Another human bomb

Published : Jun 19, 1999 00:00 IST

An LTTE human bomb kills a "Tiger Hunter" in Batticaloa, leaving the future of the anti-LTTE campaign in the East uncertain.

THE Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has a reputation for the use of suicide killers. Members of its suicide squad, called 'Black Tigers', have driven explosives-laden vehicles onto military and economic targets. The first Black Tiger was Miller, who rammed a truck into a Sri Lankan Army camp at the Nelliaddy Madhya Maha Vidyalayam on July 5, 1987.

The assassination of Rajiv Gandhi at Sriperumpudur in Tamil Nadu on May 21, 1991 was carried out by a suicide killer. There were five significant "first time" aspects to that operation: it was the first time that the LTTE targeted an Indian political l eader; it was the first time that it conducted a major operation outside Sri Lanka and on Indian soil; it was the first time that a woman suicide killer was engaged; it was the first time that the belt bomb, a device strapped to the body, was used; and f inally, it was the first time that a 'human bomb' was used for the purpose of assassinating a single individual. Sri Lankan Defence Minister Ranjan Wijeratne, who was killed on March 2, 1991, was the victim of a car bomb.

Initially the LTTE plan was to use human bombs only to target important personalities, such as President Ranasinghe Premadasa or Opposition leader Gamini Dissanayake. In recent times, however, it has lowered its sights as far as targets are concerned. A female cadre was used as a human bomb in an attempt on a middle-rung police investigator a few months ago.

On May 29, for the first time the LTTE killed a leader of a rival Tamil group using a human bomb. The target was 35-year-old Muthulingam Ganeshkumar, whose nom de guerre was Razeek. Based in Batticaloa, the capital of the Eastern Province, and le ading an unorthodox entity called the "Razeek Group", he had acquired a name for himself as one who had dedicated himself to fighting the Tigers in the east.

Razeek himself had a simple, unambiguous approach towards the LTTE. Unlike some Tamil groups such as the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation (TELO) and the People's Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), which align themselves with the Sri Lanka n Army on the one hand and act sympathetically towards the LTTE on the other, the Razeek Group fought along with the Army while retaining operational autonomy. The group formally belonged to the National Auxiliary Corps and was designated the ninth batta lion of the Sri Lankan National Guards. The 250-strong unit was trained in the North Central Province Infantry Training School at Minneriya. Razeek himself had undergone an officers' training course. He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant but refused to accept formal appointment saying that he was entitled to the rank of Major or at least Captain. Razeek was posthumously promoted Lieutenant.

Razeek had a fascination for guns and motorcycles. On the day of his death, he had gone with some of his cadres to a motor vehicle workshop called Ivan's, situated in the heart of Batticaloa town, to purchase a motorcycle from a trader, Mohammed Ali Th ahir. Another motorcycle, which was seized from a Tiger cadre, was being repaired at Ivan's.

Around 12-30 p.m. a teenager came cycling on the Trincomalee road. Razeek was standing in front of the garage, chatting with Thahir. His bodyguard, Chandran Jeyakumar, stood a few yards away. Alongside Razeek was 27-year-old Paramanathan Thayaparan alias Thaya. Further away was a double cab vehicle with four armed cadres. The teenager suddenly entered the garage premises, pedalled towards Razeek and jumped on him. The human bomb exploded. Razeek, Chandran, Thahir and the killer died on the spot. Nine ot hers, including five of Razeek's cadres, were injured. Of them Thaya succumbed to his injuries in hospital. The Tigers had struck again.

THE Razeek Group was firmly entrenched in Batticaloa. Its main camp was a mansion and the sprawling property that surrounds it on Lake Road, opposite the lagoon. It was at one time the residence of former parliamentarian Sam Thambimuthu. Both he and his wife Kala were gunned down in 1990 by the LTTE in Colombo.

The Razeek Group had a pervasive and dominating presence in the town and were always on the alert for Tiger infiltrators. As a result, the LTTE found itself unable to penetrate the areas that fell under the Batticaloa Municipality.

Investigations are on in Batticaloa to find out how the LTTE obtained intelligence on Razeek's movements. According to preliminary revelations, though unconfirmed, at least one of the employees at Ivan's was a Tiger informant. More important, there seems to be evidence that the Razeek Group itself has been infiltrated by LTTE cadres. Reportedly, one of the cadres who had come to the garage with Razeek complained of sickness and got Razeek's permission to return to the camp. It is said that the man never reached the camp. He is the prime suspect for having tipped off the LTTE. Also, a group of cadres reportedly "deserted" the Razeek Group after the assassination. At present a cleansing process is under way within the group. It is supervised by the actin g head, 33-year-old Sivaguru Navaratnarajah alias Gandhi.

A group of journalists had visited Batticaloa and interviewed Razeek a few days before he was killed. A confident Razeek claimed that in recent operations his group had killed 30 Tigers and had lost 21 men. He also referred fondly to his association with the Indian Peace-Keeping Force (IPKF) in the late 1980s. He claimed that he had killed 374 Tigers during that period. When he was asked whether he feared that the Tigers would get him one day, Razeek replied: "No. It is a way of life. We have been in th is game since 1983."

Razeek was born in the ancient Tamil village of Karaitheevu in Amparai district. His father was a government clerk and mother a schoolteacher. In school, he became a activist of the General Union of Eelam Students (GUES), the student wing of the Eelam Pe ople's Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF). He, along with hundreds of Karaitheevu youth, joined the EPRLF after the 1983 anti-Tamil pogrom. The village itself was an EPRLF stronghold. After being trained initially at an EPRLF camp, he was selected al ong with 119 other EPRLF cadres to undergo intensive training in Uttar Pradesh in early 1984.

