By R Hariharan –
There is trouble brewing on the Tamil shores, with shock waves being felt across Palk Strait too. At the core of the problem are the twin terror trails that are becoming more discernable. Analysis of recent terror activities in Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka lend credence to their presence. One relates to the Indian jehadi network and the other to the LTTE’s overseas offshoot’s efforts to gain a toehold in the island nation.
Both have common features: obsession with a cause, motivation to carry out attacks against all odds, and the existence of local and overseas networks. Both found a fertile ground due to the short sighted policies of the respective governments. However, the comparison ends there. The jehadi network in Tamil Nadu seems to have fared better due to regional votebank politics. However, the LTTE is finding it difficult to push through its revival efforts, thanks to Sri Lanka’s counter measures and the immediate suppression of any activity smacking of separatism.
Jehad in Garden of Peace
Chennai was stunned on May Day by two low-intensity explosions on the Bangalore-Guwahati superfast express at the city’s central station. The blasts shattered the myth of Tamil Nadu being “a garden of peace and security”, as the state’s chief minister had claimed. A young woman was killed and 14 others were injured in the explosions. Analysis of the explosives, including fragments of the timers, showed that the composition of the explosives was similar to those used by the Indian Mujahideen.
Suspicion of an ISI hand was aroused after Mohammed Sahir Hussain, a Sri Lankan national, arrested two days before the blasts, confessed that he worked for Pakistan Intelligence based in its high commission in Colombo. He said he was tasked by Amir Zubair Siddiqui, counsellor (visa) at the high commission, to gather information on installations in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Hussain added he had sent photographs and maps of US Consulate in Chennai and Israel Consulate in Bangalore to his handler.
Siddiqui’s name had cropped up earlier in 2012 when Thamim Ansari, a terror suspect, was apprehended on the way to Tiruchi airport to catch a flight to Colombo. Police recovered DVDs containing visuals of the army paragliding training and a parade of the army signal corps. He told the police that he was instructed by Siddiqui to take the videos, which also included Nagapattinam port and Madras Regimental Centre in Wellington.
Further investigations into the Chennai blasts pointed out that Abu Backer Siddiqui, a member of the banned Tamil Nadu outfit, Al-Umma, had carried out the blasts. Al- Umma’s operative Panna Ismail, who was in custody, also confirmed Abu Siddiqui’s involvement.
The investigators suspect that Abu Siddiqui was trying to reactivate Al-Umma, which had gone into oblivion after the arrest of its leadership in 1998. Al-Umma, along with other fundamentalist Muslim groups, sprouted in Tamil Nadu following the demolition of the Babri Masjid and the rise of Hindutva groups like Hindu Munnani and VHP in the state.
The terrorist organization gained notoriety when it carried out 13 bomb blasts at 11 locations in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, minutes before BJP leader LK Advani was to address his election rally on February 14, 1998. Forty six people were killed and over 200 were injured in the blasts.
Outfits Lean on Politics
The DMK government’s follow-up showed the determination to crush the terrorists in the state. It banned not only the Al Umma but also Jehad Committee, another fundamentalist body.
Key leaders of the Jehad Committee and the Tamil Nadu Muslim Munnetra Kazagham (TMMK), a Muslim NGO believed to be founded by former members of the banned terrorist outfit Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), were arrested.
In the Coimbatore blast trials, 158 terrorists were convicted, of which 43 received life sentences in 2007. But the alleged mastermind, Abdul Nasar Madani, walked free. Given a hero’s welcome in Thiruvananthapuram (Kerala), he assured his support to the state’s Left Democratic Front (LDF) regime and said he would work for the welfare of Dalits and Muslims.
In Tamil Nadu, the TMMK sobered down; it broadened its agenda to include human rights, reservation for the Muslims, administration of Waqf properties and social security measures for the minorities. This helped the TMMK to leverage support during elections using the perennial confrontation between the DMK and the AIADMK.
The TMMK cloned into several parties. The Tamil Nadu Thowheed Jamath was formed as a breakaway group, which further broke up into two factions—Indian Thowheed Jamath and Tamil Nadu Thowheed Jamath. Another competitive party that took birth was Manitha Neya Makkal Katchi (MNMK), which is allied with the AIADMK. It grew because of the weakening influence of the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), the oldest Muslim party in the state.
Yet another fringe group that gained notoriety was Manitha Neethi Pasarai (MNP), whose cadres were arrested in Coimbatore in 2006 for plotting serial bomb blasts similar to the 1998 blasts. All five cadres were acquitted in 2008. The MNP has connections with Kerala’s National Democratic Front (NDF), which formed the Popular Front of India (PFI) with MNP and the Karnataka for Dignity (KFD), another such organization, to coordinate its efforts. At present, the fundamentalist parties in Tamil Nadu seem to have more influence with the DMK than the AIADMK. This was evident when the DMK government released nine Al Umma extremists, sentenced to 13 years of jail, before they completed their sentences in September 2009.
