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Defence / News Features


Taking them one by one


The LTTE struck at the nerve centre of the Sri Lanka military when it infiltrated a suicide cadre into the very premises of the army headquarters and carried out a daring attack on the life of Army Commander General Sarath Fonseka. General Fonseka escaped narrowly and is still recovering from the injuries he sustained. This is not the first time the LTTE staged an attack in a defence nerve centre. Once it rammed an explosives-laden truck into the Joint Operations Command down Flower Road and on another occasion it staged a shoot out just outside the army headquarters.
Barely two months after the April 25 attack at the army headquarters, the LTTE struck again when they killed Deputy Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Parami Kulatunga using another suicide bomber. He was travelling from his residence to his office in Colombo. The LTTE targeted two of the most battle-hardened high ranking officers in the army - Fonseka and Kulatunga. It must be remembered that this was the first occasion in the history of the army that the three top positions were held by officers from the Infantry.
The LTTE knew very well that the Chief of Staff, Nanda Mallawarachchi was due to retire in two months before Fonseka’s period of extension lapses in December. The Tigers went for the No. 3 who was also due to retire in October as it is widely believed that the LTTE was keen on resuming hostilities after staging a series of attacks in ‘Black July’. (See box stories for LTTE’s previous prize targets in July).
It need not be said that the aim of the LTTE through attacks on the top military brass is to decapitate the leadership and demoralize the armed forces, before they move into full-scale war. LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran had made it clear in his Heroes Day message in November last year that he would resume hostilities in 2006 after allowing the President some breathing space.
Done with the first half of the year, the LTTE is now set to intensify guerilla attacks to slip into full-scale hostilities. But, the military is not easily biting the bait and even the calculated air raids have ceased after pressure from India. In the aftermath of the Parami Kulataunga killing the SLAF did not undertake air raids like it did after the abortive attempt on the life of the army commander and the claymore mine attack on a civilian bus in Kebbethigollewa.
Apart from the military’s restraint, many defence sources attribute a delay in the LTTE resuming hostilities to Karuna’s exploits in the East. Karuna, who is on an expansion drive, has unsettled the LTTE in the East. So much so, that he has warned the Wanni Tigers operating in the East to quit before it was too late. There is so much infiltration that Karuna himself is overcautious when dealing with new recruits. Like the Wanni Tigers he is forcibly recruiting children for the war to liberate the East. It has now come to light that one reason why Karuna fled in the face of the LTTE onslaught on his forces on April 10, 2004 was that he was being misled by Ramanan who turned out to be a double agent. He was recently sniped. The LTTE is under severe threat from Karuna who seems to be calling the shots in the East.
While the first three are from the Infantry, the fourth in the order of seniority, Major General Sharman Kulatunga from the Armoured Corps is tipped to become the Army Commander when Major General Mallawarachchi retires in two months. The LTTE has struck a major blow by rendering the army commander indisposed for nearly three months, while the third in line was liquidated and the second will be forced to retire if the Commander carries on till his extension expires. Miffed with certain decisions Major General P. Chandrawansa has put up his papers for retirement and a few Majors General and Brigadiers are trying to follow suit. Already Brigadiers Rizvi Zacky and Rohan Jayasinghe have retired prematurely.
The army cannot afford to lose any more senior officers either by way of premature retirement.
Chief of Defence Staff, Donald Perera, Secretary Defence, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Deputy Defence Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake and President Mahinda Rajapaksa must address this serious problem in the interest of the country.
The entire defence establishment must also work towards maximum protection of not just the top brass of the army but the hierarchy of all three armed forces who are targeted by the LTTE in the run up to a possible resumption of hostilities. Like Lt. Gen. Parami Kulatunga, former Navy Commander Rear Admiral Clancy Fernando was killed by a suicide bomber who slammed his motorcycle into the convoy in front of the Galle Face.
As, is often the case, security lapses that led to both recent suicide attacks came to light only after the damage had been done. But has the stable door been closed even after the proverbial horse has bolted?
The purpose of sleuths investigating into such incidents should be to uncover the Tiger network as well as to stay ahead of the enemy and prevent similar attacks in the future. The investigation into the attack on the Army Commander’s life was carried out briskly by experienced officers of the Criminal Investigation Department who were also behind cracking the plot of previous terrorist attacks, such as the attack on the Katunayake Airport.
Although various reports appearing soon after the attack on General Fonseka had it that the suicide bomber had been pregnant, the CID sleuths ruled this out quite early in the probe. There had been no evidence to indicate that she was pregnant as the blood samples collected from the crime scene were not adequate to establish the claim. Also, there were no medical records at the hospital to indicate such a condition.
While the investigators were putting piece by piece together in the mosaic, the army now has a picture as to how the entire attack was planned and carried out. With the help of modern technology the suicide bombers’ whereabouts were slowly established. However the investigations were not yet complete at the time the Inspector General of Police, Chandra Fernando jumped the gun. Police Chief Fernando called a press conference on Wednesday to divulge the findings. He even handed over a photograph of the suicide bomber recovered by the police investigators which appeared on the front pages of newspapers the following day.
The logic of the IGP’s action has been questioned by many military analysts as well as those well versed in intelligence and counter-terrorism work. Taking a cue from the current football fever, most compare this to the captain of a team announcing victory at half time. The general contention is that such action could hamper further progress in the investigation aimed at cracking the main LTTE network in Colombo and the rest of the country.
