Tuesday, 19 April 2016

On the trail of LTTE terror mastermind Morris...



Wife of LTTE Military Intelligence ‘Colonel’ (in saree) garlanding her husband’s remains. Troops operating behind LTTE lines killed Charles on January 5, 2008, north of Mannar. Charles and Morris (still in State custody) carried out scores of high profile assassinations in Colombo over the years (pic courtesy Tamilnet)

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Had a veteran police investigator, temporarily stationed in Vavuniya, ignored a tip-off received from an informant, in late July/early August 2009, the mastermind of a spate of high profile killings, including the assassination of Highways and Road Development Minister, Jeyaraj Fernandopulle, on the morning of April 6, 2008, could have avoided arrest.

Subsequent investigations revealed that the hard-core LTTE intelligence wing cadre also masterminded the abortive bid on the then Army Chief Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka on the afternoon of April 25, 2006, inside Army Headquarters.

The suicide attack was meant to cause instability among the top brass, in the run-up to eelam war IV. The LTTE quite rightly believed that the war-weary Army could be demoralized by eliminating the tough-talking war veteran, at the onset of their campaign. Although Lt. Gen. Fonseka survived, he had to be moved to Singapore, where he underwent surgery; eelam war IV erupted during the second week of August 2006. Lt. Gen. Fonseka returned a few months later to spearhead the military campaign.

 Recently, Field Marshal Fonseka urged President Maithripala Sirisena to pardon the terror mastermind, identified as Morris. It would be pertinent to examine operations carried out by Morris against the backdrop of Democratic Party leader Fonseka’s request, as well as the chance recovery of an explosives haul in the Chavakachcheri police area.

The Vavuniya-based policeman, holding the rank of Sub Inspector, acted swiftly and decisively after being told of an LTTE operative who had stayed at the LTTE-run entry/exit point at Omanthai before the closure of the Kandy-Jaffna A9 road, in mid-June, 2006.

The officer had been part of the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) squad, deployed in Vavuniya to identify LTTE cadres mingling with civilians in the wake of the LTTE’s defeat in May, 2009.

Having arrested the LTTE operative, pointed out by the informant, the TID interrogated him in Vavuniya. The LTTE operative revealed LTTE intelligence chief Shanmugalingam Sivashankar alias Pottu Amman dispatching a young handsome man during eelam war IV to Colombo on a special mission. The youth was subsequently identified as Saraman, a name given by the LTTE. Interrogation of the LTTE operative led the TID to Saraman’s parents, living at Slave Island. The LTTE operative also revealed a brother of Saraman’’s mother working at the Kantale CTB depot.

The TID acted fast with its then Officer-in-Charge (now an ASP) spearheading the inquiry. At the time of the TID raid, the Saraman hadn’t been there. At the behest of the TID, the woman (over the phone) requested her only son to visit her. The TID arrested the parents and their son Saraman. Under interrogation, the boy revealed the presence of Morris, an LTTE mastermind in Colombo, widely believed to be the brains behind a spate of high profile operations. Morris had been Pottu Amman’s personal choice and was given further responsibilities consequent to the Army, with the support of renegade LTTE cadres, loyal to Karuna Amman, killing Shanmuganathan Ravishankar alias Colonel Charles, north of Mannar, on January 5, 2008. Ravishankar, head of the LTTE’s Military Intelligence, had been the senior most operative responsible for high profile operations in the South.

The LTTE obviously believed Morris could still achieve its major objectives, in spite of losing Ravishankar. Although Saraman had been a key member of the team, led by Morris, he wasn’t authorized to summon the latter for a meeting. Saraman had received funds from overseas, on behalf of Morris, tasked with eliminating key political and military leaders. The TID faced the daunting task of apprehending Morris before he could strike again. Intelligence services realized that LTTE intelligence was continuing in spite of the group being annihilated on the Vanni east front.

