Terrorism - Page 2

End of Conspiracy Theories: IS issues a detailed narration on Easter Attacks


The Voice of Khorasan, a magazine by the media outlet for the Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISKP), recently published a brief bio of and a statement by Shaykh Shaheed Abu Ubaitha, the alleged mastermind of the 2019 attacks in Colombo, Sri Lanka. The profile was titled “Shaykh Abu Ubaitha: the Amir of the Istishadi Knights Who Wreaked Havoc on the Crusaders in Srilanka (sic.)”. The attacks occurred on Easter Sunday, April 21, 2019: official figures state that these resulted in the deaths of 269 people, plus the eight suicide bombers involved.

The article claims that Ubaitha was born and raised in Kattankudy (Kaathankudi), a township on Sri Lanka’s east coast. It includes few personal details on him, stating “he had immense love for jihad and zeal for the Ummah (Islamic community) from his childhood, as he bore enmity towards the kuffar (infidels) and mushrikin (polytheists)”. It also claims that sometime prior to the attack, Ubaitha and 800 other individuals pledged their allegiance to former Islamic State (IS) Caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

It states that Ubaitha’s 2019 attacks killed “650 Christians and mushrikin and 22 Mujihideen (who were) martyred”. It also claims that the attackers left a message to the world in “their own blood”, that states “Allah willing, the Khilifah will be raised through our blood that has flown from our bodies and fallen on this earth”.

Ubaitha is quoted directly in reference to the attacks. “If you ask us why we did these attacks, there is a village named Baghuz in Sham (Syria). This land was governed by the law of Allah only. Over 80 crusader countries destroyed this area and its people. They showered white phosphorus bombs, which has (sic.) been banned by the crusader countries [themselves]…”. “After killing our people, making our children orphans, making our sisters widows, and after killing the mujahedeen they (the ‘crusaders’) come here for tourism and holidays. So we have embarked on a noble cause… to kill them by sacrificing our lives!” In his lengthy statement, Ubaitha also addresses future potential targets, stating “Do not think you can negotiate. There will be explosions here and there. This is [just] the beginning!” The statement also mentions the March 2019 Christchurch Mosque shooting in New Zealand as justification for attacks on Churches in Colombo.

Other than the brief bio and photos provided in this recent publication, practically nothing is known of Shaykh Shaheed Abu Ubaitha. One of the known attackers named Mohammad Cassim Mohammad Zahran (aka Zahra Hashmi) came from Ubaitha’s reported hometown of Kattankudy. A suspected ringleader in the attacks, he was killed in a suicide explosion at the Shangri-la hotel in Colombo in 2019. It is possible that Shaykh Shaheed Abu Ubaitha may have been another of Zahran’s nom de guerres.

According to Sri Lankan officials, the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks in Colombo were perpetrated by the National Thoweeth Jama’ath (NTJ). Translated from Arabic as the National Monotheism Organization, the NTJ is believed to have ties to IS: it and one of its suspected splinter groups were banned by the Sri Lankan parliament on April 27, 2019, shortly after the attacks. Although now-former Sri Lankan Defence Minister Ruwan Wijewardene has claimed that the attacks came in response to the March 2019 Christchurch Mosque shootings, this has been disputed by some experts. If true, this latest statement from the ISKP would corroborate the Sri Lankan government’s official narrative on the matter.

Source: Militant Wire

Islamic State renews its threat to Sri Lanka


Through its new issue of the “official” magazine of the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) has renewed its threat to Sri Lanka while commemorating its dead extremists during the Easter attacks in 2019.

The latest issue of the Voice of Kuarazan, the regular publication of ISKP, has featured four-page article on Easter Attacks where they have hailed the terrorist acts of Saharan and his team.  

“The Jamaah of the mujahidin decided to carry out an istishhadi operation in the churches and hotels in Sri Lanka, and the Amir Selected, in addition to him, 7 other members for the blessed istisshhadi operation, who were, Abul Mukthar, Abul Haleel, Abu Hamza, Abu Bura, Abu Muhammad, Abu Abdullah, Abu Umar. With success from Allah, the istisshadi operation was successfully conducted by the aforementioned mujahidin”, the article said.

However, exaggerating the casualties of the carnage, the magazine noted that, “As a result, about 650 Christians and mushrikin were killed and 22 mujahidin were martyred in this attack”

While renewing the threat, “ On the behalf of all the people who were burned solely for the reason that they brought Imman on Allah only, today we have gathered to take revenge and undertake an action. What are we going to do? After killing our people, making our children orphans, making our sister widows, and after killing the mujahidin, they have come here for tourism and holidays. So we have embarked on a noble cause, a noble transaction with Allah. To kill them by sacrificing our lives!”.

[ by our Defence Correspondent]

Sri Lanka: Diabolical mind of LTTE Spy Chief – Part 2

The first part of this article published last week narrated certain aspects of the life of Sivashankar alias ‘Pottu Ammaan’ the much-dreaded intelligence chief of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Although my original intention was to write a two-part article, I have been compelled to make it a three-part article in order to do justice to the information that I have been able to gather about Pottu Ammaan.

