By D.B.S. Jeyaraj
Case No. B 85/17 concerning the assassination attempt targeting Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Jaffna district MP M. A. Sumanthiran was taken up at the Kilinochchi courts before Kilinochchi District Judge A. A. Anandarajah on February 27, 2017. Five ex-LTTE members were again produced in courts as the chief suspects by the Police Terrorism Investigation Department (TID). The five ex-Tigers are suspected of being involved in a plot instigated, devised and financed by overseas LTTE operatives to assassinate MP M.A. Sumanthiran.
At the outset, the TID officials filed a further report outlining the progress made by the Police in investigating the assassination plot against the high profile lawyer MP who is also the accredited spokesperson of the TNA as well as its chief constituent the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK). The Police report in essence comprised three parts.
The first part was about information gathered from one of the suspects Gnanasegaralingam Rajmathan who had been taken by the Police to specific areas in the north where the would be assassins had planned to slay the MP by exploding a claymore mine. Police had earlier obtained permission from courts to do so when the case was heard by Judge Anandarajah on Feb 13, in Kilinochchi. While the suspect had been willing to re-visit places with the Police and re-trace the contours of the assassination conspiracy, the other four suspects had not consented to do so.
The second part of the report was about the information gathered from the other four suspects being held at the Anuradhapura prisons. Police had obtained permission from courts to do so when the case was heard by Judge Anandarajah on Feb 13. Since the five suspects have been remanded to fiscal custody and are not being detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) the Police have to obtain court permission to record statements and must also do so in the presence of prisons officials. The Police report incorporated further statements recorded from Karalasingham Kulendran, Murugaiyah Thavaendran, Velayuthan Vijayakumar and Mariyanayagam Lewis Ajanthan.
As the anti-terrorism sleuths pursued investigations there emerged clear evidence that the unholy trinity spearheading a coordinated campaign to revive the LTTE comprised Gobi, Appan and Deiveegan
The third part of the Police report was a status update on further investigations made about the overseas LTTE operatives involved in the assassination plot.Three persons known as “Amuthan”, “Maran” and “Vetri” allegedly operating from Malaysia, France and Australia respectively are suspected of masterminding, coordinating and directing the assassination attempt on Sumanthiran MP. While Malaysian officials have said that Amuthan was no longer on Malaysian soil, Australian officials have indicated that “Vetri” had been identified. “Maran” from France is suspected of being a Swiss resident who operated out of Paris in recent times. The trail had turned cold in all three cases after the ex-Tigers in Sri Lanka were arrested.
After submitting the report to Kilinochchi court the Police requested permission from Judge Anandarajah to escort Rajmathan to designated areas once again and re-construct the assassination further. Police also sought court permission to interrogate the suspects Kulendran, Thavaendran, Vijayakumar and Ajanthan further at the Anuradhapura jail. Police also wanted courts to sanction their interacting with relevant authorities
in the USA to gain further information regarding communications among the five ex-LTTE cadres arrested in Lanka and the overseas Tiger trio of Amuthan, Vetri and Maran. Mobile access Apps (WhatsApp/Viber) had been used to communicate. Judge Anandarajah granted permission for all requests made by Police.He also re-remanded the five suspects and set the date of the next hearing for March 13, 2017.
TID Director DIG Nalaka de Silva
As stated in these columns earlier, the probe into the Sumanthiran-assassination attempt is being conducted solely by the Police. It is reliably learnt that while the knitty-gritty aspects of the case are being handled on ground by different TID officials, the overall thrust of the investigation is being overseen by TID director DIG Nalaka de Silva himself. Usually in a case such as this, with overtones of political terrorism, the TID would have invoked the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and detained the suspects for a longer period. They would also have had unfettered access to the suspects in their custody and perhaps subjected them to an “intensive”interrogation.”White vans” would have scoured the north and east “renditioning” suspects particularly ex-LTTE cadres.
This however is not being done, as the Maithri-Ranil Govt has taken a policy decision to repeal and replace the PTA with new counter -terrorism laws. “The old PTA is not operational any more,”
Secretary General of the Secretariat for Coordinating Reconciliation Mechanisms (SCRM) Mano Tittawela stated in Geneva this week. The decision not to utilise the PTA has been welcomed by the “victim” concerned Sumanthiran himself. The TNA MP cum lawyer who has appeared in several landmark human rights cases has been strongly against the PTA in the past.
As such the Police are handling the assassination plot case under normal laws of the land.With the suspects remanded to judicial custody the Police have to obtain court permission to continue further investigations by questioning them. All this leads to some delay in the pace of the probe. The law enforcement machinery used to decades of excessive power under the PTA and emergency regulations finds it cumbersome to proceed under normal laws. Despite the delay it is indeed commendable that the investigation is being conducted under normal laws. It is time for the country at large to free itself of baggage such as the PTA and proceed positively towards a brighter future.
