LTTE man’s arrest for abduction plan first since 1991

By M.R. Narayan Swamy, IANS

New Delhi : The arrest of a Tamil Tiger operative on charges of planning the abduction from India of a prominent Sri Lankan Tamil politician is the first time the rebels have gone this far since the 1991 killing of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.

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According to home ministry sources, the Intelligence Bureau played a key role in the arrest Thursday night of Thambiturai Parameswaran alias Surli alias Nathan from Madipakkam, a thickly populated Chennai suburb near an IT corridor that is home to many Sri Lankan Tamils.

Nathan, who entered India illegally by sea in February 2007, has been described as a member of the intelligence wing of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). He had been tasked with the responsibility of planning the kidnapping of Annamalai Varadaraja Perumal, the former chief minister of Sri Lanka’s northeastern province who has lived in and around the Indian capital for years under Indian protection.

A native of Jaffna, Nathan had bought a van in Chennai that he plied as a taxi to give himself a respectable cover. He had over a period of time moved close to two relatives in the area of Perumal, as he is widely known, and also Douglas Devananda, Sri Lanka’s rabidly anti-LTTE Tamil cabinet minister.

Devananda, who has escaped several assassination attempts blamed on the LTTE, is a frequent visitor to India.

Following Nathan’s arrest, the Tamil Nadu Police took into custody seven other Sri Lankan Tamil men who were identified only as Reagan, Anand, Kesavan, Paris, Akilan, Sudarsanan and Aravindan.

All seven apparently acted as Nathan’s sub-agents, collecting information that was passed on to the LTTE in Sri Lanka.

According to home ministry sources, the likely kidnapping of Perumal could have taken place when his eldest daughter was to get married next month in Rajasthan, where he had lived under protection in Ajmer city before moving closer to the Indian capital.

Nathan had reportedly offered his taxi to the relative of Perumal he had befriended so as to drive him to Rajasthan – and thus get close to the intended victim.

Although other LTTE operatives have been arrested in Tamil Nadu in recent times, this is the first time since the 1991 assassination of Rajiv Gandhi that anyone from the group’s intelligence wing had planned an action that would have meant harming a target sheltered by the Indian state.

The police and home ministry sources are, however, not revealing operational details that led to the arrest of Nathan, who may have been under watch for some time.

Like other LTTE militants netted in Tamil Nadu, Nathan was also said to be smuggling goods the Tigers need in their war against the Sri Lankan military. Seized from him were the taxi, ball bearings, plastic granules, two wheelers and cash. Nathan and the others have been charged under the Foreigners Act and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act as well as Section 120 B of the Indian Penal Code (conspiracy).

Although he is far moved from active politics, Perumal takes a keen interest in Sri Lankan developments, attending meetings and TV shows here and also interacting with diplomats and academics. He is a senior member of the Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) faction that is bitterly opposed to the LTTE.

This is not the first time though that the LTTE has tried to harm Perumal after he quit Sri Lanka in March 1990, just before the Indian troops left the country, and then took refuge in India after spending some time in Mauritius.

According to home ministry sources, one of the accused in the Gandhi case, Shankar Koneswaran, was also asked by the LTTE to zero in on Perumal.

But Koneswaran got arrested after Gandhi’s killing when he got off a train at Madurai while travelling from Chennai to the Tamil Nadu coast Vedaranyam. When he was caught, he had with him the telephone numbers of two key LTTE men who played a major role in the Gandhi assassination.

Since then, Permual has more or less lived a seemingly secure life in India.