27th February 2000
A white coloured car lay parked a few feet away from the stump of a sawn off coconut tree, barely five feet high and lying erect. Inside, a stray dog is strapped to the driver's seat. In the back seat, two more stray dogs lay fastened with a goat tied in the middle.
If the dog in the front was meant to be the driver, the two in the rear were the escorts. The goat in the middle was the VIP.
An explosive laden suicide jacket tied to the coconut stump is detonated. The blast forces the white car to roll over and break in pieces. The blood splattered, pellets riddled bodies of the four animals are thrown out. Death was instant.
Another scenario resembles a public meeting. Dummies of human beings, turned out crudely from zinc sheets are placed on chairs in a stage. One figure is left standing in front of a what looks a makeshift microphone.Ahead of the stage, an assortment of dummies are placed, some standing and others seated on chairs. Somewhere near the front row, an explosive laden suicide jacket is tied to a coconut trunk that lay planted. It is about five foot in height.
A loud explosion renders the air. The dummy resembling the speaker is blasted to pieces. Those placed on chairs in the stage crack. All bear pellet holes. Even dummies placed behind the coconut trunk are crumpled and full of holes.
These gory drills are only a few leaves from the LTTE's manual to turn out suicide killers. They are enacted in a training base somewhere near Mallawi in the Wanni. That is one of a handful of training bases where the hard core Black Tiger cadres are being taught how to infiltrate the City and other non operational areas to assassinate political leaders, senior military officials and destroy economic targets.
LTTE intelligence boss, Pottu Amman, the most wanted man who plotted the assassination of one time Indian Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, is personally tasked with the running of these weird training centres-perhaps the only kind in the world. He gives the stamp of approval to the recruits, oversees their training and assigns them the targets.
Earlier, such targets were told to the suicide cadres soon after they completed training and passed out. But now, Pottu Amman has changed the procedure. The Tiger guerrilla is told to first arrive in the area where their assignment is to be executed. There, an LTTE intelligence operative would meet the suicide killer, provide an explosive and steel ball laden jacket. This is in addition to weapons to carry out the attack.
Pottu Amman had his reasons for the change in procedure. When some of the suicide killers failed to take on a target assigned to them, they were given other targets. Many had shied away and not executed them.
One suicide killer whom Pottu Amman sent on a mission was 25 year old Selvathurai Anton Mario alias Jahn of Jaffna. During his six year stint with the LTTE, Mario who had been an 'other rank' taking part in various attacks rose to become a Black Tiger, the tribe who are assigned suicide missions. After intense training in the camp near Mallawi, Mario arrived in Kuliyapitiya in November, 1999. He was to live with his sister and brother-in-law and go to work on a mission to kill some important personalities.
His targets were President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, Opposition Leader Ranil Wickrema-singhe, Deputy Defence Minister Anuruddha Ratwatte, Foreign Minister, Lakshman Kadirgamar, Inspector General of Police, Lucky Kodituwakku, Brigadier Sunil Tennekoon and Chief Inspector Mohamed Nilabdeen. These names were conveyed to him by an LTTE emissary when he was in Kuliyapitiya.
But Mario could not get down to his tasks. Other events overtook him. He was arrested by the Kuliyapitiya Police on suspicion. After preliminary interrogation, detectives of the Terrorism Investigation Division (TID) took over. Mario bared it all to them.
The TID is the Police Department's investigation arm that probes terrorist activities. It is headed by Lionel Karunasena, DIG, a former Commandant of the Special Task Force, the commando arm of the Police.
One revelation by Mario has jolted the security authorities into action. Completing training and passing out together with him were six other Black Tiger suicide killers. He believes they had left Wanni for the City to attack targets.
Mario told his TID interrogators he could have "easily assassinated the Leader of the Opposition, Ranil Wickremasinghe." He said in December, last year, he had attended a public rally at Kuliyapitiya which was addressed by Mr. Wickremesinghe. "I went to the meeting along with the owner of house where I stayed. He was a UNP supporter," Mario declared. In order to prove a point, Mario told TID detectives to check video footage of that meeting. "You will find me seated in the front row," he boasted. At that time he had not received instructions on his targets or received the suicide jacket.
Mario, a student of St. Charles College, Jaffna was introduced to the LTTE in 1994 by Sathees, then the area leader. He was trained at different bases on how to handle assault rifles, Machine Guns and explosives. His first combat experience came in September, 1995, when he joined a Tiger guerrilla group to attack troops involved in 'Operation Akunusera' "Nearly 100 from Selvaraja's group took part in the attack. Forty of them were killed. The surviving members retreated to Lochan Base and re-grouped', Mario declared. He added "In October, 1995 about 300 cadres under the leadership of Aiya attacked troops deployed in 'Operation Riviresa' at Atchuvely. I was there till the end of my assignment'.
Later Mario went to an LTTE base in Chavaka-chcheri. From there, 60 cadres including himself were sent to Navatkuli. In April, 1996, he was wounded and was taken to Oddusuddan where he underwent treatment for two months.