It had been established during the investigation that there would have been an inside link which helped the suicide bomber infiltrate the army headquarter’s high security zone. It is also suspected that this person and other accomplices would have notified the suicide bomber just as the Army Commander was leaving his office for lunch to the Chalet located within the Army headquarters complex in his official vehicle at around 1.30pm. According to findings, the suicide bomber had received a call on her cellular phone before the explosion. The investigators had concluded that this information must have been provided by a person who had knowledge of the Army Commander’s movements or was in clear visibility of him. As long as this LTTE spy inside the Army remains at large the military establishment in the country is in danger and further calamities can be expected.
The attempt on the life of General Sarath Fonseka was made on April 25. But the preparations for this attack by the LTTE had started well over a year ago and had been meticulously carried out. General Fonseka, who had the reputation of being a battle- hardened soldier, was naturally a target of the LTTE regardless of the position he held.
The LTTE tapped 27-year-old Shanmugalingam Suriyakumar to give shelter to their suicide cadre while he was moving to and from Jaffna along the A-9 road after it was opened when the ceasefire came into operation. Suriyakumar was from Chunnakam Jaffna, but had moved to Rambukkana area and had settled down there. He was a driver and was married to a Sinhala girl from Rambukkana. They had one child. At the time he was arrested Suriyakumar owned a three wheeler.
Suriyakumar had also driven a lorry while visiting Jaffna which had met with a fatal accident. He had to go to Jaffna regularly thereafter to attend the subsequent court case. It is believed that he would have been pinched by the LTTE while passing through the LTTE checkpoints on the A-9 road.
After taking him into confidence, the LTTE operatives then introduced to him the would-be suicide bomber, identified as 35-year-old Kanapathipillai Manjuladevi. Suriyakumar was to provide lodging to Manjuladevi at his residence and he was compensated for doing so. To his wife, Suriyakumar introduced Manjuladevi as a cousin – uncle’s daughter. She had got on with the family well. Suriyakumar’s wife had also come to be in possession of jewellery during this period.
Although Manjuladevi was believed to be from Anuradhapura, it creates serious doubts whether the Tigers, known to cover their paw marks, would leave any trace by recruiting a person from a here.
However, it has been established that the human bomb could speak fluent Sinhala and had been always reading Sinhala newspapers and books late into the night. While at Rambukkana she had obtained an identity card as well through fraudulent means.
Later, on the insistence of Manjuladevi and with the money the LTTE provided through her, Suriyakumar rented a house in Weliweriya which was closer to Colombo and moved there. The house, belonging to a retired Public Health Inspector, was rented out for Rs. 3,500 a month. The retired PHI who however has been exonerated, appears to be an innocent party who rented out his premises.
Manjuladevi had been coming to Colombo regularly from this location and it is suspected that she would have been associating with her “handler” in Colombo and getting ready for the impending attack. On the last occasion she had gone back to the Weliweriya house, she had had rice with a dry fish curry for dinner. The next morning she had dressed as usual in a Salwar and had taken two bags with her.
The investigators are still to find the identity of her “handler” in Colombo and the safe-house where she got ready for the suicide attack by donning the explosive jacket. The “handler” is found to have operated mainly from Slave Island, Maradana, Pettah and Wellawatta.
After these preparations spanning over a year, Manjuladevi, dressed in a green Salwar with the explosives-laden jacket strapped to her body walked into the motorcade of General Sarath Fonseka on April 25, exploding herself. She was waiting in front of the army hospital for General Fonseka’s vehicle to emerge. It is suspected that she had come into the premises on the pretext of attending a clinic at the army hospital for relatives of service personnel. There had been four clinics on that day including a clinic for pregnant mothers, which gave rise to the notion that the suicide bomber was pregnant.
Eleven persons were killed in the explosion and 27 others sustained injuries. The badly damaged head of Majuladevi was recovered from a branch of a tree in the vicinity of the explosion.
It still remains a mystery as to why this girl became a deadly human bomb for the LTTE and how she got recruited by the Tigers to carry out a mission that would cost her life.
It had also come to light that they had purchased one cellular phone using the genuine identity card of a soldier who was reported missing in action after the Elephant Pass camp attack by the LTTE.
There are several questions arising from the investigation concerning security lapses at the Army headquarters. It had been revealed that the issuing of passes to patients, visitors and the staff had been done in a hap-hazard manner by the responsible authorities. The military hospital too had not kept proper records of those who attended the clinics.
The military will have to beef up the security within the establishment and preventive measures should be urgently taken to stem informants and spies from within. This would protect the military from losing more of its leadership in the future.
At this point of time it would be appropriate to remember the words of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher after a bombing by the IRA. She said, “They have to be lucky only once but we have to be lucky always.”
An analysis of LTTE attacks over the years show that the organisation has become more and more sophisticated in their operations. The Tigers seem to be ahead always and therefore the military intelligence apparatus should pre-empt the LTTE and strike before it does.
It must be acknowledged that CID investigators, with limited resources, have been able to make a breakthrough. While we earlier emphasised the importance of pre-empting possible LTTE strikes, it must be mentioned that thorough investigations into previous attacks would help the authorities in the preventive measures to be undertaken. For this, the government of the day must place at the disposal of the investigating agencies the latest sophisticated technology and afford the necessary training.
The work of the CID, needless to say, should not be hampered by ill-timed statements from any quarter, for such indiscretion will amount to pulling the rug from under the feet of the dedicated and capable officers. In the national interest, The Nation has deliberately withheld certain information. But again in the interest of the country this column wishes to record a warning that the defence establishment must seriously take the necessary precautions as the LTTE is clearly targeting the top brass in the armed forces because leadership, experience and expertise are not easily replaceable and certainly not overnight as Eelam War IV is not far off. The military top brass are in this regard different from political targets. The problem is that a human bomb is different from any other kind of lethal weapon. It is unorthodox and therefore calls for unorthodox responses. There is no substitute for unrelenting and sophisticated intelligence work.

