In May 2009 having decisively defeated the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the terrorist organization which for 30 long years held the country at gun point, the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) has re-settled 90% of the nearly 300,000 persons displaced due to the conflict, rehabilitated and re-integrated into society almost 70% of the 11,696 ex-combatants who surrendered/were arrested including all 594 child combatants, and has facilitated restoration of houses and livelihoods to most of those resettled, while ensuring education to all, including ex-combatants who continue to remain in custody. The Government has appointed a Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) to ensure restorative justice and reconciliation, and is in discussion with all political parties from the North and the East in an effort to resolve any outstanding political issues. The Sri Lanka economy has picked up and is expected to record 8.5% growth this year, stock prices are up nearly 250%, the exchange rate has remained largely stable, inflation has been at mid-single digit level and Sri Lanka has had its sovereign ratings upgraded by all rating agencies over the past year. In 2010 export growth was 17.3%, tourist arrivals grew by nearly 50%, and major infrastructure projects such as harbours, airports, highways, hotel complexes and power generation plants are laying the foundation to transform the country into an economic hub concentrating on trade, finance, travel and knowledge based industries. Given that over the past 2 years the ruling coalition has decisively won the provincial, presidential, parliamentary and most recently the local government elections, political stability can also be expected. Above all, people in Sri Lanka have a sense of security and normalcy restored to their lives. Those going to work or school in the morning in any part of Sri Lanka today, can be pretty sure that they will be able to get back home safely, something we could not have taken for granted two years ago.
As for the LTTE, as we near two years after the final battle, at least in Sri Lanka, it is clear that the military might of the LTTE has been fully vanquished. Even as it continues certain precautionary measures, the government of Sri Lanka seems sufficiently confident to continue to release in batches former LTTE cadres, some who have been part of the fighting force of the LTTE.
However, outside Sri Lanka, the situation seems more complicated. There has been a scramble between various factions of the LTTE to gain supremacy, with several senior military cadre of the organization jostling for dominance over the intelligence and organizational assets as well as the physical wealth of the organization, which in any case was mostly dispersed in the West even at the height of LTTE activity in Sri Lanka. LTTE front organizations which have since the proscription of the LTTE in more than 32 countries provided the interface between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora community, is rapidly adjusting to stay below your radar. As those of you from the security establishment are familiar, fund raising continues unabated, while there is also the mushrooming of the Madrassa type ‘Tamil Cholai’ (language schools) that are fermenting radicalization of youth and the glorification of terrorism and martyrdom. The latest ruse of continuing LTTE activity through other means, has of course been the LTTE’s initiative in September 2010 to form a “Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam” (TGTE), with country working groups at national and regional levels in western countries. The latter is particularly sinister, for these bodies constituted through pseudo elections, and comprising largely of known LTTE activists who seek to perpetuate the LTTE ideology, is a means by which a bulk of the Sri Lankan Tamils who have entered your countries illegally and who in the normal course of events are likely to be sent back home with the restoration of normalcy in Sri Lanka, are able to keep the pot boiling in order to justify remaining relevant in countries where they have sought asylum.
Why should you in Europe continue to worry about the LTTE?
In my reckoning, being senior members of the Judicial, Police, Intelligence, Military and Corporate Security Community, you should continue to worry about the LTTE for three important sets of reasons;
a) Helps understand the strategies and tactics of other terror groups
In the broadest sense, because understanding the ‘modus operandi’ used by the LTTE at its peak, as well as those remnant LTTE terrorist/front organization/criminal elements continue to adopt, will help you understand the strategies and tactics of similar groups, who might more specifically be the focus of your attention.
Today, comparison is often drawn in this regard between the LTTE and the PKK – their widespread terrorist/criminal networks including front organizations, resort to legal challenges, propaganda outfits ranging from radio/TV stations to numerous websites, manipulation of symbols, indoctrination of the youth, extortion in collecting funds and propensity to direct violence at their hosts in the face of losses suffered in the home country - as seen both in the final stages of Prabhakaran’s struggle for survival in May 2009, as was experienced in the aftermath of PKK leader Ocalan’s arrest in February 1999.
