A haven lost

Print edition : April 14, 2001

Will the British ban seriously affect the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam's support operations from Europe?

THE recommendation by Home Secretary Jack Straw to proscribe 21 international "terrorist" groups was approved by the British Parliament recently. The Asian groups proscribed under the new Terrorism Act 2000 were the Al-Qa'ida (Usama Bin Laden network, or UBL network), the International Sikh Youth Federation (ISYF), the Babbar Khalsa International (BKI), the Harkatul Mujahideen (HM), the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JM), the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

An anti-LTTE demonstration by hardliners in Colombo caricaturing Norwegian and British standpoints on the question of terrorism, in a photograph taken ahead of the British proscription of the LTTE.-SRIYANTHA WALPOLA

All these groups have built rudimentary to extensive terrorist support infrastructure in the United Kingdom, primarily to advance their political aims and to raise funds for political and military activities. Among these groups, the LTTE has established a network in the U.K. for carrying out state-of-the-art propaganda, raising funds, training cadre and procuring and shipping weapons.

The list of groups was developed by the Home Office after consultations with the internal and external intelligence and security agencies - the MI5 and the MI6 - and the Special Branch of the police. It considered six factors: the nature and scale of the group, its activities, the specific threat it poses to the U.K., the specific threat it poses to British nationals overseas, the extent of the organisation's presence in the U.K., and the need to support other members of the international community in the global fight against terrorism.

All the 21 groups participated in terrorist activity. They attacked civilians and civilian infrastructure in order to achieve political change. The bulk of the groups attacked foreign nationals or foreign interests, including British human and physical targets. For instance, 17 November assassinated the British Defence Attache in Greece, and the Harkatul Mujahideen murdered British tourists in Kashmir. Most of the groups operated in the U.K. through front, cover and sympathetic organisations, carried out propaganda and raised funds. For instance, the LTTE operated through 40 affiliates, such as the United Tamil Organisation, the Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation, the Tamil Centre for Human Rights and the Tamil Information Centre.

Sathasivam Krishnakumar alias Kittu, the former 'commander' of the LTTE, who established the organisation's "international secretariat" in London in 1990. He later moved to France and then to Switzerland and was thereafter killed in a mid-sea confrontation with the Indian Navy in 1993.-K. GAJENDRAN

Some of these groups, notably the Asian groups, generated funds voluntarily or by intimidating their diaspora and migrant communities. Others are engaged in credit card fraud, trafficking in narcotics and kidnapping. According to the U.K. police, some groups operating through front, cover or sympathetic organisations applied for and received funds from several charities and foundations purportedly for welfare and humanitarian projects. The LTTE, for instance, received grants from borough councils and the national lotteries charities board. Some of the funds generated by the LTTE were monitored and found to have been feeding procurement accounts. The more sophisticated groups, including the LTTE, engaged in legitimate trade, businesses and investments. The LTTE has invested in the gold trade, the film industry, export-import business and in the sale of phone cards.

The LTTE raised up to 2 million to 3 million a year in the U.K. The bulk of it came from segments of the Sri Lankan Tamil community whose strength in the U.K. is estimated at 120,000; they were subjected to sustained LTTE propaganda primarily disseminated by its offices and cells in the U.K. The LTTE fund collectors visited the homes and workplaces of Sri Lankan Tamils, especially the new arrivals, and demanded a mandatory payment of 200-300 each. While part of the funds were laundered in the U.K., the other part was transferred out for military and dual technology procurement.

THE Terrorism Act aims to suppress the support to and encouragement and promotion of domestic and international terrorism. The Act replaces the Prevention of Terrorism Act of 1974, which was developed mainly to control the Irish terrorist groups. The need for a new law arose because the methods of operation of the terrorist groups dramatically changed in the 1980s and the 1990s. Sathasivam Krishnakumar alias Kittu established the international secretariat of the LTTE in London in 1990. After the Rajiv Gandhi assassination, the U.K. authorities served Kittu a quit notice on the grounds that he engaged in extortion of funds from Tamils living in the country. Kittu moved to France, and then to Switzerland, where he lived for a year before boarding the LTTE arms ship m.v. Ahat (also known as Yahata), which was interdicted by the Indian Navy in January 1993. (He died in a mid-sea confrontation on January 14; Frontline, February 12, 1993.)

The misuse of U.K. soil by terrorist leaders is best illustrated by Kittu's activities. He played a critical role in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi - he coordinated some of the logistics for Sivarajan, the operations commander of the assassination team. Over the phone, Kittu (who was in Chennai during the International Peace-Keeping Force episode) made arrangements for Sivarajan's stay in Chennai and got some Indian nationals to assist in the assassination plan. Furthermore, Kittu indirectly helped draw up the modus operandi of the assassination. Operating from the U.K., he dispatched the famous video "Death Wish II" through the LTTE's clandestine office in Chennai and thereafter by boat to Jaffna. It showed a beautiful woman presenting a bouquet to a world leader and then assassinating him by activating the explosives strapped to her body.