Sivashankar known as Pottu and Pottu Ammaan joined the LTTE in 1981. He obtained Indian arms training after July 1983 in Uttar Pradesh as part of the first batch of tiger trainees. After getting Indian training, Pottu functioned as one of Prabhakaran’s bodyguards. It was during this period that Pottu became a fanatical follower of his leader. He served the tiger ‘numero uno’ with slavish devotion. Pottu’s personal loyalty to Prabhakaran was unswerving and unquestionable.

After a stint as the boss’s bodyguard, Pottu was sent to be in charge (poruppu) of the “Karai” (shore) operations in Vethaaranyam area on the Tamil Nadu coast. The LTTE had set up camps in this area. Pottu was in overall charge.

Coastal operations were of paramount importance in the eighties of the last century as the LTTE was heavily dependent on Tamil Nadu as a rear base. Arms, medicine, fuel and other vital supplies were sent to northern Sri Lanka via sea from the Tamil Nadu coast. There was also a steady flow of cadres to and from Tamil Nadu by sea.

In charge at Vethaaranyam

Pottu discharged his duties efficiently but ruthlessly. One of his lesser known responsibilities at Vethaaranyam was the liquidation of cadres who fell foul of the leadership or were suspected of being traitors and double agents.

They were clandestinely killed, stomachs slashed and bodies dumped in the sea. Family and friends in Sri Lanka would think the persons concerned were in India while those in India would think they were in Sri Lanka. But the poor victims would be in Davy Jones’s locker.

LTTE old timers remember a particular incident illustrative of Pottu Ammaan’s monstrous cruelty. A cadre from Nelliaddy called “Chandran” was suspected of being a “traitor”. About to be executed, Chandran managed to run away after injuring a few cadres.

Pottu was enraged. The escapee was caught and brought to Pottu who trussed him up in a sack tied to a rope on a tree. The sack was dashed again and again by Pottu himself on the tree trunk. He then battered the sack with an iron rod. Chandran was reduced to pulp.

But Pottu’s stay in Vedaranyam had its pitfalls too. A calamity that befell Pottu in Vethaaaranyam in 1985 had its repercussions in Madras now Chennai.

PLOTE abducts Pottu

What happened then was that Pottu Ammaan, in charge of the LTTE coastal camp in Vethaaranyam had got into a heated argument with People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) operatives in the Tamil Nadu coastal region. In those days, the PLOTE had more cadres than the LTTE. Pottu and his bodyguard were outnumbered by the PLOTE contingent. Suddenly the PLOTE members seized Pottu and bodyguard and whisked him away to a PLOTE camp. Pottu Ammaan had been abducted by the PLOTE.

A furious LTTE chief Velupillai Prabhakaran assigned to his deputies Shankar and Aruna, the task of freeing Pottu Amman. A round of talks between PLOTE military commander Jotheeswaran alias Kannan and Sornalingam alias Shankar took place in the residence of a Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) Member of Parliament considered to be close to the PLOTE leadership. The talks however failed.

Shankar then revised his strategy and telephoned Dr. Sivanathan of the Tamil Information Centre (TIC) at Mahalingapuram in Chennai and asked him to arrange a meeting with the PLOTE’s Kannan the military leader. Kannan arrived with his retinue of bodyguards and engaged in discussions with Shankar at the TIC. At one point Shankar whisked out his gun, fired on Kannan’s foot and quickly placed his gun against Kannan’s head.

Shankar pulled out Kannan’s firearm and began firing into the air, while prodding Kannan with his own gun towards a waiting vehicle with Aruna as driver. The PLOTE bodyguards could do nothing as their leader was taken captive. Later, the LTTE negotiated from a position of strength with the PLOTE and exchanged Kannan for Pottu Amman and his bodyguard.

The extraordinary lengths to which the LTTE went to free Pottu Ammaan illustrated the regard with which he was held by the tiger supremo Prabhakaran.

Shankar who later pioneered the LTTE Air wing was killed by the Army’s Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRP) on the Oddusuddan-Puthukkudiyiruppu road on 26 September 2001. Kannan who along with PLOTE leader Umamaheswaran alias Muhunthan engaged in a shoot-out with LTTE leader Prabhakaran alias Karikalan and Sivakumar alias Raghavan at Pondy bazaar, Chennai in 1982 met with an equally tragic end later.

Kannan along with a group of PLOTE members including deputy leader Vasudeva and senior leader Subash were lured for “talks” to Pulipaainthakal near Kiran by the erstwhile eastern tiger commander “Col” Karuna in 1987 during the ceasefire period after the Indo-Lanka accord. It was a trap and they were massacred by Karuna and his cohorts.

Pottu relocated to east

After the humiliating abduction incident, Pottu was relieved of his duties on the Tamil Nadu coast and relocated to the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka. He functioned in the Batticaloa and Amparai districts as a key associate to Basheer Kaakaa, Aruna and Kumarappah when they were in charge of the eastern region at different times. Pottu’s stay in the east was very eventful. It was in Batticaloa that Pottu met, loved and got married to his wife Vathsala.

It was also in Batticaloa that a gun-toting Pottu suffered the ignominy of being walloped with a broomstick by a Tamil woman who knocked the pistol out of his hand. The brave lady who is no more was none other than the irrepressible Kala Tambimuttu. Kala was the wife of former Batticaloa district MP Sam Tambimuttu and daughter of ex-senator Manickam. The only son of the Tambimuttus, Arun, is a budding politician in Batticaloa. The above mentioned incident and Pottu’s marriage will be delved into in greater detail at a later stage in this article.

