Hectic events over the past few weeks in Sri Lanka have driven home three salient truths on the security front relating to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) organisation. The first is that Tiger or pro-Tiger elements in the Tamil Diaspora will persist with efforts to resurrect the LTTE and disrupt life in Sri Lanka. The second is that the Sri Lankan state will effectively respond to such a challenge regardless of international implications. The third is that the strongly entrenched security apparatus in the country is capable of cracking down hard on any such perceived LTTE revival attempt and crushing it.
Last week saw this column focusing on the shooting incident in the Tharmapuram area of Kilinochchi district and subsequent events including the manhunt for an LTTE operative known as “Gobi” and the security crackdown on suspected attempts to revive the LTTE. What the country at large seems to have failed to comprehend is the seriousness of “what might have been” had not the security authorities countered the challenge posed.
"The defence establishment has been lulled into a sense of false complacency due to the past years of LTTE inactivity in Colombo and the suburbs after the military debacle at Mullivaaikkaal in May 2009. Security measures in Colombo have been progressively relaxed. This has created a situation where it may be possible to mount an “operation” in Colombo utilising the element of surprise."
Though different shades of opinion in the political spectrum have either wittingly or unwittingly opted to trivialise the issue, the crux of the matter is that the attempt to
revive the LTTE, if successful may have resulted in drastic consequences for the country. Thankfully the LTTE revival threat seems to have been effectively neutralised while in its embryonic stages for the present, though the security crackdown continues in some parts of the Island.
According to reliable security related sources, the most important breakthrough in the probe into a potential LTTE renaissance was the detection of a conspiracy to execute a major assassination in Colombo. The target seems to have been either President Mahinda Rajapaksa or his brother Gotabaya Rajapaksa the Secretary of Defence and Urban Development. The simple logic seems to have been this.
The defence establishment has been lulled into a sense of false complacency due to the past years of LTTE inactivity in Colombo and the suburbs after the military debacle at Mullivaaikkaal in May 2009. Security measures in Colombo have been progressively relaxed. This has created a situation where it may be possible to mount an “operation” in Colombo utilising the element of surprise.
Given the current weak state of the LTTE it would require a great deal of resources and organisational capacity to carry out even one attack in Colombo. Therefore chances of executing a single successful attack alone may be possible initially. Thereafter security authorities will be on full alert thereby diminishing possibilities of another attack.
"The security forces in association with anti-terrorism sleuths are currently engaged in a series of widespread operations in different parts of the North. Hundreds of persons mainly youths from both sexes have been rounded up and interrogated."
Under such circumstances it would be pointless to attack comparatively easier soft targets as the alerted authorities will crack down hard thereby negating chances of further operations. As such the opportunity to attack must be utilised against a very high profile target. If softer targets are hit earlier the security around such high profile key targets would be strengthened. Breaching such “security walls” would be impossible for the revived LTTE that is actually embryonic in Sri Lanka. In that context the targets should be very, very important persons. The President and his brother fit this target description perfectly.
Besides the targeting of either the President or the defence secretary would help the LTTE derive maximum political mileage. Demonstrating the ability to take on such powerful targets has great symbolic value and would re-capture the diminishing support base of the LTTE amidst the global Tamil Diaspora. It would also prove to the world that the LTTE is not a spent force. Also Mahinda and Gotabaya Rajapaksa are virulently hated by Tiger elements after the LTTE was militarily defeated. Harming either of the two would warm the hearts of many a diehard supporter in the Diaspora and fill the LTTE coffers abundantly.
It would also demoralise the country and throw into disarray the politico-administrative equilibrium. A process of de-stabilisation could set in. Moreover in the volatile atmosphere that is likely to prevail in the aftermath of such an attack, a backlash might occur against the Tamil people. A recurrence of anti-Tamil violence in the Island is what the Tiger, pro-Tiger and supportive fellow travellers are yearning for. The attack if successful may have caused exactly such a violent backlash against the Tamil people.
Targetting the upper echelons of leadership has always been part of the LTTE modus operandi in the past. If the Tigers want to render an organisation or entity ineffective, defunct or coerce it into toeing the LTTE line, they do not target the rank and file. Instead they go for the leader or top tier of leadership particularly the livewires who make the organization tick. Thereafter the entity concerned becomes non-operational, ineffective or falls in line. This has been the LTTE practice in the past when dealing with organisations they want to either control, destroy or render impotent.
Militarily too the LTTE has adopted this strategy effectively until perhaps the post-2005 period. Earlier the LTTE that was relatively weaker than the armed forces in manpower and firepower in a general context would seek to remedy that state of affairs in a particular context by adopting this strategy. It would select a key military target, mobilise maximum resources and attack it utilising the element of surprise. This successful attack would cause consternation and result in consequent over estimation of the LTTE military prowess. This in turn paved the way for demoralisation to set in the midst of the armed forces.
The LTTE adopted this strategy successfully when it attacked the Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) in December 1986. The LTTE being relatively stronger than the EPRLF in the North vanquished it by launching simultaneous attacks on the northern EPRLF camps. In the East it was the EPRLF that outnumbered the LTTE and was also more widespread. There was a great disparity of strength with the EPRLF having the advantage.
