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This article appeared in the October 13, 1995 issue of Executive Intelligence Review.

Southern India, Sri
Lanka terrorist groups

by Joseph Brewda and Madhu Gurung

Map 10: Tamil Tigers Theater of Operations (PDF, 172K)

Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam

Name of group: Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

Other names: LTTE, Tamil Tigers.

Headquarters: Jaffna peninsula, Sri Lanka; headquarters previously in city of Jaffna.

Other major office/outlet: London; Paris, office of public spokesman Anton Balsingham; Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Founded: In 1972 as the Tamil New Tigers; renamed LTTE in 1973.

Locations of operations, areas active:

Terror operations in southern India, the Sri Lankan capital Colombo, and other locations in Sri Lanka. Waging guerrilla war against the Sri Lankan Army in the Tamil territory of Sri Lanka, particularly in the Jaffna peninsula, and terror campaigns in other locations. Currently holds two-thirds of the Sri Lankan coastline. Previously sought refuge in and operated from Tamil Nadu and Karnataka states in southern India, a mere 20 miles across the Palk Straits from LTTE-held areas of Sri Lanka. In southern India, in 1990, LTTE customarily hid out in the Vedaranyan wildlife sanctuary.

Major terrorist actions:

  • In May 1986, the LTTE exterminated the leadership of rival Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization, in a terror campaign.

  • In October 1988, the LTTE murdered 45 Sinhala villagers.

  • In February 1990, the LTTE kidnapped 15 Indian customs officials in Tamil Nadu, India.

  • In July 1990, the LTTE launched terror attack in Madras, Tamil Nadu state, India, against the headquarters of the Eelam People's Revolutionary Liberation Front, killing 14 leaders of this rival group.

  • On March 2, 1991, the LTTE murdered Sri Lankan Defense Minister Ranjan Wijeratne with a remote-control bombing device.

  • On May 21, 1991, the LTTE murdered former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, during an election rally, using a woman suicide-bomber. Bomb was composed of RDX explosives. Gandhi was killed, along with 15 others, including the alleged bomber. Although Prabakharan consistently denied responsibility for the assassination, a Washington, D.C.-based LTTE outlet did claim credit. It is believed that up to 500 LTTE members or sympathizers were involved in the plot against Gandhi. The alleged masterminds behind the plot were one Sivarasan (a.k.a. "One-Eyed Jack"), who used his cousin to act as a "human bomb" against Gandhi, and LTTE leader Peria Santham. Sivarasan was killed or killed himself during a shoot-out at a hideout in Bangalore, India on Aug. 19, 1991, along with 26 other persons at the hideout. Santham was trapped at his hideout in Trichy, Tamil Nadu, India, and committed suicide before capture.

  • In August 1992, the LTTE carried out the bombing-murder of Sri Lankan General Kobbekaduwa and nine others during a campaign rally in Kayts, Jaffna.

  • On April 26, 1993, the LTTE shot dead leading Sri Lankan opposition leader and former national security minister Lalith Athulathmudali, while he was campaigning in provincial elections. The assassin swallowed a cyanide capsule before capture.

  • On May 1, 1993, the LTTE murdered Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa. An LTTE suicide-bomber rammed her explosive-loaded bicycle into the President's motorcade, killing Premadasa, herself, and 34 other people. Bomber was believed to be a 14-year-old girl.

  • On June 5, 1995, the LTTE blew up a Red Cross ship chartered by the International Committee of the Red Cross, off the Jaffna peninsula.

  • On Aug. 7, 1995, an LTTE militant from India carried out a suicide-bombing, using a cart filled with plastic explosives, in Colombo, killing 22 people.

  • On Sept. 22, 1995, the LTTE hijacked a bus in Mannar Island in northern Sri Lanka, killing a policeman who refused to get off. This marks use by LTTE of tactics used by Khalistani terrorists in Punjab, India.

Trademark terror signatures: Suicide bombing; suicide squads, many of whom are composed of women; and car bombings. Explosive used in bombings is often heat-generating RDX, an explosive used by militaries in South Asia. Cadres customarily swallow cyanide capsules if captured or threatened with capture.

