Situation Report
By Iqbal Athas
27th January 2002
The Sunday Times on the Web















The LTTE's French connection

As the Foreign Ministry's ambassador Sarala Fernando, described to a select audience last Thursday, he is the most powerful man in France to crusade against terrorism.

He tracked down the Venezuelan, Carlos the Jackal, the world's most notorious terrorist of the 1970s. Carlos or Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, is now languishing in a Paris jail. Today, the man who has been probing Osama bin Laden's Al Qaida for years, is investigating an alleged plot by its members to bomb the US Embassy in Paris.

Judge Bruguiere and his wife at the Dalada Maligawa in Kandy yesterday. Pic by Shane SeneviratneJudge Bruguiere and his wife at the Dalada Maligawa in Kandy yesterday. Pic by Shane Seneviratne

Escorted by armed French commandos, Jean Louis Bruguiere, officially described as Senior Vice President in charge of Judicial Inquiries, High Courts in Paris and Co-ordinator of the Anti-Terrorist Division, was in Colombo this week. He carefully avoided the glare of publicity and the French Embassy in Colombo declined to comment on his visit or about his movements.

Mr. Bruguiere, whom the French media once described as the "Cowboy" and "Sheriff," for he then carried a pistol, is vested with wide powers under the French law to pursue suspects, search premises, monitor telephones, arrest, interrogate and charge them.

One night when he sat down to a meal of baked crab, grilled fish and prawns with Solicitor General, C.R. de Silva, at the Beach Wadiya in Wellawatte, French commandos watched unobtrusively from far corners. Yesterday he was at the Dalada Maligawa, closely studying pictures of the Tiger guerrilla attack on the sacred precincts four years ago, and video-taped them.

On Thursday, he made some interesting revelations about the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) activities in France. The occasion was a talk he gave on "INTERNATIONAL COUNTER TERRORISM CO-OPERATION THE FRENCH EXPERIENCE." He spoke to a select audience of Army officers and local diplomats at the Sri Lanka Institute of International Relations (SLIIR). The new institute is the brainchild of former Foreign Minister, Lakshman Kadirgamar, and is located at the stately mansion at Horton Place once the official residence of his predecessor, A.C.S. Hameed.

This is what Mr. Bruguiere had to say about LTTE activities in France:

"Although never being involved in violent activities on French soil, the LTTE controls the immigrant Tamil community in France and is involved, under cover of legal associations and organisations, in underworld activities for the guerrilla warfare in Sri Lanka.

"The Tamil community in France has been estimated to 60,000 people, which is constantly on the increase. The LTTE has a very strong hold over this community which is mainly gathered near the Gare du Nord in Paris in an area nicknamed "Little Jaffna."

"Moreover, following the decision taken by the British government at the beginning of the month of March in 2001, to include the Tamil movement of the LTTE in its list of terrorist organisations whose activities were from then onwards banned in Great Britain, the International Secretariat of the LTTE movement was shifted from London to Paris. Hence, the entire political and operational activities of the LTTE in Europe has its base in France. Henceforth, all propaganda and financial operations aimed at the Tamil community in Europe, are going to be launched from Paris.

"Velummylum MANOHARAN or Mano, successor of John Christian Chrysostom, (Note: He is also known as Lawrence Thilakar), officially in charge of the Tamil Co-ordination Committee in France, co-ordinates in the operational activities of the movement, with a small group of experienced activists well versed in the techniques of the underworld.

"Every year, the LTTE becomes engaged in four types of funds which contributes four million dollars to the movement. Besides this fund, LTTE militants also seem to be involved in a number of illegal activities in the fields of illegal immigration, tax evasion and specially in the hacking of long distance calls and even drug trafficking. It seems that a large part of these funds were extortions. But in the absence of denunciations, it has not been possible to prove that these funds have been obtained forcefully.

"Velummylum MANOHARAN, the international General Secretary of the organisation was condemned in 1987 to three years imprisonment for drug trafficking. He has since been under house arrest in the region of Paris.

"In spite of all this, no activity earmarked as terrorism has been detected, in particular in the fields of looking for and purchasing weapons or military equipment in France.

"Similarly, in spite of the information which appeared in the Indian Press, no operational links has been established with Al Qaida organisation of bin Laden.