The TID, however, received the much wanted breakthrough, thanks to Saraman, who suddenly remembered meeting Morris outside an ATM machine, belonging to a private bank, in the Wellawatte police area. Saraman had been able to give sleuths the exact date Morris had walked out of the ATM machine, after having taken money. The management of the private bank swiftly responded to TID’s request for immediate access to video footage of the customers using that particular ATM machine. Saraman identified Morris. Thanks to the support, extended by the bank, the TID, in addition to a photograph of the terrorist, also received his Colombo address. The TID also got information regarding Morris having a scooty. The TID mounted an immediate surveillance on the house at 220 Watte, close to the Kuppiyawatte temple. Armed with light weapons, the TID squad waited for several hours for his arrival. Fearing Morris could notice police presence, prompting him to flee, the TID discontinued the surveillance. The squad withdrew after having requested a boy living nearby to telephone an officer as soon as Morris arrived there. The TID gave him a telephone number of an officer, stressing the pivotal importance of his support. One of those TID officers, who had been involved in the operation, told the writer: "Having received a tip off from the boy, we moved fast. Those assigned for the task moved to the targeted area, from different directions. The TID team, led by the then OIC, driving from the direction of Dematagoda police station’ towards Maradana’ spotted the wanted man. The police jeep deliberately collided with the scooty, thereby toppling Morris."

The TID trapped Morris between 11 and 11.45 am.

Immediately, realizing that his cover had been blown, the fallen LTTE operative crushed two cyanide capsules which he kept in his mouth. The TID responded swiftly. The TID rushed Morris to the National Hospital in a bid to save him. An officer said: "Although, the TID was aware of the status of Morris in Colombo, we never really knew the level of his operational involvement. We needed to question him."

The TID team hadn’t been satisfied with the response of those initially tasked to save Morris. Fearing Morris could succumb to cyanide, unless proper treatment was made available, the TID team, responsible for the arrest, alerted the then Director TID SSP Chandra Wakista, who immediately sought the then Secretary of Defence Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s intervention. Following Rajapaksa’s intervention, the top administration, of the National Hospital, swung into action. The medical staff struggled for over two days to save Morris. The terrorist received treatment under police guard for three days. Morris, having survived two capsules of cyanide, ended up at the headquarters of the TID.

Under interrogation, Morris admitted that he pretended to being a Muslim and lived at Kammalwatte in the Dematagoda police area, though he also used a safe house at 220 Watte, near the Kuppiyawatte temple. Morris carried identification papers which identified him as Mohamed Nisthar, a bearded youth who maintained an extremely close relationship with the Muslim community at Kammalwatte. Morris had lived on the top floor of a two storeyed house. The first floor was used as a place to teach Islam. Morris had been surrounded by unsuspecting Muslims who received his financial help. The TID established that Morris had permission to spend lavishly to secure the support of the community. But those Muslims beneficiaries hadn’t been aware of his true identity. In addition to the scooty, Morris had a caravan van and a car.

However, the TID didn’t find any weapons or explosives at the hard-core terrorist’s Kammalwatte hideout.

During interrogation, Morris accepted responsibility for a series of high profile attacks carried out in Colombo. War veteran Fonseka had been one of the most difficult targets given to Morris by the LTTE leadership.

Claiming a relatively a brief friendship with Lt. Gen. Fonseka’s cook, Siddique, the LTTE Colombo mastermind explained the circumstances under which he exploited that friendship to infiltrate Army Headquarters. Having suffered injuries due to an accident, Siddique had been warded at the Army Hospital. Morris took advantage of the situation to bring in a woman suicide cadre, on the morning of April 25, 2006 to finish off Sinha Regiment veteran Fonseka. Siddique knew the true identity of Morris and was fully aware of his mission. Siddique threw his weight behind the LTTE plan. Soon after Morris revealed Siddique’s involvement, the TID moved swiftly to arrest the soldier who held the rank of Sergeant and was stationed at Armoured Corps Rock House camp at Modera. Having informed the relevant military authorities, the TID arrived at Rock House camp and took Siddique into custody. Among those assigned for this task was the officer responsible for making a vital breakthrough in Vavuniya, in late July/early August, 2009. A TID officer had told Siddique to wear slippers. The TID felt that there was no requirement for terrorist to wear boots. Although, Siddique believed he hadn’t been exposed, the TID knew of his deep involvement in the Fonseka assassination plan. Siddique had explained that he was comfortable in boots due to injuries suffered in an accident which paved the way for him to receive treatment at the Army Hospital. Siddique strongly denied his involvement in the suicide attack on Fonseka during initial interrogation at the TID headquarters. An officer said: "We questioned him at the office of OIC, TID, on the second floor. Siddique seemed confident in his defence. Siddique obviously believed he would be safe as long as Morris wasn’t in our custody. We gave Siddique a shock when he was shown, through a glass panel, Morris seated opposite the office of a senior TID officer, situated about 15 meters away from the OIC, TID’s office."