What is troubling however is the deeply-divided security structures particularly the intelligence gathering apparatus. Intelligence gathering and analysing is of crucial importance in combatting attempts by the overseas LTTE to foment violence in Sri Lanka. Intelligence is essential to maintain and ensure national security.When Mahinda Rajapaksa was in power his brother Gotabhaya was the all-powerful Defence Secretary. It was he who oversaw
the intelligence agencies. One of the arrangements he put into place was to hold a weekly meeting for all relevant intelligence agencies and divisions. Gota himself chaired the meeting while the then State Intelligence (SIS) Chief Kapila Hendavitharane functioned as secretary.
The SIS, Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) of the Army, Terrorism Investigation Department (TID) of the Police, Special intelligence branch of the Police and the multi - disciplinary Colombo intelligence unit were all part of this weekly briefing/meeting. It is well known that all reputed law enforcement and national security agencies are plagued by inter -departmental rivalry. From the CIA - FBI divide in the US to the RAW - CBI schism in India, these ‘Tensions’ go with the territory.
Effective leadership is required to manage these inter-departmental contradictions and undertake a coordinated effort to combat potential terrorism revival and safeguard national security.
Hiatus between police and intelligence agencies
This spirit of cooperation and coordination is conspicuously absent at present. The armed forces are under the Defence ministry while the Police are under the Law and Order Ministry. Worse still is the prevailing hiatus between the Police and the intelligence agencies. This has led to inter-service enmity of a very high order. This is patently visible in the probe into the Sumanthiran- assassination attempt. The TID is conducting it alone without enlisting the support of intelligence agencies. The intelligence agencies remain aloof without extending any help to the investigation. Both sides are also engaged in an unofficial campaign to blacken each other. Thus we see media reports critical of each other. On the one hand there are reports suggesting a military intelligence link to arrested ex-Tigers while on the other, reports say, there was no LTTE revival attempt.
The assassination attempt was planned and coordinated by LTTE operatives in the global Tamil Diaspora.
Against this backdrop of a divided security apparatus the chances of the Sumanthiran- assassination attempt probe proceeding beyond a certain stage seems uncertain. The TID has apprehended the would be assassins on ground but they are virtually clueless about the overseas angle. The assassination attempt was planned and coordinated by LTTE operatives in the global Tamil Diaspora. The ex-LTTE cadres arrested by Police were to execute the task assigned by the overseas LTTE.
The intelligence agencies remain aloof without extending any help to the investigation
A comprehensive investigation therefore requires the capacity to delve deeply into both the internal and external dimensions. The TID is primarily a law enforcement agency confined to Sri Lanka. It is the State intelligence Service and Directorate of Military Intelligence who have the best information about the overseas Tigers. In fact the intelligence agencies have even infiltrated some of the overseas Tiger structures. The TID has no knowledge of these aspects.
The plot to assassinate Sumanthiran is not one which should be treated lightly. This is the first time after the war ended in May 2009, that there has been a planned attempt to assassinate a prominent Tamil political leader on Sri Lankan soil. Five ex-Tigers have been arrested and there is evidence of Diaspora Tiger involvement in the exercise. It is therefore very important that a comprehensive investigation be conducted. For this, close cooperation and coordination between the TID and intelligence agencies are necessary.
They would also have had unfettered access to the suspects in their custody and perhaps subjected them to an “intensive” interrogation.
There have been several attempts by overseas LTTE to foment violence in Sri Lanka after the Tigers were defeated in May 2009. The most serious and well-organized attempt to revive the LTTE was discovered and crushed in early 2014. This attempt was spearheaded by a trio comprising Suntharalingam Gajatheeban alias Theiveegan, Navaratnam Navaneethan alias Appan and Ponniah Selvanayagam Kajeepan alias Gobi.
Well-organized effort to resurrect LTTE
This was the most serious well-organized effort to resurrect the LTTE in Sri Lanka after May 2009. This was thwarted by the concerted efforts of the Police and Armed Forces. A crucial factor in this exercise was the close cooperation of State Intelligence, Military Intelligence and Police TID in combatting a common threat. I have written extensively about this in the past. A re-run of those events relying upon such writings would help to emphasise the importance of a united security apparatus in combating perceived threats to national security.
“A five week period from March 6 to April 11 in 2014 saw a concerted drive by the police and security forces to combat the resurgence attempt of the LTTE in Sri Lanka. Many cordon-and-search operations were conducted. A large number of people were rounded up, questioned and released.