But it is also important to remember, that well before Aum Shinrikyo in 1995 carried out chemical attacks in a Tokyo subway, in 1990 the LTTE had used chlorine in attacks on the Sri Lanka security forces in Kiran, in eastern Sri Lanka. Well before the Al-Qaeda movement was heard of, the LTTE which mastered the use of suicide jackets with C4 explosives, had until the more recent Iraq War been responsible for more than 2/3 of all suicide attacks carried out internationally, including on Heads of Government of two states – Ranasinghe Premadasa and Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga of Sri Lanka and Rajiv Gandhi of India. The suicide attacks carried out by the LTTE on infrastructure in Sri Lanka amounted to billions of dollars and included the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, the Colombo harbour and Sri Lanka’s only international airport where nearly half of the national commercial airline fleet and a quarter of the air force fleet was destroyed in an attack in 2001, only weeks before 9/11. The LTTE ‘Sea Tigers’ had also carried out ten suicide attacks on Sri Lankan Navy vessels targeting their hull with the use of explosive laden boats, before the Al Qaeda attacked ‘USS Cole’ in Yemen in October 2000. They also constructed two 1000 metre paved runways, and with 4 rudimentary aircrafts attacked Colombo as well as the Katunayake airbase on several occasions. In addition to have benefitted from numerous Middle Eastern groups in its formative years, besides the PKK, the LTTE is know to have maintained operational relations with the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), the Afghan Mujahidin, Abu Sayaf, Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and Al-Qaeda.
Imagine any scenario which today are your worst nightmares of possibly what terrorists can do in your region, country, or company - at some time during their 30 year run, the LTTE would probably have operationalized it in Sri Lanka or abroad.
b) Special skills possessed by LTTE could be on hire
There continues to remain hidden within the largely respectable Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora community numbering anything from 1.5-2 million spread across 4 continents, some seriously dangerous individuals, who have been part of the LTTE terrorist network and posses very special skills. They constitute a ready army of ‘mercenaries for hire’ with a wide spectrum of skills that can be obtained for a price and in this day and age of self inspired terrorism, there are many including the numerous single issue terrorist groups looking for such skills, especially in Europe.
What are some of these skills;
i. Arms procurement and smuggling
The capacity of the LTTE in navigating the arms bazaars of the world is well known. Tracing of the path of the explosives and devices that were used in the January 1996 Central Bank bomb explosion which killed just under 100 persons and injured over 1400, shows money raised from contributions of the Tamil Canadian diaspora, laundered through accounts held by a Canadian of Sri Lankan origin, with an advance paid through Europe for 10 tons of RDX and 50 tons of TNT imported from Ukraine, shipped through the Black sea port of Nicolaev, and final payment made through bank accounts in Singapore. A number of LTTE operatives have already been convicted by the US and the UK for seeking to purchase high powered weaponry including SAM missiles and AK-47s for the LTTE, which is indicative of the network and brazenness with which the group operates. This network of arms procurers with close links to the underground arms bazaars which works in the classic terrorist cell mode, has always operated from outside the country and continues its operations.
ii. Passport fraud and human trafficking
Besides blatant abuse of your liberal asylum regimes - where many Sri Lankans who apply for asylum regularly spend their holidays in Sri Lanka - the criminal activities involved in passport fraud and human smuggling carried out by the LTTE complicates the demographics in your countries. While Australia constantly comes under pressure in this respect, last year Canada was at the receiving end of two shiploads of asylum seekers, the last involving the ‘MV Sun Sea’ which brought 492 would be refugees to Canada, many suspected to be LTTE cadre. 33 of them have been deemed inadmissible, and following hearings held so far, several have been ordered to be deported having admitted to being an LTTE cadre.
iii. Skimming, extortion and money laundering
Apart from abusing the generosity of your societies, acts of the LTTE and its connected groups encourages criminality and pose serious ramifications to the security of corporate financial activity. The most well known is of course the skimming of credit cards at many petrol stations owned by LTTE in the West through its operatives, and the money extracted from locations in the East. The group is also well known for extortion, facilitated through a registration process of Tamil families by systematically assigning a unique PIN number for each family and individual in total violation of your privacy laws, for illegal taxation and monitoring of their movements into Sri Lanka. Its ‘hawala’ style transactions, prevents these money transactions being detected within the FATF stipulations, including the “know your customer” requirements operationalized by the private sector to detect suspicious transactions. No single event has brought out more conclusively the scale of the money laundering operations carried out by the LTTE as in the immediate aftermath of the tsunami that struck Sri Lanka on 26 December 2004. According to the Financial Intelligence Unit of Sri Lanka (FIU), 61% of the capital expenditure claimed to have been transferred and spent by the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization (TRO) on projects in Sri Lanka from funds collected in the West in the aftermath of the tsunami, cannot be physically verified. It is noteworthy that it is was largely the laundering of tsunami funds that led to the proscription of the TRO by the US Treasury Department in 2007, as well as the freezing of assets of TRO-Denmark in 2008.