Leader name and aliases: Velupillai Prabhakaran is the LTTE's current leader in Sri Lanka. Oxford University-trained Anton Balsingham, residing in London and Paris, is the public spokesman for the LTTE. The LTTE's number-two leader, Sathisaivam Krishnakumar, alias Kittu, ran operations from London until August 1991, when his application for asylum in Great Britain was rejected in the aftermath of the May 1991 LTTE murder of former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Kittu then reportedly fled to France, where he went underground. Kittu was killed in January 1993 onboard a ship surrounded by Indian naval vessels off the southern Indian coast, as he was apparently trying to make his way back into Sri Lanka. LTTE intelligence chief Pottu Amman allegedly planned LTTE's major assassinations. LTTE leader in (West) Germany was Sooriyakumaran Selvadurai, who is reputed to be a multi-millionaire drug-dealer.

Groups allied to nationally or internationally:

According to July 1995 testimony received by the Jain Commission inquiry into the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, Khalistani (Sikh separatist) leader Jagjit Singh Chauhan reported that the LTTE and the Khalistani Liberation Force were co-conspirators in the assassination plot against Rajiv Gandhi. LTTE has also received safehousing in the past from the People's War Group (Naxalites) in Andhra Pradesh (see below).

A 1983 Sri Lankan intelligence report indicates that at that time, the LTTE had a "Libyan connection."

Religious/ideological/ethnic motivating ideology: The LTTE is dedicated to carving out a Tamil ethnic state (Tamil Eelam) of Sri Lanka. Prabakharan also claims to be Marxist.

Current number of cadres: About 15,000 in Sri Lanka. The LTTE is recruiting children, according to a July 1995 report of University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna). The LTTE, according to the group, wants to recruit 10,000 school children, especially targeting youths in the 12- to 16-year-old age bracket who have dropped out of school due to poverty. Recruitment tactics also include kidnapping children from schools at gunpoint. The Sri Lankan Air Force has charged the LTTE with using children in its front lines, as indicated by the numbers of LTTE casualties who were children, killed in an LTTE attack on Army camps in the Weli Oya area in July 1995. The LTTE also is using a high percentage of women for combat duties.

Training: In the early 1970s, the LTTE began establishing training camps and secret arms caches under the cover of a chain of Refugee and Rehabilitation Farms of the Gandhian Society. Funds for the farms came from Oxfam (Oxford Famine), one of the most powerful and secretive British intelligence organizations acting under non-governmental organization cover.

A number of State and private organizations in Lebanon, Libya, and Syria provided training to the Tamil groups. Ex-French legionnaires, dissident sects within the Palestine Liberation Organization, and a few South American groups were also involved in this. John Glover, a British feature writer, wrote to Western Mail in Wales about the ongoing and future training programs for Tamil youth by British mercenaries. "A band of mercenary soldiers recruited in South Wales is training a Tamil army to fight for a separate state in Sri Lanka. About 20 mercenaries were signed up after a meeting in Cardiff and have spent the last two months in southern India preparing a secret army to fight the majority Sinhalas, in the cause of a separate Tamil state in Sri Lanka," he said.

Russian Gen. Mikhail Barsukov reported in February 1990 that the LTTE had undergone special training in Lebanon and received combat experience there.

According to accounts by retired officials of the Israeli secret service, the Mossad, the Israelis were simultaneously training the Sri Lanka Army and the Tigers, and providing arms to each. Victor Ostrovsky, author of By Way of Deception, told Indian Abroad news service in 1991 that the Tigers were trained in Israel in 1985. "These groups kept coming and going. It was part of our routine job to take them to training camps and make sure that they were getting training worth what they paid for, not more and not less." The groups paid in cash.

Ostrovsky said that the arrangement for the training was made by the Mossad liaison in India, who lived there under a British passport.

A December 1983 Sunday Mail article reported that the Mossad was arming and training the Tigers, as well as the Sri Lankan Armed Forces.

One of the main figures involved in these operations, according to other reports, was Rafi Eytan, the former head of the Israeli intelligence agency LEKEM, which had been caught running spy Jonathan Pollard in the United States. Following the 1985 scandal, Eytan was transferred to become the head of Israeli Chemical Industries, in which capacity he spent time in Sri Lanka.