Many persons were detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) for intensive interrogation. As the anti-terrorism sleuths pursued investigations there emerged clear evidence that the unholy trinity spearheading a coordinated campaign to revive the LTTE comprised Gobi, Appan and Deiveegan. All three were members of the LTTE who had not undergone rehabilitation after the fall of the LTTE in May 2009 at Mullivaaikkaal. The highly motivated trio had the single-minded objective of reviving the LTTE again in Sri Lanka. All three had been in foreign countries after May 2009 and had the option of leading a comparatively safe and comfortable life abroad. Yet they had voluntarily returned to Lanka with the blinkered vision of reviving the LTTE and pursued their goal with missionary zeal.
What is troubling however is the deeply-divided security structures particularly the intelligence gathering apparatus.
Deiveegan was born in Manthuvil in the Thenmaratchy division of the Jaffna district on May 2, 1979. He joined the LTTE voluntarily in 1995 and his real name
is Suntharalingam Gajatheeban. Among his many noms de Guerre and noms de plume are Theiveegan, Thevian, Navaneethan, Vallan and Devan. He served for a long time as a bodyguard of LTTE Leader Veluppillai Prabhakaran and wife Mathivathani. He had also obtained a piloting licence and participated in air strikes by the LTTE air wing ‘Vaanpuligal’ (Air Tigers). Deiveegan has reportedly been involved in the aerial attacks on Kerawalapitiya and Anuradhapura during the war.
After the war ended in May 2009, Deiveegan went clandestinely to India and established contact with Nediyavan in Norway and moved to South-east Asia and later went to Europe and shuttled among different countries. He then returned to India and was placed in charge of operations in India and Sri Lanka by the Nediyavan group. Deiveegan is believed to have been moving back and forth between India and Sri Lanka on a false passport or by using clandestine ‘country’ boats. Ponniah Selvanayagam Kajeepan alias “Gobi”
Gobi; whose real name was Ponniah Selvavanayagam Kajeepan was around 31 years of age. His other alias is Kaseeyan. Gobi hailing from Iyakkachchi in the Pachilaippalli division of Kilinochchi district also joined the LTTE voluntarily while in his early teens and served in the Kittu Artillery unit of the LTTE. Later he functioned in the LTTE intelligence wing commanded by Pottu Ammaan.
Gobi worked as an intelligence operative in the LTTE under Perinbam master. He was stationed in Colombo for a long time and was engaged mainly in reconnaissance and logistical transport. He reportedly spoke Sinhala fluently. Gobi was married to Sharmila Balamurugan from Paalaiootru in Trincomalee. Both were in the Wanni when the war ended. Gobi with his then pregnant wife posed off as a civilian and was housed at the Ananda Coomaraswamy Internally Displaced Persons’ (IDP) camp in Chettikulam. They were allowed to relocate to Sharmila’s father’s house in Paalaiootru when the baby was born in the camp. Gobi who had a heavy vehicle driving licence went abroad from Trinco to Saudi Arabia to work as a driver.
After his Saudi contract was over, Gobi went to Europe and travelled to different countries from there. He reportedly met with Irumporai - the de facto leader of the Nediyavan LTTE faction in Europe. Gobi then made contact with Deiveegan and returned to Sri Lanka. He cut off links with his mother and wife. Gobi bought a lorry and rented it out for transport as an owner/driver. He used this as a cover and moved around the North and travelled to and from Colombo, recruiting people and setting up clandestine cells.
Appan, whose real name was Navaratnam Navaneethan was born in Oorani in the Jaffna district on December 22, 1978. He joined the LTTE voluntarily in 1996. Among his other names were Abishan and Thiru. Appan worked under LTTE leader Gandhi who was supervising the LTTE prisons and detention camps for many years. Later he was moved to the intelligence wing under Pottu Ammaan.
In 2006, Appan was sent to Colombo and worked under an LTTE operative known as Kaanthan. Appan like Gobi, was used for reconnaissance and transport and he was in Colombo when the war ended. He then moved to Qatar and worked as a driver. Appan also was in contact with Gobi while in the Middle-East. He too returned to Sri Lanka like Gobi and set about the task of trying to revive the LTTE. He too cut off contact with his family.
Appan, Gobi and Deiveegan, though having the opportunity of residing outside Sri Lanka made the choice of returning to the Island and reviving the LTTE. Fortunately for the country, and all its peace-loving people, the LTTE renaissance project that was planned, coordinated and executed by the three was detected in its formative stages and nullified beforehand through adroit action. Although it was thought initially that Gobi was the live-wire behind the enterprise, fresh information gained subsequently indicated that Deiveegan was the brainy dynamo who was primarily responsible for this attempted resurgence.