iv. Threat to corporate interests
The LTTE has on several occasions sought to cripple the Sri Lankan economy, from endangering the lives of tourists, threatening business establishments to bringing production to a halt. The U.S. State Department’s ‘Patterns of Global Terrorism 1994’ was to report that “ in April 1994 the Ellalan Force, an LTTE front group, claimed credit for bombing several major tourist hotels in Colombo. The blasts, which caused only minor damage and two injuries, probably were intended to damage Sri Lanka’s tourism industry rather than to harm Westerners. The Ellalan Force also claimed in August to have poisoned tea -- Sri Lanka's primary export -- with arsenic, although none was ever found. Threatening Sri Lanka's two leading economic activities demonstrates the Tigers' interest in economic terrorism”. The LTTE and its fronts have also shown to be adapt at mounting politically motivated ‘Boycott Sri Lanka campaigns” targeting international companies doing business with Sri Lanka, as well as customers of products manufactured in Sri Lanka such as Victoria’s Secrets and GAP. While such efforts have not had any tangible effect on sales in the past, and are unlikely to even more today when international business is eager to get a foothold in Sri Lanka, the skills and tactics adopted by these LTTE fronted protest groups, will continue to be of considerable interest to law enforcement systems around the world. Also at its height the LTTE boasted of a shipping fleet of approx 25 vessels registered under numerous flags, which alongside traditional trading activity, was used for transportation of arms and ammunition in the pretext of tankers/cargo delivery/fishing. Further its dreaded ‘Sea Tigers’, who besides its battle role against the Sri Lankan forces, was well known for engaging in piracy in the Indian Ocean hijacking over 10 vessels and also killing some of its crew members,. They continue to have the skills to make shipping in the Indian ocean more vulnerable, as presently seen in the Malacca Straits and the Horn of Africa.
v. propaganda broadcasts and cyber terror
For many years the LTTE illegally used an INTELSAT transponder for propaganda radio and the group is well known for its propaganda operations. Additionally long before wikileaks.org discovered the safety of distributed content to protect and continue operations, the LTTE did the same, mushrooming websites from the 1980s onwards, becoming among the first, to use the internet for purposes of terrorism – both in terms of propaganda and for conveying operational information. The LTTE group “Internet Black Tigers”, in August 1997 claimed responsibility for “suicide e-mail bombings” aimed at disrupting the electronic information network/communications systems used by Sri Lanka’s Missions abroad. The Patterns of Global Terrorism Report 1997 identified the LTTE as being responsible for this brazen act of ‘information warfare’ which paralysed the communication systems of most of Sri Lanka’s overseas missions.
vi. Radicalization and indoctrination of youth
An estimated 20,000 Tamil students between the ages of 4 and 21 years study in more than 300 ‘Tamil Cholai’ (language) schools functioning in Europe under different names, which receives host government funding, but in actuality are directly or indirectly administered by the LTTE and generates their own funds. In addition, students of these schools are forced to participate in propaganda events organized by the LTTE and its front organizations, and have been used in violent attacks carried out on Sri Lanka Embassies including in Europe in Berlin, the Hague, London, Oslo and Paris. In the Oslo attack of April 2009, 5 were minors below the age of 18, showing the extent to which the LTTE had brainwashed the second and third generation Tamil youth, who had probably never visited Sri Lanka or had any understanding of the issues in question. What was further disturbing about these demonstrations was that they were demanding a ceasefire which would have bailed out the LTTE, while there was no mention about the nearly 300,000 civilians who were being held as ‘human shields’ at the time by the LTTE.
c) Concentration of LTTE’s assets, personnel and activity in Europe
As it did in India in the 1980s and in Canada in the 1990s, Europe has today become the preferred location for concentration of LTTE assets, personnel and activity. This was evident in the radicalized activism shown by pro-LTTE formations in the streets of European capitals – Berlin, Brussels, Geneva, the Hague, London, Oslo, Paris etc. during the last phase of Sri Lanka’s struggle to militarily defeat the LTTE, as it has been over the past two years when efforts have continued to discredit Sri Lanka, in order to keep the pot boiling and justify continuing refugee status for a bulk of the Sri Lanka Tamil diaspora, who otherwise would be forced to go back home. The crude calculation appears to be, that conscious of the relevance of the community as a vote block, the political establishment in these countries will be relatively soft in meeting the challenge posed by pro-LTTE groups.
