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Military Matters


How Police kept Colombo safe amidst final salvo on LTTE

LTTE made two attempts to attack cargo warehouse at Colombo harbour

By Ruwan Weerakoon
The LTTE made attempts on two occasions to mount an attack on the ‘lethal cargo warehouse’ in the Colombo harbour, but the Western Province Police Intelligence Unit were able to avert these attempts.  Details of these aborted attempts to attack the warehouse are revealed below. They failed not because of the LTTE’s incompetence, but mostly due to the solid intelligence gathered by a special unit in the Sri Lanka Police, the Western Province Police Intelligence Unit, (WPPIU) and public support.

Curbing terrorism activities in Colombo is mainly under the purview of the Police department. Under them are the Western Province Police Intelligence unit (WPPIU) together with the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID), the State Intelligence Services (SIS) and the Criminal Investigation Department (CID). Together these units apprehended 22 LTTE suicide cadres. Another 10 suicide cadres killed themselves while being apprehended, bringing the total to 32, senior Police officers from Police Headquarters revealed to this columnist.

Police expand long arm of law

 WPPIU unit is the brainchild of Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and comes directly under his supervision. So was another unit which assisted in information gathering at grassroot level. These were the Civil Defence Committees, also mooted by the Defence Secretary.  These committees comprising civilians within each Grama Seva Niladhari Division are affiliated to every Police station within Colombo and also islandwide. The civilian members comprising these committees were trained to inspect or examine suspicious parcels or vehicles and also to be alert about strangers or suspicious persons in their specific areas. This setup yielded more results than expected and helped to track down several terrorists in Colombo as well as the outstations

Among the other main responsibilities entrusted to the WPPIU was the safeguarding of economic or soft targets in and around Colombo, like the Colombo port, airport and other vital installations. Well trained Police personnel from the WPPIU were deployed in selected Police stations in and around Colombo, especially in Wattala, Kotahena, Modera, Mattakkuliya, Dehiwala, Wellawatte and Bambalapitiya.

Every officer and constable was provided wide training and taught the value of intelligence gathering and usage. This was stressed upon and inculcated into their minds before being posted to their stations. These units came under the supervision of an Inspector of Police (IP). They met almost every week and evaluated information gathered and planned follow up action.
 As I have stressed over and over again in my earlier columns, intelligence is the most vital tool or weapon to gain an advantage or victory against the enemy. Thus, to be forewarned is to be forearmed. 

Sri Lanka and foreign intelligence services

 It is widely reported that the best intelligence unit in the world is the USA’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). However, when we look back at the terrorist attack on New York’s World Trade Centre building and the Pentagon at Washington on September 11 2001, better known now as the 9/11 attack, it could be clearly seen that even the mighty CIA failed to read the security threat in its perspective and prevent it.
Also, in Iraq and Afghanistan, suicide bombers are exploding themselves almost every week, killing military personnel as well as civilians. Though the CIA is in possession of the most sophisticated methodologies and hi-tech equipment, it is still to find ways of preventing these suicide bombers from carrying out their attacks. The USA and UK can learn lessons from Sri Lanka officers on how to prevent suicide bombers and their handlers from infiltrating civilian areas, because Sri Lanka intelligence officers have proved their talent and capability in preventing attacks that would have crippled both the economy and the war effort.
 For even though hi-tech and gadgetry is woefully lacking in this country, the Sri Lankan intelligence officers here have successfully overcome this shortcoming with their exceptional skills and capabilities, and most importantly their dedication and loyalty.

 A senior Police officer told this columnist that whenever an LTTE suicide cadre is about to be arrested, he or she always tries to give a cover story to give the Police or security forces the slip. But the Police, aware of this modus operandi made sure that none of the LTTE operatives would have a chance to slip their net.

Tigers’ intelligence in the city

During the beginning of 2006, the LTTE’s intelligence wing in Colombo was directly under Charles. After Charles was killed in Mannar by the Sri Lanka Army’s Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRP), the responsibility was taken over by the LTTE’s Madhawan.

The same year, the Western Province Police Intelligence unit (WPPIU) was able to nab a Tiger cadre by the name of Mayuran who had posed as a mango seller in Colombo. Later investigations revealed that Mayuran was an LTTE ‘handler’ and had directly reported to a person under intelligence leader Madhawan who lived in the Wanni. Under interrogation he had revealed that there were 12 LTTE cadres already in Colombo at that time. He also stated that six among them possessed the CDS licenses which permit them to work on board ships. The objective of these six was to obtain employment on board ships sailing between Colombo and Jaffna or Trincomalee. While on board, they were to gather information and pass them on to the LTTE cadres responsible. Their other target apart from the harbour was the Shell gas storage facility at Kerawalapitiya.