Apparently, the three revivalists were in charge of three broad wings. Gobi was in charge of intelligence, while Appan was responsible for propaganda. Deiveegan was responsible for operations or military strikes and was the overall chief of the new entity.
Envisaged LTTE had short, mid and long-term goals
The “nouveau” LTTE that they envisaged had short, mid and long term goals. They went about recruiting people and setting up safe houses. They targeted mainly LTTE cadres who had not surrendered to the armed forces and therefore had not undergone rehabilitation for recruitment. Next of kin to dead LTTE cadres or family members of those who had ‘disappeared’ were also recruited. In some instances they also enlisted the services of some people who were actually innocent of the sinister design but had got involved without realising the diabolical machinations at play.
What was frightening about the LTTE revival project was that it had ample support from Tiger elements cutting across intra-LTTE divisions. Members from the LTTE branches as well as front organisations had been backing the Deiveegan-Gobi-Appan triumvirate. The funding for LTTE revival attempts seem to have been channelled through money transfer agents as well as reputed banks. The five key figures who had been funding LTTE resurgent activities in Sri Lanka from abroad are Yathavan alias Santhosham master in Switzerland, Veeramani alias Regan in France, Shanthi in Germany, Deva in Canada and Soori in Britain.
The money sent from abroad has been used by the Deiveegan-Gobi-Appan trio to help finance the LTTE revival attempt in Lanka. Lands and houses were acquired and vehicles also had been purchased. Equipment such as computers and cameras had been bought. Leaflets and posters were printed. More importantly money was liberally used as an incentive to recruit people. The abject poverty of many former LTTE cadres and families of ex-LTTE operatives had been exploited. Some were co-opted through lure of financial rewards and remuneration.
The entire network was broken up into three or four cells and linked to each other via the net. Overseas contact was maintained through internet and telephone. Most of the people functioned compartmentally on a need-to-know only basis. The lynchpins however were Deiveegan, Gobi and Appan. Of these three persons, Deiveegan adopted a relatively low profile. Much of the spadework in widening contacts and setting up cells was done by Gobi and to a lesser extent by Appan. While Gobi posed as the owner/driver of a lorry, Appan had his own three-wheeler. Both vehicles were purchased through a reputed firm in Sri Lanka.
State Intelligence, Military Intelligence as well as the Terrorism Investigations division of the police worked together on the matter. Traditional inter-departmental rivalry was shelved and the different arms cooperated wholeheartedly with the common objective of preventing a tiger renaissance. As investigations progressed and more suspects were detained and interrogated, it became glaringly obvious that the three persons evading arrest were the most important figures in the LTTE revival exercise.
Investigation had been a constantly evolving one
The investigation itself had been a constantly evolving one with many an unexpected twist and turn. In the preliminary stages when the name of Gobi cropped up the police had published wanted posters with Gobi’s name only. Later when Appan was also implicated his name too was added. Posters and leaflets saying both Gobi and Appan were wanted were distributed and rewards for information offered. Subsequently when the name of Deiveegan emerged another notice was issued separately for him.
When it was clearly obvious that the three were the kingpins of the LTTE revival attempt another type of posters and leaflets were issued. The names, images and descriptions of all three were published in one notice. A reward of one million rupees leading to their capture was offered. Telephone numbers were publicised where members of the public could ring and supply information. Official sources said 42,000 such leaflets were distributed as well as pasted in public places throughout the North. This made a terrific impact on the people and evoked a positive response at many levels.
Several tip–off and leads were received about movements of suspicious individuals. Many of these were followed up and found to be erroneous or false alarms. Finally a positive lead was received from the Vedivaiththakallu area in the Vavuniya North division. It was reported that people engaged in wood-cutting had seen suspicious movements in the dense forest. One informant was positive that it was Gobi who was moving around there.
The Vavuniya North division also called Nedunkerni division is a sprawling region in the Wanni. The sparsely populated Southern areas of the region are infested with thick jungles. Vedivaithakallu was about 8 miles to the south of Nedunkerni. Acting on the information received a contingent of troops were stationed in the area on the outskirts of the jungle. Small teams of military trained in jungle warfare were deployed to penetrate the jungle interior and scout around.
It was around noon at about 1.00 pm on Thursday April 10, 2014, when a deep penetration patrol stumbled upon a secluded spot under a canopy of trees where a makeshift hearth and army mess tins were discovered. The burning embers suggested that the fugitives had heard sounds of the soldiers approaching and had quickly run away. A rapid search in the surrounding bushes resulted in four military backpacks being recovered.