While this has worked to a degree at least in terms of the political rhetoric, it is clear that the law and order and criminal justice systems in these countries however have not been fooled. It does seem ironic, that since the LTTE leadership was militarily defeated on the banks of Nandikadal in northern Sri Lanka on 19 May 2009, while in Sri Lanka there has been no cause for any counter terrorism action since that time, that in counter-terror operations in Europe some 32 LTTE activists have been arrested, while an additional 21 have been convicted.
In France, in November 2009, 21 LTTE activists were sentenced for up to 7 years for financing of terrorism, and the CCTF, the Tamil Coordinating Committee (TCC) branch in France, the LTTE front organization which most of those convicted belonged to (the others being from the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization - TRO), was banned. This is regarded as the most significant judicial action related to terrorist financing that has taken place in Europe. In Norway, in January 2010, 8 LTTE activists including 5 youth, were indicted for an 2009 attack on the Sri Lanka Embassy in Oslo. In Germany, 8 LTTE activists from front organizations including the TCC were arrested on three occasions in March and May 2010, and 3 of them have already been indicted. In the Netherlands, in April 2010, 6 LTTE activists from front organizations including the TCC, TRO, and the Tamil Youth Organization (TYO) were arrested. The most recent action was in Switzerland, where in January 2011, when 10 LTTE activists including from the TYO were arrested.
This is of course in addition to earlier action in Europe, which includes the conviction in the UK of former LTTE UK leader and President of the British Tamil Forum A.C.Shanthan in 2009 for seeking to purchase duel use technology for the LTTE, in Italy arrest warrants issued in June 2008 on some 30 LTTE activists, in Denmark the freezing since 2008 of the assets of TRO-Denmark for support of the LTTE terrorism and the conviction in France of 9 including V. Manoharan who was later to be the head of the CCTF-France on drug smuggling charges.
If the more recent actions which are but a mere symptom of the extent to which LTTE tentacles might be spread throughout Europe was not sufficient to alert one of the danger that lies ahead, the known presence at large within Europe of a number of prominent LTTE leaders who continue to owe allegiance to the LTTE, should be sufficient cause for concern. Among them are:
• Mr. Perinpanayagam Sivaparan, alias Nediyavan, who even preceding the military defeat of the LTTE controlled its overseas assets and network including front organizations, and continues to operate from Norway.
• Mr. Vinayakamoorthi Sekarapillai, alias Vinayakam, senior-most surviving cadre of the LTTE intelligence wing that was formerly led by Pottu Amman, who planned and led the attack on the Colombo International airport in 2001. He was smuggled out of Sri Lanka during the final phase of the conflict and has a INTERPOL red corner notice against him, but is presently operating in Europe.
• Mr. Jeyachandran Gopinath, alias Jeya Annai, LTTE propagandist-in-chief and Editor of the LTTE website ‘Tamilnet’, who also operates from Norway.
• Fr. S.J. Emmanuel, a former Vicar-General of Jaffna, who since the late 1990s has been a key proponent of the LTTE network, who heads the more populist LTTE umbrella front organization Global Tamil Forum (GTF) headquartered in London, is in Germany.
• The centre of gravity of the so called ‘Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam’ (TGTE) also appears to be shifting to Europe, with the creation within its so-called ‘Parliament’ of a sub group TGTE (Democrats), mainly comprising Tamil youth from the UK, Germany and France, who seek to gain control of the self styled “Government in Exile”, from the New York based long standing Legal Advisor to LTTE leader Prabhakaran and the LTTE Mr. Visvanathan Rudrakumaran, who claims to be the TGTE’s so-called “Prime Minister”.
All this tells a simple story. That the LTTE challenge has moved to Europe, as the LTTE has possibly concluded that they have greater latitude to operate here. By its actions, the LTTE and its front organizations are no doubt testing the political will that prevails among the establishment in concerned European states, as much as they are the resolve of the European law enforcement and criminal justice systems.
