A global onslaught against the international network of front organizations of the Liberation Tigers of…
This article was first published in the South Asia Intelligence Review, Volume 6, No. 41, April 21, 2008
A global onslaught against the international network of front organizations of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) appears to be coinciding with the domestic reverses the rebels are suffering within Sri Lanka. Australia, the United Kingdom (UK), Canada, France and the United States (US), which account for the major chunk of the roughly 750,000 strong Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora, and from where the outfit accrues its greatest financial and propaganda support, have taken stern action against LTTE proxies, severely affecting the Tigers capacities in their ‘final war of liberation’.
The LTTE, which opened its first overseas office in London in 1984, has its front organizations now operating from countries that also include India, Botswana, Burma, Cambodia, Denmark, Germany, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Qatar, South Africa, Switzerland and Thailand, to name a few. The Washington Times, on April 7, 2008 reported that the LTTE’s political wing had established its branches in at least 12 countries, including the US. Veerakathy Manivannam aka Castro is the Head of the LTTE’s ‘International Secretariat’, the body which ensures the smooth functioning of the group’s global network.
The LTTE’s global activities can broadly be summarized into three principal categories: fundraising; arms procurement and shipping, and publicity and propaganda. Though each of these tasks invariably overlaps, there is a significant autonomy of operation in each.
The LTTE has created front organizations in about 50 countries across the globe, and most significant among these organizations include the Australasian Federation of Tamil Associations; the Swiss Federation of Tamil Associations; the French Federation of Tamil Associations; the Federation of Associations of Canadian Tamils; the Illankai Tamil Sangam in the US; the Tamil Coordinating Committee in Norway and the International Federation of Tamils in the UK. These fronts also form sympathetic pressure groups and media units to harness political and economic support for the outfit from the politicians and human rights activists in the respective countries. They bring out or operate numerous magazines, radio and TV stations; carry out public demonstrations, display LTTE flags and emblems as well as photographs of its leader Velupillai Prabhakaran and other leaders, sell and distribute literature glorifying the LTTE struggle and suicide attacks, and engage in publicity and propaganda among Tamil Diaspora to harness support and contributions.
Thus, as the LTTE came under tremendous pressure at home, pro-LTTE Tamil groups in Britain launched a campaign to highlight the ‘suffering’ of Tamils in Sri Lanka, with a protest outside Downing Street on February 24, 2008. Earlier, on January 16, Britain’s leading Tamil organization, the British Tamils Forum, called for a boycott of Sri Lankan Airlines in a move to target the Sri Lankan economy, as part of their campaign for a separate Tamil homeland. On January 1, a calendar apparently depicting the logo of the LTTE and the map of a separate state of ‘Tamil Eelam’ was sold outside Hindu temples in London. According to an August 22, 2007, report, Tamil broadcasters in Australia glorify the LTTE and its chief, Velupillai Prabhakaran, and also engage in fundraising.
The LTTE has secured the support of several non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working in these countries through its persistent publicity and propaganda campaigns. Prominent NGOs who have extended support include the Canadian Relief Organization for Peace in Sri Lanka, International Educational Development Inc., the World Council of Churches, the Australian Human Rights Foundation, the International Human Rights Group, the International Federation of Journalists (Pax Romana), the International Peace Bureau, the International Human Rights Law Group and the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights.
These activities are, of course, subordinate to the principal objective of the ‘International Secretariat’: to generate maximum financial resources to support the LTTE’s ‘final war’ in Sri Lanka. The LTTE is estimated to harvest between an estimated USD 10 million to USD 30 million a month through organizations such as the Federation of Associations of Canadian Tamils, Human Rights for Tamils, Melrose Publishers, the Tamil Center for Human Rights, the Tamil Coordinating Committee (TCC), the Tamil Eelam Economic Development Organization, the Tamil Relief Organization (TRO), the Tamil Youth Organization (TYO), the United Tamil Organization, the White Pigeon, the World Tamil Movement (WTO), and the World Tamil Association (WTA), to name a few of the fronts engaged in these tasks.
These organization collects funds from individuals and business; by managing Hindu Temples principally serving Tamil Diaspora communities; engaging in businesses including the internet, community-based Tamil radio stations and subscription satellite TV, drug pedaling, particularly heroin from Southeast and Southwest Asia, shipping lines, travel agencies, human smuggling; as well as fixed income generation methods, such as the ‘Registration’ of the Tamil Diaspora. According to a May 6, 2007, report, the Armulmihu Hindu temple in Tooting in South London, which reportedly raises nearly £500,000 each year, may have possible links to the LTTE in Sri Lanka.
