Attackers opened fire on a prison bus outside Colombo on Monday, killing five prisoners and two armed guards in the worst gang-related violence to hit Sri Lanka in decades.
Gunmen sprayed bullets at the bus as it drove through a wooded area, police said, adding that four guards escaped with gunshot injuries.
The prisoners were being driven to court for a hearing when the audacious daytime attack took place, police said.
“It is believed that the shooting was a result of enmity between two underworld gangs,” police said in a statement. “Investigations are under way.”
Security for underworld suspects had been tightened following a similar shooting on a prison bus that seriously wounded another suspected gang leader in the capital in March last year.
Six people were killed in two separate incidents on that day, but police said Monday’s bus ambush was the deadliest gang-related attack in Sri Lanka in living memory.
Automatic weapons are easily available eight years after the end of the country’s 37-year ethnic war.
Attempts to crack down on possession of illegal firearms have been largely ineffective.