On the trail of LTTE terror mastermind Morris...
SPECIAL REPORT : Part 121
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Having evicted the LTTE from the Eastern Province, in mid- 2007, security forces stepped-up operations on the Vanni front.
The 57 Division commanded by Maj. Gen. Jagath Dias (retired last year), and Task Force I Headed by then Brigadier Shavendra Silva (presently, General Officer Commanding (GOC), 53 Division, headquartered at Inamaluwa, Dambulla), had been slowly advancing on the Vanni front, west of the Kandy-Jaffna road. Both fighting formations hadn’t been able to secure significant battlefield victories though they gradually advanced on the Vanni front.
The much awaited link up between the 57 Division and TF 1 was yet to take place. The link up took place south-west of Periyamadu on June 30, 2008.
By late December, the then Army Chief Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka was making hectic preparations to open a new front on the eastern flank with the launch of the 59 Division on the Weli Oya front. The then Brigadier Nandana Udawatte’s 59 Division had been tasked to liberate Mullaitivu (Brigadier Nandana Udawatte is now Adjutant General, Army Headquarters).
In spite of gradual Army build-up on the Vanni front, the LTTE still retained a sizeable conventional fighting capability to resist advancing troops on multiple fronts. In the face of the growing military challenge, the LTTE sought to eliminate the then President and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces Mahinda Rajapaksa. Had the LTTE succeeded, Sri Lanka’s war against terrorism would have suffered an irreparable damage.
The LTTE entrusted undercover operative, known as Morris, to eliminate President Rajapaksa. The Colombo-based terrorist planned to target President Rajapaksa at the opening of the Mahanama Bridge, in Matara, during the last week of December 2007. Had Morris succeeded, Highways and Road Development Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle, too, would have perished on that day. Last week, the writer dealt with the assassination of Minister Fernandopulle on the morning of April 6, 2008. Morris carried out that operation, too. Morris also executed the operation, targeting Lt. Gen. Fonseka on the afternoon of April 25, 2006.
The Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) apprehended Morris during the second week of August, 2009. Having thwarted an attempt to commit suicide, the TID interrogated the suspect, leading to the arrest of ASP Lakshman Cooray, who was tasked with infiltrating President Rajapaksa’s security cordon at the opening of the Mahanama Bridge. Cooray’s job was to facilitate the entry of two male suicide cadres into the guarded area.
In hindsight, the LTTE felt the assassination of President Rajapaksa could derail the military offensive. In fact, such a setback, before the two major fighting formation linked up on the Vanni west front, could have had a devastating impact on the entire war effort. Had the LTTE succeeded, the then Korean Ambassador in Sri Lanka Kwon Yung Dal would have been among the dead as he was also present on the occasion.
According to a veteran law enforcement officer, who had been involved in investigations into terrorist activities, there had never been a previous plan which involved four suicide attackers, including two women to eliminate a political target in the South.
ASP Cooray had brought the two male suicide cadres in his official vehicle to Matara. The two assassins had been in the uniform of police Sub Inspectors. Cooray had obtained the services of a tailoring shop at Weliweriya to provide clothes similar to that of police Sub Inspectors to the two assassins. Having reached Matara, ASP Cooray had decided against infiltrating the venue because he felt he couldn’t leave the targeted area before the bombers struck. Morris had been at the Weligama beach with two women suicide cadres. The decision on the part of ASP Cooray to abort the mission resulted in Morris blasting him. The LTTE operative held ASP Cooray responsible for the mission’s failure.
Cooray, a directly enlisted ASP, had been very close to SLFP politicians and exploited his association with them to his advantage.
Without knowing the presence of two primed human bombs, a little distance away from the venue, President Rajapaksa emphasized the need to continue with the military drive until the LTTE accepted a political solution.
The opening of the South Korean-funded Mahanama Bridge coincided with the third anniversary of the tsunami. Addressing a large gathering President Rajapaksa said: "Some believe that military victories are not useful and that what is needed is a political solution. We must realize that military victories will surely pave the way to push the LTTE to seek a political solution to the problem. The LTTE should realize that they cannot solve problems by means of war and by pointing guns at us."
