanthirayan did not respond to calls seeking comment, but the Tamil Tigers routinely deny such attacks. The rebels, blamed for scores of suicide bombings and other attacks on civilians, are listed as a terrorist group by the United States, the European Union, and India.
The rebels have fought since 1983 to create an independent homeland for minority Tamils, who have been marginalized by successive governments controlled by Sri Lanka's Sinhalese majority.
More than 70,000 people have been killed in the violence.
The attack was the first major bombing since a suicide bomber killed 14 people, including a government minister and a former Olympian, at the start of a marathon April 6.
It was the worst bus attack since suspected rebels bombed a bus Jan. 16 in the southern town of Buttala, gunned down the fleeing passengers and attacked nearby farmers as they retreated into the forest, killing 32 people.
The latest blast showed the rebels retain the ability to strike deep inside government territory despite a maze of security checkpoints around the capital and military efforts to crush the group.