On returning to Sri Lanka, he was involved in the activities of the EPRLF in the east until 1986, when he was promoted and sent to Mullaitheevu. The LTTE struck against the TELO in April 1986 and against the EPRLF in December 1986. The comparatively weak EPRLF found itself helpless in the face of the fratricidal onslaught. Razeek was forced to witness the killing of his comrades by members of a fellow militant movement. At one point, cornered by the Tigers, Razeek had no choice but to take his chances w ith the traditional enemy, the "Sinhala" Army. He surrendered at the Mullaitheevu army camp. This was perhaps a defining moment.

Thereafter Razeek, along with some others, cooperated with the Army. He served as a "spotter" when Operation Liberation was conducted in Vadamaratchchi by the Army in 1987. When hostilities broke out between the IPKF and the LTTE, the EPRLF was propped u p as an alternative to the LTTE to represent the Tamil people. Soon the EPRLF took over the newly established North-East Provincial Council, and its leader Varadaraja Perumal became Chief Minister. Razeek, a confidant of Perumal, was elevated in rank. H e functioned for a while as the leader of an auxiliary unit of the IPKF. Later he became a regional commandant of the Civilian Volunteer Force (CVF), also known as the Tamil National Army.

Razeek continued to be active in the East even after the Indian Army left. He tried to function independently for some time and then teamed up with the Sri Lankan Army. He left for India in 1991. Not much was heard of him until he surfaced in Colombo aft er war broke out with the LTTE again. The secretary-general of the EPRLF, Suresh Premacha-ndran, was not willing to resurrect the military wing of the EPRLF. Razeek, however, wanted to go on with his mission of fighting the Tigers. So he entered into a d eal with the Army's intelligence section and formed his own group. Initially it was considered a breakaway faction of the EPRLF. Soon it became clear that the Razeek Group had struck out on its own although it still had some links with the EPRLF.

For public consumption the group bearing the nomenclature Razeek Group began functioning in the Eastern Province, particularly in Batticaloa. Coopted as a unit of the National Auxiliary Force, it obtained military training and functioned as an integral u nit of the Army while retaining autonomy of action. Soon it became the most determined Tamil group fighting the LTTE. Unlike other Tamil groups which hunt with the hounds and run with the hare, the Razeek Group fought a bloody campaign. It soon became t he dominant Tamil entity in Batticaloa town.

The return of Varadaraja Perumal to Sri Lanka early this year (Frontline, February 12, 1999) saw an alliance emerging again between Razeek and his erstwhile mentor. It was Razeek who provided basic security to Perumal when he travelled in the East . Perumal had the political objective of resurrecting the defunct North-East Provincial Council. This was to be preceded by the setting up of an interim administrative council. The ex-Chief Minister felt that a full-fledged Tamil fighting force was a pre requisite for this project. Otherwise the LTTE would sabotage everything. Razeek concurred with him. Plans to expand the Razeek Group into a much larger force were drawn up.

Before a significant forward movement could be registered in this regard, the LTTE struck decisively. There is a view that the Tigers accelerated their plan to kill Razeek because they were aware of Razeek's plan to expand his force as the cutting edge o f Perumal's political objectives. The fact that the LTTE departed from usual practice and sent a human bomb to blow up a Tamil rival itself is attributed to the sense of urgency felt by the Tigers to launch a pre-emptive strike against the Perumal-Razeek combine. In that case, Razeek's death has come as a death blow to Perumal's plans.

The man who had soldiered on, taking on the LTTE, was given a funeral with full military honours at Karaitheevu on May 30. The ceremony was presided over by Thurairatnam, the EPRLF's regional leader for Batticaloa-Amparai districts, and attended by the m ilitary top brass in the region. Razeek's coffin was wrapped in the Sri Lankan flag. A noteworthy feature was the conspicuous absence of public mourning. The convulsions caused within the group by his death had prevented the cadres from organising widesp read demonstrations of grief.

The ordinary people did not seem saddened at all. The reason for this is not far to seek. Although Razeek was regarded in awe as a rare Tamil who fearlessly fought against the Tigers, there was an unsavoury side to his personality. The EPRLF at one time was regarded as the least violent and the most decent among the Tamil groups. The passage of time, particularly in the case of its relationship vis-a-vis the LTTE, has transformed that image. Razeek himself was both a creature and a creator of the "New" EPRLF.

Razeek had acquired a reputation for ruthlessness. He was ruthless when it came to combating the Tigers. He also had, like many Tamil militants of eastern origin, a sense of animus towards Muslims. It is alleged that Razeek was responsible for the massac re of some Muslim policemen in 1990. After taking over Batticaloa in 1995, he began adopting negative tactics in combating the Tigers.

It is said that he once dragged a suspected Tiger cadre, chained to his motorcycle, for several miles in full view of the public. There have been beheadings too. The Razeek Group is known to resort to torture when interrogating suspected LTTE cadres.

In addition, Razeek began setting up a financial empire. Large amounts of money were extorted from the civilian population as taxes. Levies were imposed on almost every section, including farmers and businessmen. Several businesses were set up and citize ns compelled to patronise them. A lucrative avenue of income was the monopoly exercised by the Razeek Group in felling timber and transporting sand for building purposes.

The negative attributes made Razeek almost a mirror image of his adversaries, the Tigers. They also made him unpopular. He was feared more than he was loved. In that context, a public show of grief was impossible. The more important consequence of Razeek 's killing is the uncertainty that looms over the future of the anti-LTTE campaign in the East.

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