He recovered and in June, 1996, underwent training in Iranamadu area to prepare for the attack on the Mullaitivu Military Base. For this attack, the Batticaloa Intelligence Unit, Imran-Pandiyan Unit, Sea Tigers, Charles Anthony units had taken part. The training lasted about 20 days and was led by Karuna (now the LTTE Military Wing leader for Mullaitivu-Weli Oya). The attack was carried out in July 1996. Mario was injured again and underwent treatment in Oddusuddan. He was taken to the Mallawi Camp and was treated there for another month. Later he was given 20 days leave.
After the leave, in December, 1996, when the security forces withdrew from Pooneryn, under the leadership of Mahendran, about 100 LTTE cadres were moved into the area. Mario was one of them. Later, in May, 1997, Mario joined a 30 strong group led by Aiya to attack troops deployed on 'Operation Jaya Sikurui' at Puliyankulam. He was wounded in the leg and was left out of battle for nearly six months.
Upon recovery, Mario joined a group of some 300 who were training for the attack on 'Operation Jaya Sikurui' troops at Kilinochchi. For over a month Balraj (now Military Wing leader for Vavuniya-Mannar) trained them in Pooneryn. Charles Anthony Regiment trained in Iranamadu and the Women's group of Vavunikulam.
On September 27, 1998, the LTTE attacked troops deployed in 'Operation Jaya Sikurui' at Kilinochchi. Mario was in a group under Vishu. They advanced from Paranthan and Tiruvaiyaru side. From the group of 15 under Mario, six were killed. After the attack, he was promoted Lieutenant Colonel.
Whilst training for the attack on troops at Kilinochchi, Mario had made a written appeal to become a Black Tiger. In April, 1999, his wish came true. He was told to report to the 'Iniyan' camp at Vattaka-chchi where he met Raju, a leader. He was interrogated and personal details were obtained. There were five others who joined at the same time.
Mario now takes over the story of how he became a Black Tiger only to fall into the hands of the Police.
'In April, 1999, 'Anniyan', Private Secretary to Raju took me in a bicycle to 'Vasanthan Camp' at Mallawi Road. This is Raju's camp and I was given a room. The five who joined the Black Tigers too came to this camp. After three days, the five of them were also sent to 'Seven Mallawi Camp'.
"Here Raju told me that I was in the organisation because I had worked with dedication. I had on my own accord become a Black Tiger. Because of this, he said he has lot of faith in me. He wanted to give me a task to carry out on my own. He said he was confident I would carry it out successfully.
"Raju questioned me about my family details. I was asked whether there was anyone living in Colombo or in the suburbs. I replied that there was someone and that I would pass on the address. I was then given some translated publications about intelligence services including Mossad. (the Israeli spy agency).
"In May, 1999, Raju gave me training in the use of suicide jackets and other lectures. There, he told me that from now on I should wear a five kilogramme suicide jacket to cause the maximum damage. He said the suicide jackets would be double lined with 800 steel balls. I was told how to use them against those travelling in a vehicle or addressing from a stage. Vikatan and Sollan gave specialised training in this regard. "In addition, I was trained in the use of RPGs (Rocket propelled Grenades), LAW (Light Anti Tank Weapons) and firing of pistols. At the end of the training, there was a practical training where a white car was used. For the front and the back seats three dogs were kept and in the centre of the back seat a goat was kept. From the side of the car, at the height of a man, a suicide jacket fully laden with explosives was fixed to the stump of a coconut tree. The suicide jacket was exploded. With the explosion, the car turned turtle and the animals were killed. To see this explosion, apart from me, there were six others. All of them wore masks.
"Once again, on a make shift stage they placed dummies made out of zinc sheets. They had a dummy of someone who was speaking. There was a coconut trunk planted. A suicide jacket tied to it was exploded. There was extensive damage both in front and behind the coconut trunk.
"This kind of training went on for two and a half months. I was capable of using firearms. I fired successfully at targets 400 metres away. Since I could also fire LAW(Light Anti-Tank Weapon), I was told to prepare to fire at a ship bringing gas into the Colombo harbour. Whilst I was asked to fire the LAW from a two storeyed building, (now identified as St John's Fish Market) I was told to wear the suicide jacket. I was told there were several routes of escape. I was also told that the persons who had conducted the surveillance would take me to the place in question. The intelligence people who had conducted surveillance, I was told, would also advice me on escape routes.
"After the end of this training, in July, 1999, I went to my house at Jeyampura, and told the home people that I had left the movement. Raju advised me to do so. Why he said so was to establish a cover. I wanted to come to Colombo with my brother-in-law. I told home people I want to go abroad soon. I stayed at home for about three months. During this period Raju came to my house, spoke to me like a friend, got information and left. "In October, 1999, Raju came and told me to meet him at Bharathi Camp. There I told Raju that my brother in law who is in the fishing industry has made all arrangements for my departure and had left for Negombo. "On the same day at 11 a.m. Pottu Amman met me. Before embarking on this mission, he asked me whether there are any problems in my house. Whether there were any economic hardships. He asked whether I needed any help and whether I was going on my own free will. It was a very friendly conversation. I had lunch with Pottu Amman, Raju, Vikadan Master and Solan Master.