After Kittu's expulsion from the U.K., the LTTE continued to maintain its secretariat in London but ensured that its head resided outside the country. Kittu was succeeded by John Christian Chrysosthom alias Lawrence Tilagar, also a military-trained LTTE cadre who was based in Paris. In late 1996, Tilagar was succeeded by V. Manoharan, an LTTE activist based in Paris, who was fined 120,000 francs and convicted by the French authorities for possession of heroin. Manoharan remains the head of the international secretariat.

The U.K., along with other affluent countries, emerged as a major centre for disseminating terrorist propaganda, raising funds, recruiting and training cadre and procuring and shipping weapons and dual technology in the 1990s.

LTTE leaders such as Tharmalingam Shanmugam Kumaran alias Kumaran Pathmanthan, the chief procurement officer of the LTTE, visited the U.K.

As a response to such transnational developments that threatened international security and stability, the United Nations formulated a convention on the suppression of the financing of terrorism. The U.K. is a signatory to the convention. With terrorist groups harnessing the advantages of globalisation and becoming increasingly mobile, the U.K. decision is likely to set a trend for countries of the Commonwealth and the European Union to suppress foreign terrorist presence on their soil. Many governments affected by the activities of transnational terrorist groups from their countries have saluted the U.K. for having developed a list of terrorist organisations.

The ruthlessness of the LTTE and its formidable presence in the U.K. are the factors that influenced the U.K. government to include the LTTE in the list of proscribed organisations. But some elements in the Sri Lankan government tried to take credit for the proposed proscription. In reality, there has been grave failure on the part of the Sri Lankan intelligence agencies to provide the U.K. authorities with the kind of high-grade intelligence required for linking U.K.-raised funds to terrorism in Sri Lanka, which is essential to prosecute LTTE activists in the U.K. The failure stems from the current Sri Lankan government's politicisation of the intelligence apparatus in 1995 by replacing its professionals with novices. The internal and external intelligence directorates of Sri Lanka are currently headed by retired officers. The Sri Lankan intelligence apparatus is plagued by inefficiency, inter-agency rivalry, bureaucratic control by the Ministry of Defence, the pressure to gather political intelligence and the lack of coordination with the security forces and the foreign service.

The capacity of the Sri Lankan state to counter the LTTE's international propaganda suffered when Ravinatha Ariyasinghe, the head of the Foreign Ministry's publicity division, was transferred on political grounds. It is not unusual for Sri Lankan politicians to compromise national and strategic interests for short-term gains, political and personal. The self-destruction of the anti-LTTE propaganda cell at a time when the U.K. decided to proscribe the LTTE prevented the Sri Lankan government from effectively lobbying other countries to follow the U.K. example.

In the backdrop of these problems, the West has been slow in taking substantive action against the LTTE. The toleration of terrorist groups by Western governments has led to the growth and expansion of their influence as in the case of the LTTE. For years, the U.K. government informed Sri Lanka that its agencies were monitoring the LTTE's activities on its soil. Like Sri Lanka several countries suffered because of terrorists abusing the U.K.'s hospitality to plan, prepare and conduct their operations from London. For instance, when the LTTE's operational cells in Colombo were hard pressed for cash, the U.K. unit transferred funds to its operatives in the Sri Lankan capital.

The intelligence and security community of the U.K. favoured the idea of permitting these groups to conduct their operations openly, stating that British human and technical mechanisms were monitoring them. With reports of terrorists buying armaments and technologies from the U.K. as well as using it as a base for procurement operations, the authorities realised the difficulty of effectively monitoring foreign terrorist groups based in London. The British government did not give priority to monitoring the LTTE and Indian terrorist groups. As most Asian groups used the U.K. only to conduct support operations, the West Asian groups were considered the most important by the security and intelligence agencies.

The LTTE procured 60 tonnes of high explosives from the Rubezone chemical plant in Ukraine using funds raised in the U.K., Germany, Switzerland and Canada. Sothilingam Shantha-kumar, a Sri Lankan Tamil with a British passport, visited Ukraine and initiated the purchase after paying 40,000. The LTTE used the explosives to destroy or damage the Central Bank in 1996, the World Trade Centre in 1997, and the Temple of the Tooth in 1998. The explosives from the consignment continue to kill thousands of civilians and soldiers while Sothilingam Shanthakumar continues to sit in Eelam House, the LTTE's office in London, not far away from the Guys Hospital.