The British Special Air Services (SAS) firm Keenie Meenie Services, was simultaneously training the Sri Lankan Army and the LTTE.

Known drug connections: The LTTE is believed to finance its weapons procurement through drug trafficking. The LTTE is reported to be involved in trafficking heroin through Bombay, Turkey, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Italy, Canada, and the United States. In the early 1990s, over 600 cases involving Sri Lankan Tamil traffickers were reported to Interpol.

Known arms suppliers/routes: In August 1983, in Salonika, Greece, two West Germans were sentenced to four years imprisonment on charges of illegal transport of arms and ammunition, by a transport plane which took off from East Berlin and landed at Salonika. The plane was headed for Sri Lanka, where the LTTE was scheduled to pick up the 267 cases in the plane which contained 300,000 rounds for automatic rifles and 400 rockets.

According to intelligence reports, most of the arms used by the LTTE are purchased from Singapore, India, Afghanistan, and the Mideast. Soviet-made AK47 Automatic Kalashnikovs, T56 Chinese assault rifles, the Indian-Belgian AKMS, and the M16 manufactured by the Colt company in the United States (believed to have been obtained by way of Vietnam) have been the common weapons of the LTTE guerrilla.

In late 1980s and early 1990s, the LTTE is known to have received weapons from munitions factories in India. In 1990, the LTTE was receiving small weapons from factories in the Tamil Nadu centers of Ranipet, Coimbatore, Salem, and Trichengode.

In 1987, the Hindustan Times reported that large quantities of arms with Pakistani and Israeli markings were seized by the Indian Peacekeeping Force in Jaffna from the LTTE.

In 1989, according to a Sri Lankan government secretary, the LTTE was receiving armaments directly from the Sri Lankan government of President Ranasinghe Premadasa, who wanted to force the expulsion of the Indian Peacekeeping Force from Sri Lanka, and who was also using the LTTE to wipe out the JVP (People's Liberation Front) Sinhala insurgency.

In November 1991, the Indian Navy seized a large ship carrying large amounts of arms, ammunition, and clothes from Singapore to the LTTE.

In October 1993, the Indian daily The Pioneer charged that Pakistan had been clandestinely supplying arms to the LTTE, from a location close to the Karachi port. Sources in Dubai said this arms supply line was uncovered when an Indian naval vessel intercepted the LTTE ship MV Yahata Maru on Jan. 16, 1993.

In November 1994, the Sri Lankan government asked the Indian Navy to intercept a suspected arms shipment to the LTTE, believed to be 10 tons of arms and explosives coming from a "Black Sea port."

The LTTE has now acquired radar-guided anti-aircraft missiles, according to July 1995 reports. The LTTE reportedly has bought Russian-made Strela anti-aircraft missiles from Belgian arms dealers.

Known political supporters/advocates: On Nov. 25, 1991, the police in Tamil Nadu, India, arrested former state home secretary R. Nagarajan, of the DMK Tamil party in Tamil Nadu, for sheltering and protecting LTTE assassins. Indian supporters of the Tigers have begun to exert pressure on New Delhi to back the Tigers once more. V. Gopalasamy, leader of the Tamil Nadu-based political party MDMK, says that his support for the LTTE and formation of Eelam in Sri Lanka was a "conscious, deeply thought-out decision." The DMK, one of the two leading parties in the state of Tamil Nadu, passed an official resolution supporting Eelam in 1984. Gopalasamy, dismissing any suggestion that the pro-Eelam movement is anti-national, told reporters that there is "no need to take the permission of the Indian government" before adopting such a position.

On April 13-14, 1995, forty-three LTTE prisoners in the Tippu Mahal jail in the Tellore fort camp in Tamil Nadu broke out of prison. Nine were captured in Madras city, two committed suicide with cyanide capsules before capture, and the rest escaped.

There are indications that the LTTE is receiving some support from the National Council of Christian Churches (NCCC). In July 1995, American national Kenneth Mulder was arrested by Sri Lankan police at Vavuniya for alleged links to the LTTE. An NCCC worker, Mulder was arrested after a police raid of NCCC's offices came up with evidence linking them to support operations for the LTTE.