Through these global financial operations, the LTTE runs its arms network, headed by Tharmalingam Shanmugham aka Kumaran Pathmanathan aka KP, which acquire weaponry and munitions from countries like Afghanistan, Bulgaria, Burma, Cambodia, China, Cyprus, Greece, Hong Kong, Lebanon, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, Vietnam and Zimbabwe. KP has his main bases in Bangkok, Rangoon, Singapore and, more recently, in Johannesburg, and is alleged to have held various bank accounts in Australia, Frankfurt and London. According to the August 29, 2007, US Senate Foreign Relations Committee Report the Government of Eritrea is providing direct military assistance to the LTTE. There is cumulative corroborative evidence confirming the fact that the arms network has spread across the globe.
Reports also indicate that the Tigers receive military training in some of these countries as well. One surprising source of such training was uncovered in August 2007, when the Sri Lankan Government launched an investigation into claims that LTTE cadres received ‘police’ training in the UK after the 2002 cease-fire agreement (CFA). The probe was ordered after revelations by a 29 year old LTTE cadre, Kalimuttu Vinodkumar, who was arrested at a Police roadblock in Trincomalee in Sri Lanka, told interrogators that he was among 12 LTTE cadres sent on a three-month training program to Northern Ireland, shortly after the CFA was signed. The course had been conducted by foreign instructors with the help of Tamil translators.
Over the years, the LTTE’s international support network has ensured that the Tigers became the only terrorist organization with its own military – an army, navy and air force – and clear control over a large swathe of land.
Things, however, started to change after the declaration of the ‘war on terror’ in the wake of the September 2001 incidents in the US, with international attitudes hardening against the LTTE. Despite this, the 25-nation European Union only banned the LTTE in May 2006. Earlier, Canada proscribed the outfit on April 10, 2006. India was the first country to ban the LTTE in 1992. The LTTE is also on a list of proscribed terrorist organizations in the US, and is currently banned in as many as 31 countries. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (United States) went to the extent describing the organization as one of the most dangerous and deadly extremist outfits in the world, as they had ‘inspired’ networks worldwide, including the al-Qaeda in Iraq. Corroborating linkages with the al Qaeda, a March 25, 2007, report indicated that the LTTE had supplied forged passports to Ramzi Yousef, who bombed the World Trade Center. Earlier, on March 10, 2007, Falk Rovik, chief spokesperson of Norwegians Against Terrorism, stated in Toronto that the LTTE had stolen hundreds of Norwegian passports and sold them to al Qaeda to earn money. According to a July 7, 2007, report, the UK declared the LTTE the ‘second most dangerous terrorist group’ in the world, after al Qaeda.
Nevertheless, the LTTE’s international networks have suffered major reverses in the recent past, with many instances in which leaders/cadres of the LTTE or their front organizations have arrested, sentenced to prison, or otherwise restrained, for a variety of subversive activity across the world. Some of the major incidents, in this context, include:
April 11, 2008: Counterterrorism police in Quebec and Ontario in Canada reportedly shut down the World Tamil Movement (WTM) office in Montreal, alleging that the organization has been raising money to finance terrorist activities in Sri Lanka.
January 10, 2008: A US District Court in Maryland sentenced, Thirunavukarasu Varatharasa, a Sri Lankan resident in the US, to 57 months in prison and three years of supervised release, for conspiracy to provide arms, ammunition and other military materiel to the LTTE.
October 21, 2007: The Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s (RCMP’s) Senior Liaison Officer for the Caribbean disclosed that more than 100 people, including key members of the LTTE, were arrested in the Caribbean with fraudulent travel documents, including Western passports forged with the aim of entering the US and Canada.
September 25, 2007: French Police arrested Ranjan, who was appointed by the Wanni LTTE to take charge of LTTE activities in France after the arrest of Parithi aka Nadarajah Mathienthiram, who was earlier in charge of operations in this country.
August 14, 2007: Three top LTTE suspects, Sujit Gunapala, Sasiljaran Teverajah and Satiepawan Arseawatap were deported to Sri Lanka. Gunapala, Teverajah and Arseawatap were arrested from the Ranong province in Thailand on May 12, 2003, with 10 Glock pistols and three HK Mark 23 pistols, and had remained under detention in Thailand for attempting to smuggle weapons to Sri Lanka.
