The Situation Report
26th July 1998
Thanarani bombshell for CBK
By Iqbal Athas
Luck seemed to have run out for 21 year old Ganesh Thanarani, a hard core LTTE cadre, who spent months in the city attempting to carry out a suicide attack on Government leaders.
Beginning early this year, there were many a time when she was arrested by one City police station or the other, only to be released days later. If she was taken in as a terrorist suspect, there was no evidence thereafter of any involvement. Nor was there a clue.
The last occasion was when an LTTE female suicide bomber blew herself just outside the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) headquarters on February 6, just two days after the Golden Jubilee independence celebrations in Colombo. Thanarani was one of the suspects rounded up and spent a few days at the Kompannaveediya (Slave Island) Police Station.
But in May, this year, Thanarani fell into the hands of the Terrrorist Investigation Division (TID), the Police Department's newly created counter terrorism outfit. Though under the umbrella of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) for payment of salaries, TID unctions as a separate administrative structure under a Deputy Inspector General of Police. The current head is S.C. Pathirana, DIG.
TID detectives who interrogated Thanarani discovered they had bagged a prize catch. She was a hard core LTTE intelligence cadre. She had spent the recent months in Colombo reconnoitring to personally carry out suicide attacks.
Her targets were top personalities. Among them President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, Deputy Defence Minister, General Anuruddha Ratwatte, Foreign Minister, Lakshman Kadirgamar and Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister, Professor G.L. Peiris.
She was interrogated at the TID head office, housed side by side with the CID headquarters on the fourth floor of the New Secretariat building. Though she was held on a Detention Order issued by the Ministry of Defence, TID officials found she could not be held at their fourth floor office. There were no female matrons to be assigned to her.
Hence, they moved her to the Foreshore Police Station. There she remained under the watchful eyes of women police constables as TID men pursued the leads that came out of her interrogation.
One day in June, Tanarani who was by then friendly with a woman constable asked her for help. She wanted a ball-point pen, a sheet of paper and an envelope. She got them. Later she handed in a sealed letter to the WPC and requested that she mail it. Instead the WPC handed it over to a Sub Inspector who broke it open. He found the contents to be in Tamil and handed it over to his Officer-in-Charge.
The OIC, Inspector Ananda Liyanapathirana, had the contents translated and that saw the beginning of a tense drama that has begun to unfold. Some of the details are still being kept a closely guarded secret whilst others are sketchy. The Sunday Times has been able to piece together how the investigations have progressed so far.
Initially, TID sources say, they were unaware of the interception of Thanarani's letter. The Foreshore Police had pursued the inquiry.
The letter in question has been addressed to S. Sri Gajan, a reporter in the Virakesari, Sri Lanka's largest selling Tamil newspaper published by Express Newspapers Limited. Foreshore Police sources say they made attempts to reach Gajan and were pursuing inquiries.
By that time a Sub Inspector of Foreshore Police is learnt to have mentioned to a TID official about the discovery of the letter. A top level TID team got cracking.
What were the contents of the letter ? TID officials are tight lipped. But one high ranking source who spoke on grounds of anonymity told me Thanarani's letter bore Sri Gajan's name and was directed to his Virakesari address. "Thanarani said in her letter that she was in custody and had divulged some matters to the Police. There were things, she said, she had not divulged. She wanted those concerned to be informed and the suicide kits in a location be moved out soon,'' the source disclosed.
The Foreshore Police who worked on the contents found to their disappointment that three female suicide cadres, whose presence they had learnt from interrogating Thanarani, had fled their location. How did they get wind of the contents of the letter ? Or was it as a result of their not being able to make contact with Thanarani?
TID detectives confronted Thanarani with her letter and its contents. She broke down and more details began to emerge. On July 14, detectives went into action.
A team raided a grocery shop in Jampettah Street and seized three suicide jackets, over ten kilos of explosives and twenty five cyanide capsules. Five suspects including the grocery shop owner were taken into custody. The same night detectives also went to the Virakesari office and took into custody Sri Gajan.
Initially he was held on a seven day Detention Order and was interrogated by the detectives. Six days later, on July 20, Ponniah Manickavasagam, Virakesari's Vavuniya Correspondent was arrested and detained on a Detention Order. Mr. Manickavasagam is also a stringer for Reuters news agency and BBC. The reasons for his arrest is not known but Police say it followed the interrogation of Sri Gajan.
And now detectives have taken into custody Virakesari's Astrological Columnist, K. Theivanayagam, who is also Assistant Director in the Hindu Cultural Affairs Department.
What the three journalists have told the TID is not immediately clear but their arrests brought in responses from local and foreign organisations. The New York based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) called upon Media Minister, Mangala Samaraweera, to "clarify the situation" facing Mr. Gajan and Mr. Manickavasagam. The London based Article XIX said they would appreciate receiving "prompt clarification of the reasons and legal basis for their arrest and detention" and urged they be granted "immediate access to legal counsel, their relatives and an independent medical practitioner."
The Free Media Movement called upon the Inspector General of Police to expedite inquiries but declared they were arrested for "suspected terrorist activity."
Expressing concern over the arrest of Mr. Gajan and Mr. Manickavasagam, Tamil United Liberation Front President, M.Siva-sithamparam said "the reason for these arrests are not known. It is government policy that nobody should be arrested without reason and it is also the policy of the government to communicate to the person arrested the reasons for such arrest. No such reason was communicated to these two journalists."