"Pottu Amman also said when members were sent on attack missions we tell them what their targets are. But when they failed to carry out the attack on the target, a different target was given. Then they hesitate. Therefore, Pottu Amman said, targets would be given only after I went into the area. He told me to ensure no difficulties are caused to people at whose place I will be staying."I was told not to establish unwanted relationships. An intelligence operative, I was told, will meet me at my location and provide me with equipment. He will also explain things. When I leave for the attack, I should hand over the identity cards and other relevant documents to the Intelligence operative. If I don't do this, even the people with whom I am staying will fall into trouble.
"I was given Rs. 5,000, a permanent pass for Vavuniya and a National Identity card in the name of Kanakaratnam Tirupan. A visitor will arrive to meet me. I was told he would hand over four shirts to me. Two for my use and two to be handed over to the Intelligence operative who would be meeting me. Arivalan, the person who directs people through secret routes to Vavuniya to obtain goods etc will be sent to the camp where I was staying. With him, 'Vannan', 'Thakkali', 'Poovarayan', 'Anandan' will come as a group. They will help in my movement.
"On November 1, 1999, I travelled in a Canter truck to Mudampitty. From there to Pesalai by boat and by foot to Kadukudah to spend the night. Next day, exchanged messages with Arivalan to send a boat to Arippu. At 11 a.m. took the boat and arrived near Aripu at 1800 hours. Spent two days at Nine Camp. They spoke on the communications set from this camp. Arivalan had purchased biscuits and aerated water bottles. Then we walked to Chettikulam. When we arrived in Chettikulam, we kept on changing locations. Arivalan had been concealing weapons, shifting them from location to location during three days.
"The weapons were put in security force kit bags and left on top of trees. Some days they were hidden in a straw hut near a paddy field in the area. For 12 days we cooked and ate. The reason was my brother-in-law was expected to come on November 25, 1999 and we had arrived early. While we were here, Arivalan got food stocks from shops close to the old police station at Cheddikulam.
"On November 25, 1999, Arivalan and myself got dressed in civilian clothes and came to the Weerapuram bus stand around 0900 hours. Till then we have been wearing combat uniforms like the security forces. At 0930 hours my brother-in-law arrived at the bus stand. Arivalan advised him to go to Vavuniya and board a bus to Anuradhapura. He told my brother-in-law to be at the Anuradhapura old bus stand at 1500 hours. Arivalan and myself took secret routes to Medawachchiya. From there we came to Anuradhapura. Here we were stopped at the Medawachiya check point. We showed our passes and went without a problem. The reason for me to travel by bus was that lot of people knew me when I was in the armed unit and most people traveled by train and they might recognise me.
"At 1530 hours my brother-in-law came to the assigned place. Arivalan went and my brother-in-law and I came in a bus to Kuliyapitiya around 1900 hours. From there in a three wheeler we came to a house about two and a half kilometres away from the Kuliyapitiya bus stand. We told them I was going abroad. This house was in a place called Udupitiya. The house owner was a relative of my brother-in-law. People in the house were happy to keep me. After a few days, the mother of the house owner's wife died and I went to Thandagamuwa.
"There I stayed for about 15 days and on November 29, 1999, I saw President going on a motorcade to open a Technical College around 0930 hours. There were three young girls in the house and as it was not proper for me to stay there, I came back to Udupitiya. At Udupitiya I was employed as a Mason and earned about Rs. 250 per day. This, I did, because I did not want to arouse suspicions as to how I was surviving without a job or money. The house owner was also a Mason.
"On December 16, 1999, I went to a public meeting of the UNP leader, Ranil Wickrema-singhe at Kuliyapitiya old bus stand. The reason for me to go there was because the house owner was a UNP supporter and wanted me to join him. Here I sat in a front seat. If it is necessary you can see this in the video footage. If I had the suicide kit at that time, I could have easily assassinated the Leader of the Opposition.
"When I was in Kuliyapitiya, Raju told me it is not necessary to register with the Police. He also told me that someone will come to show me the way and also advised me when travelling wearing the suicide jacket to travel in luxury buses and not to travel in crowded buses. In case I am checked, I was asked to explode the jacket without causing injuries to the public but inflict maximum damage to the security forces. If it happens in a bus to bite the cyanide capsule and kill myself. However, the people in the house did not like me staying there without registering with the police and because of this I was compelled to register with the Police.
"Raju gave me the names of persons who are my targets. The Intelligence operative who will come to meet me will give me more details and take me to the places, he said.
"On January 25, 2000 I was taken into custody by the Kuliyapitiya Police. After two and a half days in custody, I bit the two cyanide capsules that were hidden in the hem of the T-shirt I was wearing. But the Police did not know this. When I was writhing in pain, the Police officers who came there asked whether I have been suffering from Epilepsy. For this I said yes but did not tell them that I bit the cyanide capsules. As the necessary poison did not enter my body, I did not die"
Further interrogation of Mario continues as detectives unravel more details of LTTE modus operandi.
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