When war erupted with the Indian army in October 1987, Pottu was recalled from Batticaloa and sent to Tamil Nadu again to oversee the smooth flow of supplies from the state. He moved from place to place utilising Indian fishermen to help transport goods often posing as a smuggler dealing in contraband.

On one occasion Pottu along with some Indian fishermen was arrested on charges of smuggling. Fortunately for Pottu the Indian officials thought he was an ordinary smuggler and not a tiger operative. After languishing in jail for a while Pottu bribed his way out to freedom. On another occasion he was involved in a shoot-out where an official vehicle of the Indian Customs was damaged.

Tied “Thaali” in Tamil Nadu temple

Pottu then returned to Jaffna and engaged in guerrilla operations against the Indian army. Pottu sustained injuries in his stomach in a skirmish and recuperated in the Wanni where Prabhakaran himself had relocated to. Thereafter Pottu went to Tamil Nadu clandestinely for further medical treatment. It was indeed an irony that tigers injured in fighting with the Indian army on Sri Lankan soil were able to get clandestine medical treatment in Tamil Nadu. Vathsala too went to Tamil Nadu. Both entered wedlock ceremonially in a Hindu temple where the groom tied a “Thaali” around the bride’s neck. Earlier their marriage had been registered in Batticaloa.

After full recovery Pottu returned to Sri Lanka and was entrusted in mid-1988 with the responsibility of administering the LTTE’s intelligence wing. It was called the Tiger Organization Security Intelligence Service or TOSIS. The TOSIS chief Vasanthan had left the LTTE after the 1987 Indo-Lanka accord.

After taking over, Pottu revamped the intelligence division and remained in charge for the next 21 years. As the years progressed he began acquiring a fearsome reputation. His status in the LTTE grew. Pottu became Pottu Ammaan.

Running the intelligence wing

As stated last week Pottu Ammaan was autocratic in running the intelligence wing. An incident related by a veteran government official is rather revealing. This gentleman had to shuttle between Colombo and Jaffna on account of his duties during the war days. His son had joined the LTTE and was working with explosives.

Pottu Ammaan enlisted or intimidated the officer into carrying things from Jaffna to Colombo and vice versa. The official had to obey Pottu’s diktat. One day Pottu summoned the official and showed him two boys. He was ordered to take them to Colombo and arrange for their stay. The official who had been for long a schoolmaster and had interacted with young boys took a look and expressed misgivings about one. He felt the boy in question was not up to the task.

“I am telling you from experience Ammaan. Not this fellow. He will be caught,” the official demurred. But an adamant Pottu snapped back. “Old man you take both or I will put you in the bunker prison.” The official had no choice other than to take both to Colombo. As he feared one of the boys was caught by the Police. As a result the official himself was arrested and detained for several years until his release after the 2002 ceasefire. This incident was personally related to me by the official concerned.

Another Tamil journalist living in Colombo had a similar experience with Pottu Ammaan. The journalist was in contact with the LTTE and had met some leaders including Pottu. Thereafter Pottu used to telephone him and chat. The journalist was thrilled. But one day two tigers turned up at his residence claiming that Pottu Ammaan had sent them. He was asked to accommodate them. The journalist living in a Sinhala neighbourhood refused and turned them away. Pottu was angry and threatened him. Fearing the worst the journalist soon left the country with his family.

Pottu’s power grows

In the initial stages after the intelligence division was restructured (explained in detail in article last week) most intelligence department heads reported to Prabhakaran as well as Pottu Ammaan. Gradually Pottu Amman became the intermediary through whom everything was reported to the LTTE chief. Pottu would meet the LTTE supremo at least four or five times a week.

There came a time when Prabhakaran was virtually inaccessible to senior LTTE leaders. Only Pottu Ammaan could see the supremo at any given time. Also Pottu Ammaan was the only tiger leader who could meet with Prabhakaran while carrying arms. All others had to hand over their arms before being granted a rare audience.

This state of affairs was caused by a massive threat perception. The Indian espionage agency RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) as well as the LRRP deep penetration squads of the Sri Lankan Army were greatly feared. The fear of the “enemy within” made a paranoid Prabhakaran become increasingly alienated from tiger leaders and cadres. Pottu Ammaan became all powerful and at one point was “controlling” the day to day activities of the leader.

Kiruban escape

The suspected RAW operation of staging an “escape” in Tamil Nadu and sending the “escapee” Kirupan to assassinate Prabhakaran was one attempt allegedly foiled by Pottu and Kapil Ammaan.

Kirupan masterminded the massacre of 13 members of the Eelam Peoples Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) including its secretary-general Padmanabha, Parliamentarian Yogasangary and North-Eastern provincial minister Kirubaharan. This happened on 19 June 1990. Kiruban was arrested at a security roadblock near Pudukkoattai and held in the Vellore jail.

Kiruban allegedly made his escape when being transported under armed Police escort from Vellore to the Pudukkoattai courts. He reportedly shot dead two Policemen when fleeing to the Rameshwaram coast. He returned to Jaffna and regaled the LTTE supremo and other tiger leaders with tales of his sensational escape. But Kiruban’s “escape” was viewed suspiciously by Pottu and his deputy Kapil Amman.