There is a need to understand the morphing of the fundamentalist groups into political parties. Though they have denounced terrorism, they tend to focus on the politics of confrontation. Their targets include the US and those responsible for attacks on Muslims, globally. This makes it important for terrorism watchdogs to keep their activities under watch. The other aspect is to curb the foreign connections of these mainstream parties.
Tamil Issue Resurfaces
The plight of Sri Lankan Tamils recently became an issue in Tamil Nadu. This was compounded by the competitive politics among the Dravidian parties, as well as Sri Lankan President, Mahinda Rajapaksa’s poor post-war handling of issues related to the empowerment and rehabilitation of Tamil population. Rajapaksa’s development model focused on development of infrastructure and public services, without adequate efforts to resolve the core issue of political autonomy for the Tamils. He conducted the Northern Provincial Council (NPC) elections four years after the war on LTTE ended. And the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) government that came to power was not given a free hand even in exercising its limited powers. The retention of a retired general as the governor of the province has not helped in restoring amity.
So, it is not surprising the LTTE’s offshoot abroad is trying to take advantage to revive its activity in Sri Lanka. There are scores of distressed families of LTTE cadres and sympathisers of Tamil Eelam separatism in the Northern Province. Most of the 13,000 “rehabilitated” LTTE cadres in Sri Lanka are without employment. Army still occupies chunks of private agricultural land despite promises to return them to the rightful owners.
Terror Strikes by LTTE
According to Sri Lankan analyst DBS Jeyaraj, there were three attempts by overseas LTTE elements to trigger activity in Sri Lanka. Significantly, there was a Tamil Nadu connection in all the three attempts.
The first attempt was discovered in March 2102 after investigating the murder of a member of the Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP, led by Cabinet Minister Douglas Devananda) in Trincomalee district. A handwritten note “death to traitors” with the Tiger emblem was found near his body. Intensive interrogation of suspects uncovered an attempt at the revival of LTTE assisted by the Vinayagam faction of the overseas LTTE.
Thorough interrogations also brought to the fore other revival attempts assisted by the Vinayagam faction of the overseas LTTE. Kumaran of the Vinayagam faction in Paris recruited 15 former LTTE cadres in Tamil Nadu and organized them into three cells of five members each. One of these cells was sent to Trincomalee in the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka in order to carry out the killing of the EPDP cadre in March 2012.
The second attempt at LTTE’s revival was uncovered in December 2012 when a former LTTE cadre was arrested in Colombo. It led to the startling discovery of “a clandestine campaign” underway in Tamil Nadu to recruit Sri Lankan Tamil youths sympathetic to the Tamil Eelam cause and indoctrinate them with the LTTE ideology.
This was being financed by the overseas LTTE elements. Based on the information provided by Sri Lanka, Tamil Nadu police raided a house in Pammal on the outskirts of Chennai and arrested four occupants—S Suresh Kumar, D Udaya Doss, T Maheswaran and K Krishnamurthy— in December 2012. Suresh Kumar headed an LTTE team that made explosives. Police recovered documents, electronic circuit boards and panels from the house.
In March 2014, the Ministry of Defense in Sri Lanka ordered the freezing of all funds, assets and economic resources belonging to 16 Tamil diaspora organizations and 424 select individuals, “believed…. to be committing, attempting to commit, facilitating or participating, in the commission of acts of terrorism.” A Gazette Extraordinary notification, signed by the defense secretary on March 20, 2014, listed them in accordance with the UN Regulations No 1 of 2012.
The latest attempt by LTTE was in March 2014. A former LTTE cadre Ponniah Selvanayagam Kajeepan, aka Gobi, opened fire on a policeman in the Kilinochchi area of Sri Lanka. The security forces carried out a search to hunt him out. In the end, they killed not only Gobi, but two other former LTTE cadres, Suntharalingam Gajatheeban, aka Theiveegan, and Navaratnam Navaneethan, aka Appan.
Further investigations and interrogation of suspects revealed Theiveegan, a former bodyguard of V Prabhakaran, was a black tiger as well as a pilot, who had flown sortiesfor the LTTE. He was in touch with leaders of two LTTE’s rival factions abroad—Nediyavan in Norway and Vinayagam in France. Theiveegan made many trips to India to keep in touch with contacts. Sri Lankan intelligence discovered that Theiveegan had the support of another senior LTTE leader Dayamohan, who had sought refuge in Switzerland.
Fraught with Peril
Sri Lanka is finding it difficult to grapple with Tamil Nadu becoming a base for the LTTE and the support for Tamil separatists among political parties in the state. The DMK and the ruling AIADMK have adopted a strong stand against the Rajapaksa government. Can these parties be weaned from their negative focus if Rajapaksa walks the extra mile to make it happen? With the change in leadership in New Delhi, the Modi regime has its work cut out.
*Col R Hariharan, a retired Military Intelligence specialist on South Asia, served with the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka as Head of Intelligence. He is associated with the Chennai Centre for China Studies and the South Asia Analysis Group. E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Blog: http://col.hariharan.info