***

LTTE’s Black July targets:

July 27, 1975: Murder of Jaffna Mayor, Alfred Duraiappah.
July 13, 1983: LTTE’s first landmine attack killing 13 soldiers.
July 5, 1987: First Black Tiger suicide attack on Nelliady Central College where troops were billeted.
July 13, 1989: TULF leader, Appapillai Amirthalingam, is assassinated.
July 16, 1989: PLOTE leader, Uma Maheswaran, is assassinated.
July 25, 1993: Attack on Janakapura Army detachment.
July 30, 1995: Land mine explosion kills Brigadier Nalin Angammana and three other army personnel at Mukkural, Batticaloa.
July 4, 1996: Brigadier Ananda Hamangoda and SSP Carlyle Dias dies in a suicide bomb attack in Jaffna town.
July 14, 1996: LTTE shoots down Pucara bomber aircraft
July 16, 1996: Sea Tigers attack the Navy’s command ship “Edithara.”
July 18, 1996: LTTE attack on Mullaitivu military base.
July 19, 1996: Attack on Navy gunboat “Ranaviru.”
July 24, 1996: Bomb explosion on Colombo-Alutgama train at Dehiwala kills 60 civilians.
July 25, 1999: Suicide bomber attacks vessel Newco Endurance
July 29, 1999: Suicide bomber assassinates Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvam, MP.

***

Dying with enemy after dining with chief

The LTTE has made the dubious achievement of becoming the world leader in suicide attacks. The organisation has carried out more suicide attacks than Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hizballah and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) all combined. They also boast of a success rate which would be the envy of any terrorist organisation. The high profile targets of this elite unit include Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, President Premadasa, Navy Commander Clancy Fernando and many other political and military leaders of the country. According to LTTE propaganda more than 270 suicide cadres have been killed since the first such attack on an army camp in 1987.
The suicide unit of the LTTE has played a decisive role in their operations since the first such attack by “Captain” Millar on July 5, 1987. On that occasion Millar drove a truck laden with explosives into an army camp in Vadamaarachchi killing over 40 soldiers involved in Operation Liberation. Since then the elite suicide cadre has become a cult figure in the LTTE with many more launching daring attacks against the Sri Lankan state. The cadres are said to rejoin their ordinary military units after undergoing training to be a suicide bomber. Therefore even among the regular LTTE cadres the identity of an elite suicide cadre would be unknown. Suicide cadres have been extensively used in operations against the Sri Lanka Navy after the Black Sea Tiger wing was established by the Sea Tiger leader Soosai.
The most daring attack carried out by a group of suicide cadres was the attack on the Colombo International Airport in July 2001. Few months before the September 11 attacks in the United States, the LTTE had plans to hijack planes from Katunayake and fly them on a suicide mission on selected targets in Colombo. This was revealed when it was discovered that some members of the team involved in the airport attack were trained pilots.
An important moment in a suicide cadre’s life is his or her meeting with LTTE leader Prabhakaran. Since his public appearances are limited, meeting Prabhakaran is a lifetime goal for many of the young cadres of the LTTE. In fact, Prabhakaran has very carefully cultivated this image of a demi-god. Before the mission, the Black Tigers have their last meal with their leader, which is considered a lifetime honour for its cadres.
On November 26, 2002 few months after the signing of the ceasefire agreement the Black Tiger unit of the LTTE took part in a public ceremony for the first time. The LTTE has maintained that the suicide cadres are part of their military arsenal and claims that they play a pivotal role in maintaining the balance of power with the Sri Lankan military.