They suspected that RAW had “turned” or converted Kiruban into a double agent and enacted a staged escape to hoodwink the LTTE leadership. Kiruban had been sent by RAW to assassinate Prabhakaran was the conspiracy theory of Pottu and Kapil. So Kiruban was tortured and executed after he was made to confess.

There is however a school of thought that believes Kiruban was innocent and was not an agent of the RAW. He had displayed much innovative acumen by undertaking such a daring escape to reach home only to be executed as a suspected RAW agent. It was felt that Pottu had acted over zealously or with an ulterior motive in handling Kiruban.

Mahathaya “coup d’etat”

The other and more important counter-intelligence success claimed by Pottu Ammaan was the crushing of the so-called Mahathaya “coup d’etat”. The Kirupan episode too was allegedly connected to the Mahathaya affair in which the LTTE’s deputy leader Gopalaswamy Mahendrarajah alias “Mahathaya” was executed for conspiring to assassinate Prabhakaran and other top leaders. Again the RAW was blamed for “poisoning” Mahathaya’s mind and for “turning” a tiger cadre called “Engineer” into a double agent.

Pottu first arrested Engineer who returned from India after obtaining a Jaipur foot artificial limb. His leg had been blown away earlier in a landmine explosion. Thereafter it was alleged that the tiger deputy leader was conspiring with the RAW to stage an internal coup and oust Prabhakaran. It was alleged that Mahathaya was planning to execute Prabhakaran, Pottu Ammaan and 10 other senior tiger leaders and seize the LTTE leadership.

Mahathaya was arrested and tortured by Pottu Ammaan and a “confession” extracted before his execution. The videoed “confession” was screened to all cadres in order to justify the execution of the deputy-leader.

Thousands of cadres and leaders were detained and interrogated for suspected complicity. These included senior leaders like Jeyam, Yogi and Thamilselvan’s elder brother Paramu Balasubramaniam alias Moorthy. All three were reinstated later.

Many of the interrogated senior tigers were Pottu’s friends and colleagues. Embarrassed to supervise the interrogation personally, Pottu delegated the task to some juniors. They inflicted much physical harm and torture. The former political commissar Yogi’s hearing was affected as a result of the torture. Jeyam then the Vavuniya district commander had his nails removed.

Hundreds of others suspected of being Mahathaya loyalists were tortured and killed. These included members of the tiger contingent functioning as Mahathaya’s bodyguards.

Gowrikannan alias Susheelan

One of the senior leaders killed was former Kilinochchi district commander Rasanayagam Gowrikannan alias Susheelan. He was arrested months after Mahathaya’s arrest. The circumstances of Susheelan’s arrest and execution shed much light on the cruel and diabolical mindset of Pottu Ammaan.

Susheelan had got married barely a month before his arrest. Three siblings of his wife were LTTE cadres. The chief guest at Susheelan’s wedding was none other than Pottu Amman himself. He participated joyfully cracking many jokes at the bridegroom’s expense. He took his leave after wishing the new couple many years of wedded bliss.

Barely one month later, Pottu’s henchmen arrested Susheelan. He was interrogated and tortured. The Rasanayagam family in Nelliaddy had been supportive of the LTTE and had a cordial relationship with many senior tigers including Pottu Ammaan. They made pathetic entreaties to Pottu Ammaan but nothing could move the intelligence chief.

Susheelan’s mother whose favourite child was her youngest son was heartbroken. She died soon after her son was detained by the LTTE. Despite many appeals Pottu Ammaan refused to let Susheelan attend his mother’s funeral. Susheelan himself “died” in captivity later.

A close friend was to ask Pottu later as to why he encouraged Susheelan’s marriage and attended the wedding ceremony weeks before his arrest. Pottu’s reply in Tamil was characteristic. “If I tried to block his marriage or declined his wedding invitation, Susheelan would have got suspicious and fled from Jaffna. I attended the wedding to lull him into a false sense of security.”

Despite claims of an intelligence triumph by Pottu Ammaan over the Mahathaya affair there are many who doubt whether the ex-deputy leader was indeed guilty. It is said that Prabhakaran was resentful of Mahathaya’s popularity after the formation of the LTTE’s political front the Peoples Front of Liberation Tigers (PFLT). The proponents of this theory feel that Pottu was acting at the behest of Prabhakaran to “frame” Mahathaya on a conspiracy charge. This was how the former Soviet Union’s intelligence chief Beria functioned as the “running dog” of ruler Stalin.

“Col” Karuna revolt

Another instance where Pottu Amman scored and increased his clout with Prabhakaran further was the Karuna Ammaan revolt. Pottu apparently was warning Prabhakaran that the LTTE’s former Eastern regional commander, Vinayagamoorthy Muraleetharan alias “Col” Karuna was treacherous and urging pre-emptive action. But Prabhakaran who had a soft corner for Karuna would not listen and restrained Pottu from acting. Karuna himself was not too worried about Prabha but was very fearful that Pottu could fix him.