The Operational Headquarters of the Ministry of Defence said in a news release on Wednesday that the "two journalists, Mr.S.Srigajan and Mr. P. Manickavasagam of Veerakesari newspaper have been arrested by the Terrorist Investigation Division as the investigators had found evidence against them. At present the investigations are in progress. Appropriate action would be taken once the investigations are completed."
The next day, Media Minister, Mangala Samaraweera, told the weekly media briefing he has been told that the two Tamil journalists have been arrested on suspicions of having links with the LTTE. "It had nothing to do with their professional performances", he said.
TID detectives who continued their interrogation of Thanarani learnt more. She had been living in the city since 1994 and had been in regular contact with her LTTE handlers who operated from somewhere in the Wanni jungles. That had included the LTTE intelligence wing leader, Pottu Amman, a man who is wanted by the Indian Government for the murder of then Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi. TID officials found that Thanarani used invisible ink to write letters to her handlers.
A more startling find by TID detectives had been an alleged plot by Thanarani and her associates to target President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga. She had been invited for a Hindu cultural event on July 22. Her security advisers had, however, recommended that she should not take part in the meeting though they were totally unaware at that time that a plot was being planned. President Kumaratunga had detailed Cultural Affairs Minister, Lakshman Jayakody, to take part in the function.
According to the high ranking source "plans had been afoot for a suicide bomber, suspected to be Thanarani, to explode herself when President Kumaratunga took part in the function." This was to be on the same lines as how Babu exploded a suicide bomb killing President Ranasinghe Premadasa at a Colombo May Day rally in 1993 or how then Indian Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, was assasinated in the southern Indian town of Sriperimpudur.
I understand that besides Mr.Theivanayagam, who is now being interrogated, several others including a high society lady who held a key position in the government, are to be questioned on the circumstances under which President Kumaratunga came to be invited to take part in the cultural event. This is to ascertain the channels the LTTE used to persuade her to attend the event.
Needless to say security arrangements for next week's SAARC summit have been further intensified in the wake of the findings made by TID detectives. They say the three journalists are likely to remain in detention until investigations are completed. Until then a detailed statement on the investigation is unlikely.
These developments came as the Ministry of Defence went ahead with arrangements to establish a unified security forces command which will function under a Joint Chief of Staff. The setting up of such a Command was reported exclusively in these columns on July 12 and in the front page of The Sunday Times. Contrary to earlier expectations, the joint command is likely to function by late August or early September. Arrangements for its establishment have already got under way with building being earmarked and staff identified.
Besides directing all counter terrorist operations and related activity, the Joint Command is also expected to keep a close tab on military procurements to ensure there are no corrupt activity or malpractice.
A series of media exposures including in The Sunday Times prompted Defence Secretary, Chandrananda de Silva, to send out a joint circular to the Commander of the Army, Navy and Air Force on May 27, 1997. Drawing references to three previous circulars he had sent out, Mr de Silva said in the circular titled "Applications for procurement of military hardware":
"..However, I regret to note that at times there have been attempts to circumvent this request by deliberately splitting up orders to keep each of them below Rs 5 million. I need hardly emphasise that any deliberate attempts to circumvent and defy the laid down procedure are bound to get exposed. I wish to caution that the Commander will be held responsible for such attempts."
All procurements that exceed Rs 5 million require the express approval of the Ministry of Defence. Hence, some procurements have been split for lesser amounts and military hardware imported in instalments.
Already a three member Committee appointed by President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga is probing alleged irregularities in the procurement of military aircraft, weapons, equipment, services and training in the Sri Lanka Air Force. The team headed by Christie Silva, a former Secretary to the Ministry of Health comprises I.M. Liyanage, a former High Court Judge and Vice Admiral Asoka de Silva, a former Commander of the Navy and one time Sri Lanka Ambassador to Cuba. The Committee has won an extension to its eight week term and is due to submit its report to President Kumaratunga early next month.
In a bid to ensure corrupt activity or malpractice is kept under check in the Sri Lanka Navy, its Commander, Vice Admiral Cecil Tissera, has sent out a message to all registered tenderers.
This is what Vice Admiral Tissera says in his message dated May 27, 1998:
"I welcome you to the Sri Lanka Navy and appreciate your interest in taking part in the tenders of the Sri Lanka Navy.
"I expect you to offer the best possible competitive prices. Please note that your legitimate approach will not only get you opportunities to do brisk business with the Navy but it will also help you to build your image.
"Hence, you need not get yourselves involved with other legal procedures which perhaps will not only pave the way to the downfall but also even expose your organisation to the procedure of "blacklisting" under Financial Regulations. Therefore, please be mindful of the grave consequences such action might lead to.
"Further, adhering to laid down norms under the tender procedure will help to offer attractive and competitive rates which in turn will help to secure tenders for your organisation. Therefore, you should strive to offer the best package at all times.
" If any Naval person is obstructing your way in dealing with the tenders of the Navy in the aforesaid manner, you are kindly informed to get in touch with the Commander of the Navy (Tel. 446648) or the Chief of Staff (Tel. 326574). In their absence you may inform the Navy Legal Department (Tel. 438245 or 421151 -55 Ext 2442, 2443) who have been instructed to inform me of such complaints forthwith.
"In conclusion, I would like to enlighten the need to be mindful of the fact that when dealing with public money, one has to be cautious and honest, as that money is your own, raised by way of taxes.
" Admiral Tissera's message comes in the backdrop of President Kumaratunga's own admission in a nationally televised question and answer session that there was some corruption in the security establishment.
The fact that he has initiated action to check corrupt activity is a welcome move, particularly when some sections of the PA leadership claimed there was no such activity and publicly dismissed media exposures.
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