In the 1995 war between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan Army, the International Committee of the Red Cross has been refusing to put its food-ships through government security checks at the port of Kankesanthurai, and is instead insisting that they be allowed to travel directly to the LTTE's Point Pedro pier, thus delivering food to the civilian population directly through the LTTE.

Known funding: LTTE relies on financing first from Tamil expatriates in the West. In August 1986, a West German prosecutor accused the LTTE of blackmailing Tamil expatriates. Prosecution noted that the LTTE terrorists took a route that went from Sri Lanka to East Berlin to West Germany, and then on to Canada.

Rajiv Gandhi assassin Sivarasan reportedly traveled to Singapore, France, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait to raise funds for the LTTE.

Thumbnail historical profile: A small group called the Tamil New Tigers was formed in 1972 by Velupillai Prabhakaran, a reported communist. It was soon renamed the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a.k.a. the Tamil Tigers. Its first act was the 1973 assassination of the Tamil mayor of Jaffna, the main Tamil-area city.

In 1976, then-Prime Minister of India Indira Gandhi began covert aid to the Tamil insurgents. She apparently favored a federal solution for the Tamil-speaking provinces of the island. Gandhi gave the insurgents sanctuary in Madras, the capital of Tamil Nadu, and allowed them to form jungle training camps in the state. In 1977, Sri Lankan President Junius Jayawardene again became prime minister. Gandhi reportedly suspected that the United States wanted to establish a naval base in Sri Lanka in Trincomalee harbor for use in policing the Indian Ocean, and accelerated her efforts. Gandhi lost power that year, but regained it in 1980, and resumed her policy of aiding the Tamil insurgency, which blew wide-open in 1983.

Buddhist monastic-led riots against the Tamils occurred in 1977, 1981, and 1983. The last, the most violent, led to the deaths of some 2,000 Tamils, and turned 80,000 to 100,000 Tamils into refugees. The riots were reportedly triggered by the news of the Tigers' ambush and killing of a couple of jeeps carrying 18 soldiers in northern Sri Lanka.

The 1983 insurrection and riots increased the pressure on Jayawardene to find a solution acceptable to the Buddhist chauvinists. In trips to Britain and the United States that year, he asked for counterinsurgency training and military aid. Both governments publicly refused, but provided covert assistance.

As a result of bringing in SAS and the Israelis, the civil war steadily worsened. In 1985, Jayawardene was forced to directly negotiate with the Tamils in Bhutan, under Indian auspices. In 1987, he was forced to sign the Indo-Sri Lankan peace accord, which gave autonomy to the Tamil areas in the north and east of the island. An amnesty was declared, and 3,000 Indian troops, and then many more, were sent as a peacekeeping force. The situation soon exploded.

A key feature of the Indo-Sri Lanka peace accords was that the expulsion of the Israelis was demanded. Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, speaking in Delhi, denounced "outside forces" whose employment was dependent on continued violence. With the coming to power of Sri Lankan President Premadasa, the LTTE was used by the government against the Indian peacekeeping forces, and also against the Sinhalese insurgent JVP. In the early 1990s, the LTTE slowly escalated its low-intensity war against the Sri Lankan government. When peace negotiations, initiated in spring 1995 by newly elected President Chandrika Kumaratanga, broke down, the LTTE launched full-scale war against the Sri Lankan government.

People's War Group

Name of Group: People's War Group (PWG).

Any other name: Also commonly called the Naxalites.

Headquarters: Parts of Telangana region of India's Andhra Pradesh; Gadchiroli, Maharashtra; Bastar, Madhya Pradesh.

Founded: In the early 1960s; reactivated in 1986-87.

Major terrorist actions:

  • Abduction of eight top bureaucrats in the East Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh on Dec. 27, 1987.

  • On Aug. 18, 1988, ten policemen were shot inside the Alampalli forest in Adilabad district in Andhra Pradesh.