"Moreover, the French anti-terrorist judicial pool with which I co-ordinate, has already co-operated with the judicial authorities in Colombo within the framework of investigations on the terrorist activities of the LTTE. In future too we will continue to co-operate with the same diligent application in order not to allow the LTTE to use France as a support base for its terrorist operations carried out in Sri Lanka."

France and Sri Lanka, Mr. Bruguiere noted, were linked to historical, geographical and specific political factors and continue to fight threats against the security of persons and goods, threats against individual and common freedom, threats against democratic structures and socio- economic balances, threats against peace.

Although he had either shied away or been advised not to speak to the media, Mr. Bruguiere, gave a rare interview to the Associated Press last month. The AP report gives an insight into France's most powerful man. Excerpts:

"Borders are seemingly no obstacle for Bruguiere, who travels the globe in pursuit of suspects and was once dropped into the African desert to examine the wreckage of a French jet believed bombed by the Libyans. The 58 year old investigative magistrate's methods have earned him both adulation from colleagues in counter terrorism and criticism from civil rights groups.

"Since September 11, the United States and Europe have been toughening their anti-terrorism laws. That's nothing new for Bruguiere, who argues that being tough is the best deterrent.

"For many in his field, Bruguiere is legendary. 'There's just nobody like this guy,' enthused Larry Johnson, a former deputy chief of counter terrorism at the State Department. Closer to home, some worry that methods employed by Bruguiere and his team of three other judges could lead to civil rights violations.

" Jean-Pierre Dubois of the French Human Rights League criticised the method of large-scale sweeps used by Bruguiere. Under French law, terror suspects can be hauled in for four days of questioning without a lawyer. Once charged, they can be held as long as four years before trial.

"They arrest a large number of people hoping they might catch 20 or 30 interesting suspects," Dubois said. They just accept that there will be lots of undue imprisonment. That's not very democratic.

"Bruguiere responds that his critics 'don't understand the threat.' Fighting terrorism is a 'special kind of war,' demanding special tools , he says. Sweeps that bring in dozens of people for minor offences, such as producing false passports, root out the real terror plots, he adds. Those who provide logistic support to terrorists are prosecuted under the broadly worded charge of 'criminal association relating to a terrorist enterprise.'

"That's how the plot to bomb the last World Cup was thwarted in co-ordinated arrests of 150 people in several countries a month before the tournament.

"And that's also how French officials came to know of Ahmed Ressam three years before he was arrested for trying to enter the United States from Canada with a trunk load of explosives. Through previous sweeps, Bruguiere had collected enough information on Ressam that he was called to testify at the Algerian's Los Angeles trial, where he was convicted of terrorism charges.

"Investigating someone for a small offence can lead to big results," Bruguiere says. Frank Spica, head of the terrorism division at Interpol called Bruguiere a 'ball of fire. If we had more judges like him, I guarantee you it would be a step up in fighting terrorism.'

"The Judge says he spends 15 to 17 hours a day in his office, where he keeps stacks of files on suspects he's interrogated some 400 people in the last seven years, he estimates. He consults with Police and intelligence services 'five or six times a day' and normally works weekends. When he has the time, he pilots a plane.

"One reason he cites for his effectiveness: there's only one Bruguiere. Unlike in the United States, where counter terrorism work is spread out among various agencies and officials, in France, it is basically the work of Bruguiere and his three colleagues. 'A war needs one commander and not ten,' he says. 'I don't need permission from anyone.' 

The Bruguiere visit to Colombo has led to the further strengthening of co-operation between Sri Lanka and France in countering terrorism. 

Raid on Army safe house a publicity stunt-Marapana

The Police raid on the Army's Safe House at Athurugiriya was ill conceived and the harsh treatment meted out to the Officer and men was very bad says Defence Minister, Tilak Marapana.

He told The Sunday Times in an exclusive interview that the information Police provided in a bid to further extend the detention of the Army officer and men was "hopelessly inadequate." "I made it very clear to the Police that I don't want the Prevention of Terrorism Act abused," Mr. Marapana said.

He was commenting on the January 2 raid by Kulasiri Udugampola, SP, Special Operations (Kandy Division), on a Safe House run by the Army's Directorate of Military Intelligence at the Millennium City in Athurugiriya. By his own admission, Mr. Udugampola carried out the raid without the knowledge of either the Inspector General of Police or the DIG in charge of Kandy Division. He seized an array of weapons, arrested an officer and five soldiers.