June 21, 2007: Arunachalam Chrishanthakumar alias Shanthan, president of the British Tamil Association, the high-ranking agent of the LTTE, and head of finance, Goldan Lambert, were arrested by the British Police under the 2000 Terrorism Act. Subsequently, on July 5, 2007, a British Court froze all bank accounts belonging to Shanthan and wife, whose business ventures, as on July 2, 2007, amounted to four billion pounds sterling.
May 17, 2007: The Maldives Coast Guard opened fire on and sank a small vessel carrying suspected LTTE cadres after a 12-hour standoff at sea in the southern territorial waters of Maldives. The boat was carrying guns and mortar ammunition.
May 1, 2007: Australian Police arrested two suspected LTTE cadres, Aruran Vinayagamoorthy (who had access to USD 526,000 in two bank accounts between August 2001 and December 2005) and Sivarajah Yathavan, after raids in Sydney and Melbourne.
April 28, 2007: Six Sri Lankans, including the prime accused Satrubarajah Shanamugarajah alias Ruby, connected to the LTTE, were convicted for organized crime in Norway. More than Norwegian Kroner 5.3 million had reportedly been stolen in Norway’s largest credit card scam, with links to LTTE cells in Canada, England, Germany and Sweden.
April 25, 2007: The ‘director’ of the LTTE in New York, Karunakaran Kandasamy, was arrested by the FBI in Queens, on charges of providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization. A FBI raid on Kandasamy’s office in Queens revealed evidence that he had raised millions of dollars for the Tamil Tigers through a front organization called the World Tamil Coordinating Committee.
April 1, 2007: The leader of the LTTE’s France branch since 2003, Nadarajah Mathinthiran alias ‘Parathi’ and Thuraisamy Jeyamorthy alias ‘Jeya’, who are in charge of fundraising in France, were among 17 LTTE suspects arrested. During 2006, the LTTE reportedly collected more than Euro six million, forcing each Tamil family to pay Euro 2000 per year and each Tamil shopkeeper Euro 6000 per year.
March 8, 2007: Haji Subandi, an international arms dealer from Indonesia, pleaded guilty in a federal court in Guam in USA to conspiring to export guns, surface-to-air missiles and other military hardware to the LTTE.
August 30, 2006: Indonesian police arrested 13 LTTE suspects during a raid in the southern Java coast. The suspects were reportedly moving to Australia.
August 22, 2006: 13 suspects with close links to the LTTE, including ‘Waterloo’ Suresh aka Suresh Skandarajah, were arrested from Buffalo, New York, San Jose, California, Seattle, Washington and Connecticut, following a RCMP and FBI probe into allegations that LTTE sympathizers in North America tried to buy missiles and move terror funds.
April 16, 2006: Canadian Police raided the office of the WTM in Montreal, the first raid after the Canadian Government proscribed the LTTE as a terrorist group, and seized computers, files, LTTE flags and other political documents.
The latest crackdown appears to be part of an international operation aimed at neutralizing the LTTE’s operations worldwide. However, proscribing the LTTE has tended to have only limited success, since the organization simply sets up new fronts that continue activities earlier carried out directly by LTTE offices, or by other fronts that come afoul of the law. Thus, after the TRO was banned in the UK, fund collection for the LTTE was undertaken by a charity named White Pigeon. Similarly, when the Washington-based Intelsat Ltd. banned the National Television of Tamil Eelam (NTT) the official television of the LTTE, on April 21-22, 2007, the LTTE started its Paris-based Tamil Television Network (TTN), a pay television channel owned by Globecast, which was later shut down on May 3, 2007.
Even the limited successes against the LTTE’s international operations in the recent past have had tremendous impact on LTTE capacities on the ground. Nevertheless, the LTTE’s global network is far from defunct, and the intelligence communities in the many countries in which the Tamil rebels operate fronts will have to keep pace with the constant adaptation and inventiveness that remains a hallmark of the LTTE’s operations, both domestically and abroad. The Sri Lankan Ambassador to the US, Bernard Goonetilleke, in a recent interview, rightly noted that “a problem that is taking place 10,000 miles away from the coast of the US, is not a problem of Sri Lanka alone… Terrorist groups feed on each other.” In the ever-shrinking global village, terrorist organizations with widely divergent ideologies and objectives are coming together to secure tactical and material advantages. If counter-terrorism is to succeed, the world community will have to establish a regime of even greater and more efficient collaboration and cooperation to neutralize the rising and diverse terrorist threat.
Mr. Ajit Kumar Singh is Research Assistant at the Institute for Conflict Management