The LTTE handler Mayuran lived in Wattala and his residence was being often used as a meeting place by the other Tiger cadres based in Colombo. When this became known to the WPPIU, they planned to nab several Tigers at one go. A sergeant and a Police constable were dispatched on the mission to take Mayuran into custody. When these two officers arrived at Mayuran’s residence, they found only his wife was at home. Since their return without Mayuran may arouse his suspicions, they decided to stay at the LTTE handler’s house till his return. They gave strict instructions to Mayuran’s wife to carry on with her daily chores, of course under their eagle eyes, and act normal. She did this without any more urging.

However, these two Police officials had to stay in Mayuran’s house for the whole of four days until he returned. Mayuran too was blissfully unaware of his impending arrest as he arrived home. Instead of a warm greeting by his wife, he only found a handcuff clamped around his wrists. Thereafter, the Police officers forced Mayuran to call his other accomplices for a meeting at his residence. He did so and they too were arrested on arrival. Similarly, the WPPIU was able to nab two LTTE cadres from Modera and six more from the Kotahena area.
Pottu eyes lethal cargo in harbour 

In January 2009, the LTTE’s intelligence wing leader Pottu Amman had conveyed a special message to another Tiger operative in Colombo, Vinayagam. Pottu Amman had told Vinayagam that their leader had said that if they could target and destroy the vital lethal cargo being unloaded by the Sri Lanka Army at the storage facility in the Colombo harbour, the war could be delayed by at least another three to four months. The lethal cargo section is the location in the Colombo harbour where the armed forces unload and store their ammunition until it is transported elsewhere. Three to four months is the rough time frame it takes to replace a fresh cargo of ammunition.

 Following this message, Vinayagam set up a group of 19 cadres, which included six Black Tigers or suicide cadres. This group was led by another Tiger cadre by the name of Jaya. But Jaya had in his possession a National Identity Card (NIC) which gave his name as Saman Albert Nissanka from Norwood. He was very fluent in Sinhalese and had not roused any suspicions of having had Tiger connections.

Jaya trapped in own snare

When Jaya was ultimately arrested by the WPPIU, he had asked the intelligence officers why they were arresting an innocent Sinhalese. However the sleuths had checked the authenticity of his NIC with the Department for the Registration of Persons under whose purview the issuing of NIC come under. The Department had confirmed that the NIC was genuine. However, the WPPIU had other ideas about Jaya. They sought the assistance of the Norwood Police Station to trace the whereabouts of Saman Albert Nissanka of Norwood. Strangely, the Norwood Police after acceding to the request informed the WPPIU that they had successfully traced Saman Albert Nissanka and that he was in their custody. This confirmed the WPPIU’s suspicions. So they had this real Saman Albert Nissanka of Norwood brought down to Colombo and confronted the impostor.

This found Jaya trapped in his own snare. He knew that the game was up and started to spill the beans to the WPPIU officers. This led the sleuths to arrest the rest of the 19 member group mentioned above. On further information elicited from them, Police were able to recover a van with 325 kilogrames of C4 explosives, two Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPGs), four T-56 weapons and a grenade launcher with 40 rounds of ammunition.

Plan of the 19 Tigers

Further interrogations laid bare the plan to attack the lethal cargo storage at the Colombo harbour. The plan, according to the arrested Tiger cadres was as follows: 13 persons out of the 19 member group were to be deployed for surveillance and transport. Nine Black Tigers were to travel by van which would be laden with the explosives. When they approach the barrier manned by the Sri Lanka Navy near the De Saram Gate of the harbour, one Tiger suicide cadre alights from the stopped van and approaches the SL Navy sentries manning the gate. When he arrives close enough to cause maximum damage, he explodes his bomb concealed on his body. During the commotion following this initial explosion, the rest in the van would rush into the harbour premises firing their T-56 weapons and launching their grenades. The van would speed to the lethal cargo store and ram against it to trigger the C4 explosives concealed within. While the ammunition in the store would explode and cause untold damage, the Tiger cadres would board or attack the several ships anchored within the harbour.

Apart from delaying the ongoing war, this calamity, if it had been successful, would have forced the international shipping authorities to name the Colombo harbour as a very high risk destination. This would surely have struck a heavy blow to the local shipping industry and paralysed the industry.
Thus, the WPPIU’s diligence and timely arrests prevented this unimaginable destruction of an economic target within the city.

The Dehiwala couple and their target

 In 2007, two persons, a male and a female arrived at the Dehiwala Police Station. They identified themselves as Shashi and Stella who had married recently. Since they were to live in Dehiwala, they had arrived to register their names with the area Police station.

 Stella was a very pretty woman. While the registration process with all its paper work was being done, the police constable handling it had found that Stella was going out of her way to become friendly with him. Contrary to the normal situation where a pretty female could sway the attention and heart of a young man, this Police officer had reacted in a different way. Instead of his desires, his suspicions had been aroused. Immediately, without arousing the suspicions of the couple Stella and Shashi, the constable had informed the Officer in Charge (OIC) about his hunch. The OIC in turn had acted swiftly and detained the couple for questioning.