The LTTE however outsmarted the EPRLF by harnessing its limited resources and selectively targeting the three head camps of the EPRLF in the three Eastern districts. The Tigers launched simultaneous attacks against the EPRLF head camps at Thambiluvil, Kokkattichoalai and Saambaltheevu in the districts of Amparai, Batticaloa and Trincomalee respectively. With the overrunning of the three head camps the rest of the EPRLF though large in numbers became virtually headless chickens.
The plans in the pipeline to target the President and Defence Secretary are also illustrative of past LTTE modus operandi. The Tigers battered and shattered in Sri Lanka after 2009 were now in the process of attempting a revival. Given the inadequate assets at their disposal, Gobi the mastermind behind the LTTE resurgence in Sri Lanka also envisaged the targeting of Mahinda or Gotabaya in a Colombo-based attack. Fortunately such a deadly objective has been detected and nipped in the bud while the plot was in an evolutionary stage.
Knowledgeable circles indicate that the proposed safe house in Colombo to be used as a launching pad for the envisaged attack has been identified and raided. This safe house apparently was a bakery establishment in Dehiwela. Twelve people connected to the premises were taken into custody. All of them are being held under provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).Ten are detained at Boosa while two are being intensively interrogated on the second floor at the Police Terrorism Investigation Division (TID) headquarters in Colombo.
A few of those arrested on the Bakery premises are apparently innocent being totally unaware of the diabolical designs of the others involved as the LTTE generally functions on a need to know basis. It appears that the Colombo connection of the revived LTTE is now de-activated after the mopping up at Dehiwela.
Ongoing investigations have revealed that the lynchpin in the entire exercise of reviving the LTTE in Sri Lanka inclusive of establishing a Colombo cell in Dehiwela is Gobi whose full name is Ponniah Selvanayagam Kajeeban. He is known by the nom de guerre Gobi and the nom de plume Kaasiyan. As stated earlier this 31-year-old six-footer of medium complexion with a scar on his left upper lip had been living in the Tharmapuram area of Kilinochchi district and functioning as a heavy vehicle driver. Kajeeban alias Gobi was formerly an LTTE intelligence wing functionary under the dreaded Shanmugalingam Sivasangaran alias Pottu Ammaan. Kajeeban had surrendered at the end of the war and was accommodated at the Protective Accommodation and Rehabilitation Centre (PARC) at Poonthottam in Vavuniya.
It is suspected that Gobi exited from the Poonthottam camp with the aid of a Tamil member of the ruling regime and made his way to Saudi Arabia and not Qatar as I had mistakenly written last week. After working for a while in that country Kajeeban alias Gobi made his way to Europe. He had travelled widely in Europe and gone also to Norway. It is now suspected that Gobi had met with prominent LTTE activists in Europe including the low-profile high-ranking leader Nediyavan and his senior deputy Irumborai during his European sojourn. He had been tasked by Nediyavan and Irumborai to revive the Tigers in Sri Lanka.
He had then returned to Sri Lanka and started working as an owner- driver of a heavy vehicle. Gobi has his own vehicle that he hires out and functions as its driver. This provides him a cover to travel frequently to Colombo and also to towns such as Mullaitivu, Vavuniya, Kilinochchi and Jaffna. His wife and mother who were taken in for questioning deny all knowledge of his whereabouts and say that he has been living separately away from them.
Security circles opine that Gobi has been entrusted with the task of reviving the LTTE in the North. They regard Gobi with the “simpleton” looking appearance as extremely dangerous because he is a zealot fired up by a political vision and sense of mission. Gobi is perceived as a highly motivated person because he has turned his back on an opportunity to lead a safe comfortable life in Europe and instead has voluntarily returned home to undertake a potentially hazardous and dangerous task.
Gobi is also seen as armed and dangerous. Initially he came under the security radar for the relatively “mild” offence of publishing and circulating pro-LTTE leaflets hailing the Tigers as Tamil guardians. The arrest of two youths distributing such leaflets in Pallai in the first week of March and subsequent inquiries brought up the name of Gobi. The security forces were on the lookout for Gobi but did not suspect initially that he was masterminding a LTTE renaissance in the North with backing from the Nediyavan led Diaspora Tigers. It was the shooting incident at Tharmapuram in the house of Jeyakumari Balendra which alerted the security sleuths to the true nature of Gobi. (This incident was described in detail last week).
Current Investigations have indicated that Gobi had set up four cells in the North and one in Colombo to execute plans aiming at a LTTE revival. The bulk of those coopted into the nascent Tiger network are either ex-Tigers or family members of former LTTE members. There is also evidence that funds from Diaspora LTTE operatives in three western countries have been channelled to Gobi’s “agents” in the North.
The security forces in association with anti-terrorism sleuths are currently engaged in a series of widespread operations in different parts of the North. Hundreds of persons mainly youths from both sexes have been rounded up and interrogated. The bulk of those rounded up were released after some hours. Over fifty persons were detained under the PTA and questioned. Several of these persons too have been released. It is learnt that over 30 persons are currently being detained and interrogated. This figure however is fluid as some are being released while others are being arrested anew.
Informed security related sources are confident that they have been able to neutralise the “revived” LTTE through the ongoing heavy crackdown. They vehemently deny that Gobi has been apprehended but express confidence that he would be nabbed soon. The possibility of Gobi committing suicide if and when on the verge of being captured is also not ruled out by security circles.
Further details of the crackdown on suspected Tigers as well as the progress of the ongoing investigation into alleged LTTE activity will be outlined in a forthcoming article.
DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at