Matters came to a head when Karuna defied an order from Prabhakaran summoning him to the Wanni and revolted openly. This reinforced Pottu’s position that Karuna was conspiring and was not to be trusted. As events unfolded and Karuna chartered his own course by collaborating with the Sri Lankan state, Pottu’s stance was vindicated in the eyes of Prabhakaran. Regretting his earlier refusal to act against Karuna as urged by Pottu the LTTE leader began relying excessively on Pottu Ammaan thereafter.

Prabhakaran and Pottu Ammaan 

This close affinity and mutual reliance between Prabhakaran and Pottu Ammaan continued to prevail with Pottu Ammaan remaining faithful to Prabhakaran till the very end. The details of Pottu Ammaan’s demise along with other matters would be related in the third and final part of this article.

Sri Lanka: Revisiting the Tamil Tigers Spy Chief


Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) supremo Veluppillai Prabhakaran along with many senior LTTE leaders was killed in the military confrontation with Sri Lanka’s armed forces in May 2009. With that military debacle in the Mullivaaikkaal area of Mullaitheevu district, the LTTE – known as the tigers – ceased to be a functional entity in the island.

Among those reported dead in May 2009 was the LTTE’s much-dreaded intelligence chief Shanmuganathan Sivashankar alias ‘Pottu Ammaan’. Though Ammaan is spelled by many as Amman with a single ‘A’, this writer uses a double A because it is phonetically more accurate in terms of pronunciation. Incidentally ‘Ammaan’ in Jaffna Tamil usage denotes maternal uncle. Many senior LTTE leaders were addressed respectfully as Ammaan by members of the movement in those days.

LTTE Intelligence chief Pottu Ammaan was at the time of the LTTE’s military defeat, the de-facto No. 2 of the tigers. The de-jure No. 2 was Baby Subramaniam who was second only to Prabhakaran in terms of seniority within LTTE ranks. However it was Pottu Ammaan who functioned operationally as the No. 2. Though reported dead and subsequently pronounced legally dead, the fact remains that Pottu Ammaan’s body or remains were never found. This has led to much speculation about the LTTE intelligence chief not being dead.

This writer has over the years received many queries from readers about Pottu Amman. Many of them ask me whether Pottu Ammaan is yet alive. The fires of doubt in their minds is fuelled by persistent rumours and occasional media reports of a sensational nature. Several readers have also been wanting to know more details about the LTTE intelligence chief. It is against this backdrop therefore that this two-part article focuses on Pottu Ammaan with the aid of some of my earlier writings.

Sivashankar Alias ‘Pottu’

Shanmuganathan Sivashankar alias Pottu Ammaan a.k.a. Pottu functioned for more than two decades as the pivotal head of the LTTE’s powerful intelligence division. Pottu served the LTTE for nearly 30 years having joined the movement in the early 80s of the previous century. When the LTTE launched its attack on soldiers in Thinnevely on 23 July 1983 it had only 23 full-time members and seven part-time helpers. Pottu was one of the original 30. Though his family resided in Naayanmarkattu, they were from neighbouring Ariyalai.

There was a time when Ariyalai in Jaffna was second only to Valvettithurai (VVT) in providing recruits to the LTTE. Senior leaders like Santhosham master, Kannaadi Prem and Bhanu were residents of Ariyalai. Veteran LTTE leader Basheer Kaakaa and Pottu were also from Ariyalai but were residents of Nayanmaarkattu adjacent to Ariyalai. However from childhood, Sivashankar had moved with Ariyalai kids of his age and used to hang out more in Ariyalai than Naayanmaarkattu.

Sivashankar’s father Shanmuganathan was also known as Shanmugalingam. He had been working as a clerk in Nuwara-Eliya district for many years. The family lived in Jaffna because of schooling for the children. At one point of time, several LTTE members including Charles Anthony alias Seelan had rented out the front room adjoining the Verandah as a “safe house” and stayed there for a while. It is said that Pottu’s father continued to reside in the hill country till the late 90s. Since very little was known to the Sri Lankan authorities about Pottu the son was supremely confident that his father was in no danger.

Pottu studied at Maheswari Vidyalayam, Canageratnam MMV (Stanley College) and Jaffna Hindu College. Tall, handsome and smart, he was very popular with his friends. Apparently he did not excel in studies or sports but won a lot of essay competitions. Sivashankar was recruited to the LTTE by former tiger Batticaloa district commander Basheer Kaakkaa and ex-LTTE Trincomalee district commander Santhosham. This was in late 1981. Earlier he had worked as part-time helper. Upon joining the LTTE as a full-timer, Sivashankar was assigned the nom de guerre Kumanan. But as the days went by he became known as ‘Pottu’ which interestingly enough was a nickname used by friends from school days.

Origin of the nickname Pottu

The origin of that nickname Pottu is rather amusing. Pottu is the mark or thilak placed on one’s forehead. Usually Santhanam (sandal) or Vermillion (Kunkumam) is used for daubing a pottu in temples or on auspicious occasions.

The rise of the Tamil nationalist , Ilankai Thamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK) also known as the Federal Party and in later times the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) in Tamil politics led to the dominance of concepts like struggle and sacrifice in Tamil political discourse. A militant manifestation of this tendency was the custom of placing ‘Irathappottu’ or bloody thilaks.

Aroused by the hawkish sentiments of Tamil political leaders, highly emotional youths would mount platforms, prick or cut their thumbs and place the oozing blood as ‘pottu’ on the foreheads of the leaders pledging their blood and life for the Tamil cause.