Having accepted his involvement with the LTTE Intelligence, Siddique promised to reveal everything. Pending further interrogation, the TID moved Siddique to the sixth floor cell where he was placed in solitary confinement. The TID later found Siddique hanging in the cell.  An investigator said: "The Sergeant used long laces of his boots to hang himself. Perhaps, he wore boots even after we told him to come in slippers to take his life in case he got implicated in the conspiracy."

Investigations revealed Morris visited Siddique’s wife, living at Akurana, and provided the family financial assistance. Morris had brought in the woman suicide cadre, assigned to kill Lt. Gen. Fonseka into the Army Headquarters premises to familiarise herself with the environment before the day of the attempt. On the instructions of Morris, the assassin had disguised herself as a pregnant woman. She threw herself at Lt. Gen. Fonseka’s car as it passed the hospital situated between the Army Chief’s office and his quarters, within the premises.

In addition to Morris, two others involved in the Fonseka assassination plot are currently held at Welikade.

Morris also revealed how he found accommodation for the woman, assigned to wipe out Fonseka at Rambukkana.

Morris had served what the LTTE identified as the Muththampam’s unit. Those who had been placed under the command of Morris operated independently. Morris had the services of several dedicated men and women and plenty of arms, ammunition and explosives caches in several places, in Colombo, and its suburbs. Soon after the arrest of Saraman, the TID raided a shoe-shop at Jinthupitiya, as well as safe houses at Wellawatte and Dehiwela, where the unit found a range of armaments, including a sniper gun, C4 explosives, claymore mines and pistols.

In spite of successful operations undertaken by the military, intelligence services and the police, the LTTE managed to smuggle in arms, ammunition and explosives to Colombo and its suburbs. The LTTE also placed a sizable number of dreaded Black Tigers, both men and women at the command of Morris, who earned the respect of the top leadership for daring plans. Although Lt. Gen. Fonseka survived the suicide blast, the LTTE leadership recognised the exceptional leadership skills shown by Morris, who infiltrated the Army Headquarters. The LTTE had never been able to infiltrate the Army Headquarters before though the group explored ways and means to achieve a target within the heavily guarded base. Morris had the support of a vast LTTE network which ensured continuous supply of weapons, across the army-held lines, including the Omanthai entry/exit point, as well as by sea, to sustain clandestine operations in the South.

During investigations, the TID with information provided by the person who had facilitated the arrest of Saraman, and  leading to the subsequent apprehension of Morris, established the involvement of top Vavuniya-based Director Education in a network tasked with moving explosives and other small arms to the South. A squad of TID personnel detained Director Education, Vavuniya after the informant revealed him receiving large stock of explosives. An officer involved in the inquiry told the writer: "When we visited him in Vavuniya and explained the requirement to question him, he quickly admitted his involvement. The official revealed the spot where the LTTE had buried 32 mines, each weighing 3 kilos."

The Education Director received a one year suspended sentence though he lost his job. Perhaps he had no option but to cooperate with the LTTE or face death. His wife served as a lecturer at Poonthottam University and the family earned the respect of the community.

Did Director Education, Vavuniya manage to transfer explosives before his chance detection? Did he receive money from the LTTE during the conflict?

The Education official was lucky to get away with a suspended sentence after having cooperated with the LTTE to cause chaos in Colombo. The case was heard in Vavuniya . Had it been heard in a Colombo court, the official could have certainly received a tougher verdict.

The TID later found mines in Badulla, very much similar to the ones recovered from the premises of Director Education, Vavuniya during an investigation into Morris making an attempt on the life of the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa. 

Expect more next week on clandestine operations undertaken by Morris, including assassination attempts on the then President Rajapaksa as well as the then SLFP General Secretary Maithripala Sirisena.