Using their freedom to operate openly in the U.K., the terrorist groups set up fronts to disseminate information to politicise, radicalise and mobilise the diaspora and migrants who had left the conflict zones. They also built lobbying capability in the host countries and mobilised public support for political and violent terrorist activities. The LTTE established the International Broadcast-ing Corporation (IBC) in Vauxhall, London, which continues to transmit LTTE information worldwide.

These LTTE fronts were so bold and deceptive that they even approached the government of Sri Lanka and its organs for funds. The IBC's directors nearly duped a former Sri Lankan High Commissioner, S.K. Wickramasinghe, in London into authorising the grant of government funds. Fortunately, the High Commission's information councillor Aruna Kulatunge presented sufficient evidence to block the transfer of funds.

THE Terrorism Act has been criticised by a few U.K.-based terrorist-infiltrated human rights organisations and a few British politicians. British politicians dependent on the migrant vote are susceptible to pressure from some migrant constituencies to speak against the Act. Terrorist groups with influence over these migrant communities are known to have approached politicians and promised them several thousand votes in return for their support in Parliament.

The proscription of terrorist groups is compatible with the criminal justice system of the U.K. and both the European and international human rights conventions. There is a provision for any proscribed terrorist group or any person affected by the proscription to make an application to the Home Secretary against the step. If the application is rejected, the organisation or individual can appeal to a newly created independent tribunal - the Proscribed Organisations Appeal Commission.

Throughout the 1990s, many foreign governments, including India, protested against or expressed concern over London turning into a safe haven for terrorist groups. Except a few, the terrorist groups did not stage attacks on U.K. soil but used it as a base for their operations. International pressure on the U.K. to produce a list of terrorist groups increased after the United States State Department released a list of 28 (adding two later) in October 1997.

The governments of Canada and Europe are likely to follow suit. Australia, Canada, France and Switzerland remain major centres for terrorist support activity. These countries, signatories to the U.N. Convention on the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism of 2000, are developing similar legislation.

IN the 21st century, organised crime and globalised terrorism have become major threats to national and international security. In the post-Cold War period, many ragtag groups have become sophisticated by using communication and travel facilities which have become less expensive, and small arms which are readily available. Using porous borders, they challenge the security of many nation states. Furthermore, with the creation of transnational offices and cells, these groups have begun to threaten not only their target states but also their neighbours. Today, the LTTE poses considerable threat to Sri Lankan and South Indian security. Despite being proscribed in India, Malaysia and the U.S., the group continues to operate in these countries, often with the support of corrupt political leaders and bureaucrats.

By examining how terrorist groups operate in countries where they are banned, terrorist behaviour after proscription can be predicted. They are likely to go underground and conduct their support activities. By infiltrating human rights, humanitarian, cultural and political organisations or setting up new ones, they are likely to continue with their support operations. As such, the U.K. authorities will have to see whether the groups have infiltrated any existing organisations or set up new front organisations. The proscribed groups are likely to hire lawyers and challenge the proscription. The LTTE has informed the U.K. authorities that its proscription will hamper future peace negotiations with the Sri Lankan government. The British authorities have reminded the LTTE that the U.K. and Spanish governments have negotiated with terrorist organisations even after their proscription, the Irish Republican Army and Euzkadi Ta Askatasuna respectively. Intelligence assessments by several governments reveal that the LTTE is not serious about peace negotiations and only wishes to have a period of peace so that it can regroup, rearm and retrain its cadre.

The U.K. proscription has made the LTTE and others criminal groups and restricted their activity and mobility in the country. Although the proscription will increase the immediate and mid- term threat to British security, it will reduce the long-term threat. As foreign terrorist groups often learn from one another and occasionally pass on technologies and concepts to domestic terrorist groups, outlawing and disrupting their presence in London will enhance international security in the long term. As terrorist groups are revengeful, the British government is likely to witness terrorist attacks and possible cooperation between the Irish terrorist groups and foreign groups in the immediate and medium term.

Proscription of these groups will legally empower the U.K. authorities to disrupt foreign terrorist infrastructure and prosecute terrorists and their supporters. However, they are unlikely to attack, erode and destroy foreign terrorist support networks on British soil immediately. Unless a foreign terrorist group directly attacks a host government and a host society, that government is unlikely to mount a sustained course of action against the group for fear of earning its wrath.

The U.K. proscription will affect the LTTE's image rather than hamper its support operations. By exploiting the freedoms enshrined in the constitutions of Western countries, the LTTE has built a significant support infrastructure in the rest of Europe. It has begun to shift much of its infrastructure in the U.K. to France and Switzerland. The LTTE is a textbook example of how contemporary terrorist groups behave. To compensate for the loss of one safe haven, it is likely to find another in the neighbouring environment.

Dr. Rohan Gunaratna is the author of Sri Lanka's Ethnic Crisis and National Security.

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