Apparently young Sivashankar too had on one occasion climbed on to the stage in a frenzy, ripped his hand with a razor blade and placed bloody pottus on the foreheads of Tamil leaders Appapillai Amirthalingam and Vetrivelu Yogeswaran. This was during the highly emotive 1977 election campaign where the TULF espoused a separate state called Tamil Eelam. Yogeswaran was the TULF candidate for Jaffna electorate then.

Sivashankar’s emotional gesture was perceived hilariously by his friends. He was teased and called Pottu after that. The name struck and later when he joined the LTTE the Pottu name lingered on and his new comrades too began addressing him as such.

As Pottu’s seniority increased the suffix ‘Ammaan’ was added. As stated earlier Ammaan means maternal uncle in Jaffna Tamil usage. Seniors in the militant movement are addressed as ‘Annan’ (elder brother) ‘Master’ or ‘Ammaan’. Apart from the official nom de guerre Kumanan, other names used by Shivashankar occasionally were Moorthy, Kuyilan and Kuruvi. But it was as Pottu that he was known best. His international radio sign was ‘Papa Oscar’.

‘Vediyarasanân’ (explosion king)

In later years when the LTTE began triggering off explosion after explosion in Colombo and other areas, some tiger leaders like the LTTE’s former political adviser Anton Balasingam referred to Pottu facetiously as ‘Vediyarasanân’ (explosion king). Interestingly Vediyarasan is also the name of the legendary warrior-king who ruled Neduntheevu or the Island of Delft. Tamil folk dramas are staged about Vediyarasan in the ‘Naattukkoothu’ tradition still.

First LTTE batch

The July 1983 anti-Tamil pogrom with its consequences was a watershed in Tamil politics. India played an active role by providing arms training for Tamil militants known as ‘boys’ then. Sivashankar alias Pottu went to Uttar Pradesh in North India for arms training as part of the first LTTE batch. The 1st batch comprised trainees who were a blend of ‘old’ members and new recruits. Among Pottu’s comrades in the first batch were Kittu, Ponnammaan, Soosai, Aruna, Victor, Curdles, Pulendrhian, Rajesh, Gnanam, Imran, Pandian, Ganesh, Paduman and Kanthan.

After getting Indian training Pottu functioned briefly as Prabhakaran’s bodyguard. It was during this period that Pottu became a fanatical follower of his leader. He served his leader with slavish devotion. Pottu’s personal loyalty to Prabhakaran was unswerving and unquestionable.

Pottu was entrusted in mid-988 with the responsibility of administering the LTTE’s intelligence wing. He remained in charge for 21 years until May 2009.

The evolution and growth of the LTTE intelligence division has been quite remarkable. Being a guerrilla organisation the LTTE lacked resources in signals, electronic, imagery or technical intelligence. But these were compensated for greatly by excessive reliance on HUMINT or Human Intelligence.


The LTTE Intelligence wing was initially formed in December 1983. It was called the Tiger Organization Security Intelligence Service or TOSIS. Its first head was a family member of a well- known smuggler in Valvettithurai. This person now living in a Western country bore the nom de guerre Vasanthan. The first head of TOSIS also had a pilot’s license. Vasanthan left the LTTE after the 1987 Indo-Lanka accord.

The TOSIS mainly functioned from Chennai during those days. Its role was minimal and somewhat nominal. The Indian intelligence agency RAW (Research and analysis wing) held some elementary training sessions for TOSIS. One of the early ‘intelligence’ tasks was the monitoring of maritime movement in Trincomalee harbour. The LTTE also ran a military office (MO) in Chennai headed by Thalayasingham Sivakumar alias Anton Master. The MO was more or less a prototype of a military intelligence unit.

Meanwhile the former LTTE Jaffna commander ‘Col’ Kittu set up his own local intelligence outfit. It was headed by ‘Ideas’ Vasu who also was from VVT. Vasu along with Ponnammaan and Curdles was killed in the Kaithady bowser explosion of 14 February, 1987. After Prabhakaran returned to Jaffna from Tamil Nadu in January 1987, he formed another intelligence unit called BETA-2. This was supervised by the former LTTE deputy-leader Gopalaswamy Mahendrarajah alias Mahathaya.

Took over in 1988

The TOSIS was re-located to the northern mainland known as Wanni in 1987. The BETA-2 and all other regional intelligence outfits were merged with it. The TOSIS underwent a renaissance after Pottu took over in 1988. He was ably assisted by Bosco alias Potko who at one time was studying to be a Catholic priest.

The LTTE gained much territorial control after the Indian army departed in March 1990. Using Jaffna as the base, Pottu began expanding, streamlining and developing the intelligence division. While Potko attended to administrative functions Shanmuganathan Ravichandran alias Charles was in charge of external operations. Charles who adopted the name Arulventhan later was a direct recruit of Pottu Ammaan. Charles was introduced to Pottu by the latter’s bodyguard Kili during the Indian army period. External operations was a euphemism for attacks outside the North-East particularly Colombo.