Sri Lanka’s Concerns
The Government of Sri Lanka remains conscious, that as Sri Lanka moves forward healing the wounds from 30 years of conflict through reconciliation and development, that it needs to be watchful of elements that might be intent on queering the pitch, and particularly seeking to thwart Sri Lanka’s rapid economic progress. Judging from recent trends it would be fair to expect that it will come from diasporic quarters.
However, it is abundantly clear that today the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora is no monolith, and the Government of Sri Lanka has already shown itself to be adept at differentiating between these categories. The Government has made clear that it does not intend to demonize or isolate the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora, and as it has the Sri Lanka based Tamil leadership across party lines, it has shown keenness to engage in a dialogue with the diaspora Tamils in the changed atmosphere, with a view to harnessing their talents and resources towards the betterment of Sri Lanka. At the same time, it will press for action against those in the diaspora, whose actions are bound to seek to perpetuate terrorism in whatever guise, including through front organizations.
In such context, western governments too will soon have to come to a conclusion as to “who speaks for the Tamils of Sri Lanka?” Whether it is those in the diaspora who are unrepentant, militant and continue to seek an independent ‘Tamil Eelam’, or whether it should be those peace loving Tamils living both in Sri Lanka, as well as abroad, who are ready to move forward with other communities in Sri Lanka in solidarity.
European sensitivity to activities of LTTE/Front Organizations and the future
Historically speaking, Europe has been relatively slow in tangibly responding to the activities of the LTTE and its front organizations. While India proscribed the group in 1992 and the US followed in 1997, it was in 2001 that the UK did so, while the listing of the LTTE by the EU was done only in 2006. Similarly, while the US proscribed the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization in 2008 and the Tamil Foundation in 2009, Canada the World Tamil Movement (WTM) in 2008, and France banned the CCTF in 2009, LTTE front organizations are yet to be listed by the EU, notwithstanding police and judicial action being taken against front organization activists in at least 8 European states.
However, in the more recent actions, one witnesses increased sensitivity on the part of European Governments through their law enforcement and criminal justice establishments, to the continuing danger posed by the LTTE and its front organization activists to the peace and security of this region. It is also significant that at a time when the pro-LTTE Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora activists are pressurizing the EU and member states to revoke the listing of the LTTE as a “terrorist entity’, that following what has been described as a “complete review of the list of persons, groups and entities to which the regulation applies”, the European Council on 31 January 2011, announced the re-listing of the LTTE as a “terrorist entity”, in terms of the European Council Common Position 2001/931/CFSP of 27 December 2001 on the application of specific measures to combat terrorism.
Sri Lanka’s quest for reconciliation and development will no doubt be helped, to the extent that foreign governments maintain a watchful eye, concerning the activities of pro-LTTE elements who have been operating in your countries for many years. Many of them, some who have even succeeded in gaining entry into your local administrative/legislative structures, are abusing your laws for a racially motivated agenda, and are sowing seeds of disharmony among the Sri Lankan diaspora communities that live peacefully in your countries, while at the same time radicalising the second and third generation Tamil youth who are citizens of your countries.
It is for this reason that Sri Lanka continues to call for the inclusion of all LTTE front organizations operating on European soil within the EU’s ‘listing’ regime, in order that the freedom they presently enjoy to function and to maintain bank accounts will be denied to them, as has happened particularly in the US and Canada. The recent arrests and convictions across Europe have provided a litmus test in this regard, as most of those arrested belonged to prominent front organizations which were integrally linked to the LTTE, and acted for or on behalf of, or at the behest of the LTTE.
No doubt a complicating factor host governments will have to grapple with, is that particularly as the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora communities convert themselves into vote banks and could have a political bearing in marginal constituencies in Europe, that the political establishments in these countries will invariably come under greater pressure, to ignore the activities of the LTTE/ its front organizations operating on European soil.
Given that there can no longer be a dichotomy in the manner terrorist and criminality related issues are treated across the globe between the law enforcement /criminal justice community on the one hand, and the political community on the other, there should not be a disconnect between these respective institutions of Governance on how to deal with this growing problem. It is important that European States and Institutions do not provide any political or symbolic support, nor should they be fooled by the false pretences of those continuing to advocate mono-ethnic separatism in Sri Lanka “through peaceful means”, while espousing the ideology of the LTTE, using its money and being manipulated by its surviving military leaders. (Concluded)