It later turned out that the men and material belonged to the Army's highly successful Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRP) a long standing secret which became public together with the identities of the men. The men were detained for three days on a Detention Order issued by the SSP in charge of Kandy Division under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. Subsequent detention, which required a Detention Order from the Ministry of Defence, was refused by Mr. Marapana.

"The initial raid, even if it was justified because they were misinformed about the state of affairs, the Army Commander (Lt. Gen. Lionel Balagalle) and the Director of Military Intelligence (Brig. Kapila Hendavithana), informed the Police that this was an Army location," Mr. Marapana pointed out.

He said: "They told Police that the persons who had been arrested are Army personnel and that the items that were recovered were Army property. The officer and men have been authorised by the Army to carry out operations using these items. No lesser person than the Army Commander informs of that to the Police and from that point onwards I think the Police are to be blamed.

"I can understand if they did not arrest the Army personnel. But they have arrested them, kept them in confinement and from the reports that I got, they have not been treated that well when they were in Police custody. That is why when the Police applied to me for a Detention Order, having kept them in detention for the period that the law authorised them to do so, I refused. I flatly refused because the material they submitted to me to justify the detention was hopelessly inadequate. There is nothing that they have unearthed in that investigation which seemed to suggest that these people (the Army personnel) had been acting other than on orders from their superiors in the Army. They were very legitimate orders.

Asked whether the raid and arrest of the Army men led to the disclosure of a "top State secret," Mr. Marapana replied "Well, I would not say this is such a secret. Certainly our enemy would have known of the existence of the LRRP. Nor is the raid on the location. These people used it to come and leave their equipment. Nothing else happened there. It was only a so called Safe House that could have been shifted anywhere.

"But as far as the personnel involved, the fact that their identities have been revealed will create a problem not only for them but their families too. More serious than anything else, I feel the harsh treatment that has been meted out to them is very bad. Having done their duty and when they find that they are arrested, detained and ill treated in this way, they are completely demoralised. That is the aspect I am more worried about than anything else.

Commenting on the LTTE crack down on what they call "collaborators" with the LRRP teams, after the Athurugiriya raid, including the killing of one alleged informant, Mr. Marapana said "these are very confidential matters between these men and their informants. I don't want to probe into that area."

However, he added " Then again, if they had been informants of his group information has leaked as a result of the interrogation or the harsh treatment meted out to these Army men, then someone has made these things public. That is also another aspect that needs to be considered. "

Asked whether the wide publicity generated soon after the raid, even before the investigations had commenced, was the beginning of the matter being publicised, Mr. Marapana said "This is the most objectionable part of the whole episode. They (the Police) went with the media to raid this house. This implies that their main target was to get some publicity out of this whole episode.

"That is what makes me suspect the bona fides of the Police team to some extent. If they had the national interest at heart and if they really thought that there is a place frequented by Army people with this type of deadly weapons, then one would not have expected them to take the media, go and make a big show of it. They would have in the first place mounted surveillance and gathered information about the house. That is to find out what exactly these people are up to. The raid should have been the last step.

"Instead, the moment they receive information, they run to the nearest "Camera Shop" and bring all those media personnel. You can't blame them. This is just a publicity stunt and nothing more than that.

Asked to comment on moves by the officer and men to file Fundamental Rights Violation pleas before the Supreme Court, Mr. Marapana said " It is their legal and constitutional right to resort to any legal remedy they have."

Commenting on the clashes between Police and Army in Kandy, Mr. Marapana declared "That is a minor incident. Of course, it has escalated into a major one and incidents like this happen time and again. Just like it happens, they subside too.

"Not that I condone the actions of the Army officers in coming back a second time. What happened was a slight altercation. The vehicle of an Army officer had been parked in a manner to obstruct traffic. The traffic sergeant had asked the driver to remove the vehicle.

"Following an altercation, the reports I have got is that the Army personnel had gone back to their camps and brought another crowd of Army people. I don't know whether this is true or false.

"But these are the reports I have got. If that is the case, it is high handed action on the part of the Army. I am sure the Army Commander will deal with those persons for that type of conduct. The investigation report is not yet concluded. The Army Commander has already apologised to the Mahanayakes and the Diyawadana Nilame. The Army Commander and the IGP are jointly investigating this matter.

"I don't think there is evil or hatred between the Army and the Police. These are incidents that happen time and again. They are not to be taken all that seriously."

During the interview with The Sunday Times, Mr. Marapana also answered questions on wide ranging matters concerning defence and security. 

Excerpts will appear next week. 

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