Charles was sent to Colombo during the ‘peace talks’ period with President Ranasinghe Premadasa. It was during this phase that the LTTE infiltrated Colombo easily. Charles diligently set up a clandestine tiger network. After war resumed in June 1990, this outfit got into action. Among the early operations was the car bomb assassination of deputy defence minister Ranjan Wijeratne and vehicle bombing of JOC headquarters in Colombo.

The intelligence division was in the meantime being revamped. The LTTE made a systematic study of the chief intelligence agencies of the world. According to ex-LTTE members who had been intelligence operatives, the training manuals of Pakistan’s intelligence agency the Inter State Services (ISI) were obtained and utilised for training intelligence wing cadres. The LTTE also copied many methods and stratagems of Israel’s Shin Bet and Mossad, say former LTTE members.

One attribute gleaned from the Israelis was to utilise Thamizh as the language of operation for intelligence purposes just as Israel used Hebrew. Though known as TOSIS once the LTTE’ intelligence division became totally Tamilised as it progressed. Special branches were begun within the intelligence division.

One such unit was called the ‘Viseda Vevu Pirivu’ or special reconnaissance unit. This was headed by Sashikumar or Sashi master who was decorated by Prabhakaran personally for the successful operation of 8 August 1992. This was the explosion at Aralithurai where a vehicle was blown up killing several top security officials including Denzil Kobbekaduwe and Vijaya Wimalaratne.

Demarcated intelligence division

In 1993, the intelligence division was demarcated into the ‘Thesiya Pulanaaivu pirivu’ (National intelligence division) and ‘Iraanuva pulanaaivu sevai’ (Military intelligence service). Pottu was in overall charge of the entire intelligence division in general and national intelligence service in particular.

Sashi master was placed in charge of military intelligence. He held this post till 2004 when Prabhakaran appointed Charles in his place. Sashi was placed in charge of special operations and training.

After Charles was killed by the Army in January 2008 in Mannar, Sashi master was re-appointed in charge of military intelligence. Sashikumar and ‘Col’ Sornam fought to the end in Mullivaaikkaal and died on 15 May.

National Intelligence Division

The LTTE National Intelligence Division had five known departments. The intelligence gathering section known as ‘Thagaval segarikkum pirivu’ was headed by Kapil Amman who was also the deputy chief of intelligence. The research and publications department known as ‘Aaivu matrum veliyeetu pirivu’ was headed by Maathavan master.

The special operations department known as ‘Viseda seyatpaadu pirivu’ was under Janan master. The infamous ‘Karumpuligal’ (Black tigers) suicide unit was also under this section. The ‘Payitchi matrum Tholil nutpa [pirivu]’ (Training and technology dept.) was under Aathavan master. The administrative department known as ‘Nirvaakappirivu’ was under Shankar. After he was killed by the Army’s LRRP in 2001, Gaddafi took charge.

Military intelligence service

The military intelligence service headed by Sashikumar alias Sashi master had five known departments. The ‘Viseda Vevu’ or special reconnaissance department was headed by Charles aka Arulventhan and later Irathinam Amman. The administrative department known as ‘Nirvaagapirivu’ was also supervised by Sashi master.

There were also three ‘Iraanuva thagaval segarippu pirivugal’ (military intelligence gathering units) for the Army, Navy and Air Force. These units had to gather information about all army, navy and airforce installations, movement of personnel, etc. These were headed by Gauthaman.

Intelligence division cadres were carefully screened with background checks before recruitment. New recruits underwent intensive training that lasted at times for nearly a year. Trainees were kept in isolation and had to wear masks for group sessions so that their faces were not seen by each other.

Training was varied. The black tiger suicide squad members were given specialised training that included how to walk in crowded streets without knocking on people while wearing an explosive laden suicide jacket or belt. Sinhala language lessons with proper emphasis on the ‘accent’ was also imparted to those carrying Identity cards with Sinhala names.

Field agents

A typical LTTE cell located outside the North-East had four to six members. They were called ‘Velikkala muhavarhal’ or field agents. One did not know the other and each was assigned separate duties. Each cell was handled or coordinated by a ‘pirathhana muhavar’ or principal agent. At times the principal agent interacted directly with the field agents. At times an intermediary called ‘Idainilaiyaalar’ was used. 

An elaborate network of safe houses, storage facilities, dead letter boxes, etc. was set up by the LTTE intelligence. Earlier the tigers utilised Tamils of North-Eastern origin for setting up the supportive network. Later they focused on Indian Tamils. Gradually the tigers began enlisting Muslims and Sinhalese using enhanced financial remuneration as an incentive. The ceasefire period from 2002 February was a windfall. An intricate network was established.

A noteworthy feature of this phenomenon was the infiltration of Police and Armed Forces. Initially a media personality was used to cultivate potential double agent recruits in the Police and Armed Forces. Huge sums of money and in some instances expensive property were given as incentives. Most of these officers were Sinhala or Muslim. Some of these personnel were later identified and apprehended. Sri Lankan officials were immensely impressed by the extent to which Pottu Ammaan had elevated the LTTE intelligence division.

Bosco alias Potko

The LTTE’s intelligence wing was a mere fledgling when Pottu took over. It was Pottu Amman who developed it to unbelievable levels. As mentioned earlier, he was aided greatly by Bosco alias Potko who at one time was a student in a Catholic seminary.