Three of the backpacks had jungle-survival items like medicinal capsules, ointments, spirits, bug repellents, bandages, knives, flash lights, small mirrors, batteries, handy instruments, lighters, matches, tinderboxes, cords, candles, light apparel etc. The fourth backpack was stocked with dry rations and eatables like noodle packets, canned beef and fish, soup cans, tinned milk, biscuits, chocolates, nutrition bars and chewing gum packets. A thorough examination of the contents suggested that the trio could have survived on the food items for about 7-8 days in the jungle.
Overall command of Maj. Gen. Boniface Perera
Once these backpacks were detected, the security apparatus went to work expeditiously. Additional military personnel were hastily deployed. 3,000 soldiers from Vavuniya, Kilinochchi and Mullaitheevu districts were detailed for jungle combing operations. They were under the overall command of the then Wanni security forces commander Maj. Gen. Boniface Perera.
The soldiers were put through training drills and exercises that would have been helpful in the jungle terrain search operations. The exercises were conducted in batches at points far away from the target zone so as to prevent the fugitive trio from being alerted. Once the training exercise was over each batch was transported quietly up to a point from where they proceeded on foot to the target area. The training exercises went on throughout the night.
The military operation went ahead as planned. Under cover of darkness the soldiers were positioned around the jungle area with about one soldier for every five metres at most places. By first light at the crack of dawn, deployed military personnel had surrounded the tract of jungle in which the fugitive Tiger trio was hiding in. Silently the soldiers waited for their quarry to emerge from the jungle and walk into the military cordon.
It was about 6.45 am on Friday April 11, 2014, when the trio came out to the edge of the jungle slowly. Apparently the Tigers did not expect the soldiers to be lying in wait for them. Since the area was of a secondary forest type with dense shrubs and thick under-brush, visibility was somewhat obscured. Deiveegan and Appan were in front with Gobi following behind.
Suddenly Deiveegan spied the soldiers through the bushes at a distance less than 10 metres. He whipped out a pistol and the soldiers also opened fire. There was a sharp exchange of gunfire. Both Deiveegan and Appan were hit. Deiveegan fell down on the spot while Appan ran back and fell. Gobi ran back as the firing started and took cover in a clump of bushes. Then he tried to drag the fallen Appan back into the bushes. The soldiers opened fire when they thought Gobi was trying to throw a grenade. He too was killed. The skirmish ended with the three Tigers being killed and two soldiers getting slightly injured. Apparently the military gave no quarter and had taken no prisoners.
A total of six telephones, including two satellite phones and a Global Positioning System (GPS) were recovered from the fallen Tigers. A large amount of cash in Sri Lankan, Indian and US currency was also retrieved. So too was a notebook with addresses and telephone numbers. Contrary to expectations, the three Tigers were not heavily armed. There was only a 9mm pistol used by Deiveegan and some ammunition rounds plus four hand grenades. When the latter’s gun was examined, it was found that 14 of the 16 shots in the magazine had been fired through it; it was not clear as to whether all the shots were fired in this particular confrontation.
The Kebbithigollewa Magistrate visited the spot and held an inquiry. Thereafter the three bodies were first taken to the Padaviya hospital and from there to Anuradhapura where the Judicial Medical Officer conducted a post–mortem examination.The bodies were identified by family members. The father, sister and brother-in-law of Deiveegan identified Suntharalingam Gajatheeban. The mother, wife and father-in-law of Gobi identified Ponniah Selvanayagam Kajeepan. There was however a hitch in the case of Appan whose old mother was unable to identify her son as she had not seen him for 10 years. This caused a delay. Finally, Appan’s two brothers came and identified Navaratnam Navaneethan. All three bodies were buried according to a Court Order at the Vijayapura burial grounds in Anuradhapura. The last rites were conducted by a Hindu priest from the Kathiresan temple in Anuradhapura. Only family members of Deiveegan, Gobi and Appan were allowed for the funeral. The media and public were forbidden to attend.
Adopting a compartmentalised approach
Thus ended in 2014 the saga of the Tiger trio, Deiveegan, Gobi and Appan who embarked upon the quixotic mission of reviving the LTTE in Sri Lanka. It is too early to say whether MP Sumanthiran’s assassination attempt was an isolated instance or part of a larger conspiracy to revive the LTTE in Sri Lanka. One thing, however, is certain. The current situation where a divided security apparatus is adopting a compartmentalised approach can only weaken the efforts to combat attempts by the Diaspora Tigers to foment violence in Sri Lanka.
D.B.S.Jeyaraj can be reached at email@example.com