A thorough interrogation had bared another dastardly plot to assassinate another VVIP. Stella, in fact was a Black Tiger suicide cadre and Shashi (Handler) was her accomplice. Her target was the former LTTE breakaway and Eastern commander Karuna Amman alias Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan who was by then supportive of President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the security forces.

 However, when Stella and Shashi were being questioned at length, an Inspector of Police (IP) attached to the Dehiwala Police, IP Ajmar who had earlier been the Maligawatte Police OIC had attempted to get them released saying they were innocent Tamils. This too had aroused the suspicions of the Dehiwala OIC and he had informed the WPPIU which placed IP Ajmar under surveillance immediately.

 Traitor among the Police

Careful 24 hour surveillance from the WPPIU had laid bare another secret. Investigations had revealed that IP Ajmar had had direct links with the LTTE’s Colombo intelligence leader Charles. He was tasked by the Tigers to gather information on soft targets in the city and pass them on to the LTTE.

 Further investigations had revealed more. As a Crime OIC of the Maligawatte Police, Ajmar had arranged for an LTTE operative to set up a claymore mine in an area frequented by a high ranking Police officer. However, when this Police officer was driving by, even though the Tiger operative had pressed the button of the remote controller to detonate the mine, it had failed to explode. Following this, IP Ajmar had pretended to have detected the unexploded mine laid to target the Police high ranker. This so called act of bravery had earned Ajmar a reward from none other than the Inspector General of Police (IGP).

Attempted assassination bid on President

Again in 2008, the LTTE had attempted to assassinate President Mahinda Rajapaksa in Colombo. Here too, Charles was being assisted by IP Ajmar. When this plot too was bared, 16 Tiger cadres including a male suicide bomber were arrested. The plan was for IP Ajmar to provide the suicide bomber with a Police uniform, which he would wear with the explosives concealed within. IP Ajmar was to transport her to the location where Police guard would be provided on both sides of the road taken by the President. He would stand on the roadside and once the President approached, he would rush towards him and explode himself. But Ajmar and the Tiger cadres were arrested by the Western Province Intelligence unit before they could carry out their assassination plan.
 It came to light later that IP Ajmar had been paid a sum of Rs. 40,000 per month by the LTTE and he was also given a Dolphin van for his use. Currently Ajmar is in Police custody and further Investigations are continuing.

 Tiger communications

All these LTTE operatives in Colombo communicated with their leaders via e-mail. They had created a single URL address and a common password. They also used a single phone for this mission and changed its SIM card every now and then. Details of this were revealed in an earlier column.
Though most of these Tiger operatives are in custody now, the WPPIU is yet to lower its guard. The Unit is still hunting for Tiger cadres who they might have missed.

TID 

The Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) is another unique branch of the Sri Lanka Police which has succeeded in counter-terrorism. They have assisted and also arrested most Tiger operatives including suicide bombers, handlers and others. While the units’ dedication to service is exceptionally high, their method of operation too is quite unique. (This column has revealed more about the unit earlier). This Unit was able to expose the identity of the highest ranking Police officer who had links with the LTTE- Superintendent of Police (SP) Lakshman Cooray. Even today, the eagle eye of the TID is still hovering over the city and its suburbs.

 SIS

The State Intelligence Service (SIS) is another affiliate of the Sri Lanka Police. This service not only operates locally but also internationally, sometimes in tandem with foreign intelligence services. Theirs is an extremely covert operation and this unit was responsible for the arrest of Lt. Colonel Ranjith Perera for his ties with the LTTE. Even now, this service is continuously monitoring suspected terrorist movements within and off the shores of Sri Lanka.

Before and during the final battles in the North, there were several bomb explosions within and outside Colombo. Almost all these explosions had been carried out by Tiger operatives directly under the supervision of LTTE’s Kapil Amman. However, almost all those behind these explosions have been successfully arrested.
A senior Police officer told this columnist, “Though the war has ended the TID, WPPIU, SIS and the Police are still on the lookout for terrorist suspects and concealed materials.”

Due to the dedication and commitment of people in these intelligence units, the backbone of the Tigers in and around the Western Province is almost broken. Sans a visible and effective leadership, the remaining cadres, if any, may be dormant. The Eelamist threat cannot be completely ruled out as over. With the Tamil Diaspora still active internationally, the possibility of the threat rearing its ugly head still exists. Trained Tiger cadres too may be still moving around among them.

The billons in dollars accumulated by the Tiger terrorist outfit may be used to discredit Sri Lanka in the international arena. This can be clearly seen in the recent attempts by Channel 4 to tarnish the image of Sri Lanka. This vast wealth could be used by the remaining LTTE sympathisers to lobby foreign diplomats and politicians.
 Hence, with these potential threats not completely out of the way, Sri Lanka’s intelligence apparatus cannot and will not let its guard down, senior intelligence officers reiterated.