President Rajapaksa said Sri Lanka which rose from the ashes of tsunami in such a speed unparalleled anywhere else, can also defeat terrorism in the same breath. The tsunami also brought all together irrespective of petty differences. No one died from starvation or epidemics.
"We have recorded unprecedented military victories during the past two years."
The LTTE pursued a two-pronged strategy. On the Vanni battlefield, LTTE operations were meant to inflict maximum possible losses on the Army, and, in the South, the elimination of high profile political and military targets.
Both Morris and ASP Cooray are in custody pending court proceedings. Another LTTE operative, identified as Saraman, is also held in connection with undercover operations, both during and after the conclusion of the conflict.
Another attempt on MR’s life
The LTTE made another attempt to assassinate President Rajapaksa during the final UPFA rally, in the run-up to the North Western Provincial Council polls, at Kurunegala in Feb., 2009. At the behest of Morris, ASP Cooray transported an explosives-packed can to Kurunegala and buried it at the venue (Welagedara Stadium) for the meeting. The can of explosives had been buried, targeting the spot where the platform was usually built. However, the LTTE had to abort the plan due to a change of venue at the last moment. A disappointed Morris ordered ASP Cooray to move back the container filled with explosives to the shrub near the Bellanwila Temple where LTTE covert operations unit maintained a mini arsenal. The TID later found the location where the LTTE had its mini arsenal buried.
Morris had got to know about the Kurunegala rally during a visit to Kurunegala. An investigator, who had been involved in the TID inquiry, told The Island that Morris had swung into action after seeing UPFA posters which announced the final rally under the patronage of President Rajapaksa. The LTTE’s darling, ASP Cooray, obediently brought the explosives filled can in his official vehicle. The Kurunegala operation was meant to derail the offensive, on the Vanni east front, where fighting formations were making significant progress. By then, the LTTE had been rapidly losing its capacity to face advancing troops, on multiple fronts, with the remaining fighting cadre surrounded.
It would be pertinent to keep in mind that those who had been responsible for President Rajapaksa’s security were clueless about the possible involvement of a senior police officer in the LTTE attempts to assassinate the SLFP leader. Morris had the freedom to operate in the South even after spearheading operations against Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka and Minister Jeyaraj Ferandopulle, in April, 2006, and April, 2008, respectively. At the behest of the LTTE leadership, trapped in Vanni, Morris pressed ahead with assassination attempts. Morris had been one of the most successful undercover operatives assigned to take extremely difficult tasks outside the Northern and Eastern Provinces. The operative had a way with those who worked under him.
Under interrogation, Morris revealed him receiving a call from the feared LTTE Intelligence Wing leader Shanmugalingam Sivashankar, alias Pottu Amman, during the last phase of the fighting. Pottu Amman had rarely contacted those who had been assigned for Colombo operations directly. Pottu Amman had always operated through those who had been placed among the men on the ground, in Colombo, or its suburbs. Pottu Amman had told Morris that the LTTE expected him to assassinate President Rajapaksa. Pottu Amman had been under tremendous pressure to finish off President Rajapaksa. By then, the LTTE leadership had realised that the relentless ground offensive, on the Vanni east front, couldn’t be halted. While the LTTE pushed hard to prompt Western intervention to secure a ceasefire, Pottu Amman stepped up efforts to assassinate President Rajapaksa. An investigator quoted Morris as having told the TID that Pottu Amman felt only President Rajapaksa’s assassination could make a difference. Therefore, Morris was to proceed with his efforts to assassinate President Rajapaksa. Pottu Amman emphasized that the amount of money needed for the operation wasn’t an issue. Morris told ASP Cooray to assist him to secure the target expeditiously. Cooray was assured of any amount of money needed for the operation.
Massive defeat in the wake of failed K’gala op
However, the LTTE couldn’t achieve the assigned target before the Army eradicated the LTTE’s conventional fighting capability during the first week of April, 2009. The battle brought the LTTE to its knees about six weeks before Prabhakaran was shot dead on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon.