  • Kidnapped a Congress Party legislative assembly member in Andhra Pradesh, and blew up the house of an Andhra Pradesh minister on Jan. 29-30, 1993.

  • Kidnapped four policemen from Nizamabad district in Andhra Pradesh in January 1990.

  • In 1989, the PWG kidnapped two members of the legislative Assembly in Andhra Pradesh.

Trademark terror signatures: Kidnapping of government officials and using them as exchange for the release of imprisoned Naxalites; blowing up houses by placing bombs; exploding lethal bombs in crowded places.

Leaders name and aliases: Kondapalli Seetaramaiah; Mukku Subba Reddy; Muppala Laxman Rao, alias Ganpathy; Mallujula Koteshwar Rao; Puli Anjaiah.

Groups allied to nationally or internationally: Indian People's Front (IPF) in Bihar is also a Naxalite-terrorist front operating in at least five districts in Bihar; the Khalistan Liberation Front and the LTTE are also allied groups. Loosely associated with Revolutionary International Movement (RIM) (see below).

Religious/ideological/ethnic motivating ideology: Imbued with Marxist-Leninist ideology, PWG incites, arms, and engages the tribals and the marginal farmers against the police and other instruments of the establishment. Constant "actions" in the form of killing is the motivating force behind the ideology.

Known controllers/mentors/theoreticians of: On paper, PWG has a pantheon of mentors, including Mao and Lenin. At the local level, Charu Mazumdar, the founder of the Naxalite movement in West Bengal and Satyanarayana, among others, is considered a "hero" by the PWG.

At the same time, the U.S.-based Asia Watch and the U.K.-based Amnesty International have complained from time to time about "police brutalities" against the PWG. A 49-page report was issued by Asia Watch in 1992 entitled "Police Killings and Rural Violence in Andhra Pradesh."

In 1984, Amnesty International demanded the setting up of an "independent judicial mechanism" in India to inquire into the killing of political activists alleged to be Naxalites.

Current number of cadres: Over 5,000.

Training: Trained in Andhra Pradesh in the jungles. Arms were made available through PWG connections with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and Khalistanis in particular. Reports indicate that the LTTE has also provided them with arms training.

Known arms suppliers/routes: The LTTE and the Khalistanis.

Known political supporters/advocates: Trade union activists in Singareni coal mines, the student wings of the Revolutionary Students' Union, and a number of academicians in local universities.

The ruling Telegu Desam party under N.T. Rama Rao, in the early-1980s, encouraged the PWG to go after and weaken the Congress Party, Telegu Desam's main opposition.

Thumbnail historical profile: PWG feeds on the country's failure to provide relief to the marginal farmers, and to integrate the forest tribals. PWG campaigns against the landlord-politician nexus, and the rigid forest policy of the government. PWG incites the tribals, claiming that the forestland belongs to the tribals. It also encourages grabbing forestland and setting up confrontations with government officials. Forestland is used as the group's base of operation. The success of the PWG cadres lies in extracting money from the tobacco plantation owners and tobacco contractors. Perhaps it is for these reasons that the PWG has remained confined within the tribal belt. The leadership fights among the leaders continue to weaken the group. But it is their propensity to kill government officials that has helped them to recruit desperate criminals and other individuals.

The Naxalite movement, of which it is a product, was founded by Charu Mazumdar in 1967 in the village of Naxalbari, West Bengal, as a split-off of the Communist Party of India (M). The movement was protected by sections of the West Bengal government, and the group took to the streets in Calcutta. Soon, however, the group came under the patronage of China, leading to a concerted Indian government crackdown. Although crushed in West Bengal, the Naxalites spread to Andhra Pradesh and other states, where they concentrated on organizing tribals and backward peasants. In 1978, the group became a major force in Punjab, and its cadre later became leaders of the Sikh terrorist movement.

In March 1984, a Naxalite international was created in London, under the name Revolutionary International Movement (RIM). Among the members of this international are: the Revolutionary Communist Party USA, its founding organization; Shining Path of Peru; the Turkish Communist Party (ML); the Communist Party of India (ML); the Union of Iranian Communists; the Ceylon Communist Party; and other organizations often active in narcotics growing or transshipment areas.

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