The April battle was undoubtedly one of the most important operations conducted by the army on the Vanni front during the eelam war IV (March 2007–May 2009). The operation involved the rapid deployment of troops to cordon off and annihilate a well-equipped LTTE force commanded by some of its best commanders.
It was the first classical encirclement operation carried out by the Army, under extremely difficult circumstances on the Vanni East front, though it had overwhelming firepower as well as unlimited ground forces. The defeat of the LTTE formations at Anandapuram made the outcome of the conflict a foregone conclusion in spite of a section of the international community trying to throw a fresh lifeline to the LTTE.
Then Brig. Shavendra Silva’s battle-hardened 58 Division was given the responsibility of carrying out the operation, which involved Brig. Kamal Gunaratne’s 53 Division, though at that time the Gajaba Regiment veteran was away. Brig. Chagi Gallage had been in charge of the 53 Division. The battle was fought outside the civilian safety zone.
On the morning of April 3, 2009, the 58 and 53 Divisions entirely cut off the LTTE group at Anandapuram. Ground commanders deployed three rings of troops backed by armour and artillery to thwart any possible attempt by the cornered Tigers to smash through the cordon.
Over 600 LTTE cadres, including some of their experienced battlefield commanders perished in the battle. The 58 Division recovered over 500 bodies, whereas the 53 Division found over 150. The dead LTTE leaders included Gadafi, Durga, Kapila Amman, Vidusha, Nagesh, Theepan, Maniwannan master, Keerthi and Panjan.
Prez targeted at Badulla
But still Morris pursued President Rajapaksa. Obviously, the then government never took into serious consideration the possibility of the LTTE rump going for President Rajapaksa even after the annihilation of its top leadership. Morris planned to assassinate President Rajapaksa, in the run up to the Uva Provincial Council polls, on Aug.8, 2009, at Badulla. As always, ASP Cooray had been tasked by Morris to move two cans filled with explosives from the shrub near Bellanwila Temple to Vincent Dias grounds, Badulla, where President Rajapaksa was to address the final campaign rally. On the instructions of Morris, ASP Cooray brought two cans filled with explosives, including directional mines (also placed within the cans) and buried one at the venue and the other placed at a point on the Badulla-Mahiyanganaya road.
ASP Cooray buried the can of explosives at the entrance to Vincent Dias grounds.
The Uva PC polls were scheduled for August 8, 2009. Morris planned to detonate the explosives filled can, buried at Vincent Dias grounds, using a remote control device. However, the arrest of a key member of his team, in Colombo, by the TID, may have prompted Morris to suspend the operation, believing the Badulla operation was known to authorities. The remote control device, which was to be used to trigger the explosion, had been kept under a carpet in Morris’s vehicle. The TID found the device. Morris planned to trigger the explosion as President Rajapaksa entered the grounds through an entrance from the adjoining grounds. The LTTE knew two SLAF helicopters carrying President Rajapaksa and his bodyguards were to land on the adjoining grounds.
Within days after the arrest of Saraman, Morris and ASP Cooray during the first two weeks of August 2009, the TID received specific information regarding attempts on President Rajapaksa’s life at Matara, Kurunegala and Badulla. The TID recovered the can of explosives buried at the entrance to the Vincent Dias grounds. Although, the military had thoroughly checked the grounds ahead of the meeting the can of explosives escaped detection.
Ironically, the TID captured Morris in Colombo on the afternoon of August 8, 2009 while polling was taking place in the Uva Province, comprising Badulla and Moneragala districts.
Had Morris succeeded in his attempts on the lives of Lt. Gen. Fonseka and President Rajapaksa, eelam war IV could have taken a different turn. Lt. Gen. Fonseka’s assassination could have paved the way for the LTTE to take the upper hand at the onset of eelam war IV. Had President Rakapaksa been assassinated in December, 2007 it could have dealt a severe blow to the military effort though the same assertion couldn’t be made in case the LTTE succeeded in eliminating the President in Feb. 2009. By then, the LTTE was on the verge of collapse on the Vanni east front where they fought some of the bloodiest battles of the entire eelam war.