Some of Pottu’s old acquaintances were initially flabbergasted at Pottu’s metamorphosis as Beria to Prabhakaran’s Stalin. Lavrentiy Pavlovich Beria was the dreaded Chief of Secret Police in the Old Soviet Union during the dictatorial rule of Josef Stalin.

One of his classmates now in Canada told me once that Sivashankar was a ‘mokkan’ (idiot) in studies. He was amazed at Pottu’s growth in later life and observed, “I just don’t know how he is running the intelligence division so well nowadays.” But then academic brilliance is not a pre-requisite to run an intelligence outfit. What is required is lateral thinking, practical approaches, devious, cunning, organisational skills, shrewd judgement of men and matters, and above all perpetual paranoia about everything.

Expertise in playing cards

An indicator of Pottu’s ability and talent was his acknowledged expertise in playing cards. He was very fond of playing cards. A former LTTE colleague of Pottu told me that he (Pottu) could be woken up from sleep at night for a game of cards. He was always ready for cards. On one occasion, the tigers had to flee from a safe house because an army patrol was approaching. Pottu had apparently forgotten to take away a bag of home made grenades with him but had not forgotten to take away his pack of cards. Pottu was not the intelligence chief at that time.

Pottu was apparently a marvel at ‘Three Naught Four’ and was able – within a short time – to gauge which cards were being held by his adversaries. He would play his cards accordingly. Pottu had the uncanny ability to both bluff as well as call the bluff of his opponents. This was a trait which stood him in good stead as intelligence chief.


Pottu Ammaan however was autocratic in running the intelligence wing. He also had a cruel streak which made him a much dreaded man within and outside the LTTE. Once in 2002, Pottu Ammaan was a ‘surprise’ participant at a political discussion between the LTTE and MPs from the newly formed Tamil National Alliance (TNA). I asked LTTE political strategist Anton Balasingham then in London about Pottu’s inclusion in a political discussion. Balasingham chuckled and replied that Pottu was included to intimidate (verutta) the MPs.

The much-dreaded Pottu Ammaan’s reign of terror came to an end in May 2009. How and why that happened would be delved into in grater detail in the second part of this article

India: We are not Terrorists or Killers but Victims


RP Ravichandran, one of the six convicts who was released on Saturday in the assassination case of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, said that the people of north India should see them as “victims instead of terrorists or killers”.

He said that time will judge them as “innocents”.

Speaking to ANI after his release from Madurai Central Prison, Ravichandran said, “The people of north India should see us as victims instead of terrorists or killers. Time and power determine who is a terrorist or a freedom fighter but time will judge us as innocent, even if we bear the blame for being terrorists.” Nalini and Ravichandran had approached the apex court seeking release from prison-like fellow convict AG Perarivalan.

This came after the Supreme Court, on May 18, had evoked its extraordinary powers under Article 142 of the Constitution to release AG Perarivalan, who was one of the seven convicts in the assassination case.

Earlier, Nalini Sriharan, one of the six convicts in the case, expressed her gratitude to the Tamil Nadu and central governments for extending “help” to her during her punishment of 32 years and said that she wants to be with her family.

Sriharan, who is the longest-serving woman prisoner serving a life sentence in the country, was released from the Vellore jail on Saturday following an order from the Supreme Court on Friday, freeing all six convicts, including RP Ravichandran, in the case.

Upon walking out of the jail, she thanked the people of Tamil Nadu, who she said, supported her for 32 years.

Speaking to ANI, Nalini spoke about her future plans whether she will live in India or shift abroad and said that all her family members have been waiting for her for a long time and she now wants to be with them.

“I want to be with my family. All members of my family have been waiting for such a long time. I want to thank the State and Central govt. They helped us a lot during this period,” she said. When asked if she would meet anybody from the Gandhi family after her release, Nalini said that she is not planning to do so while also adding that she will go “wherever my husband goes”.

“I will go wherever my husband goes. We were separated for 32 years. Our family kept waiting for us… I am not planning to meet anyone from the Gandhi family. We are under the case. There is no possibility of me meeting them. I want to thank the State and Central governments. I thank the state government for giving me parole, so I could go to the Supreme Court and try my level best,” she said.

She remarked on the order passed by the two-judge bench of Justice BR Gavai and BV Nagarathna who took into consideration the good conduct of convicts in the prison, and said that the judges have studied their cases and they know “what is wrong and what is correct”.

“Our judges know everything. They have studied our case. They know what is wrong and what is correct and what they can do, they have done it,” she said.

The Tamil Nadu government had earlier recommended the premature release of convicts saying that its 2018 aid and advice for the remission of their life sentence is binding upon the Governor.

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin on Friday welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision to release six convicts including Nalini Sriharan of the assassination case of the former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.

“I welcome the Supreme Court Verdict on the release of six persons,” Stalin said in a tweet on Friday.

“This judgment of the Supreme Court is proof that the decisions of the government elected by the people should not be shelved by the governors in the appointed positions,” he said.

Nalini Sriharan and five others were serving life sentence terms in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. They were set free by the SC on the grounds of having good conduct in jail.

Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated on May 21, 1991, at Sriperumbudur Tamil Nadu by a woman suicide bomber of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) group during a public rally.

The seven convicts were sentenced to death for their role in the killing. They included Nalini Sriharan, RP Ravichandran, Jayakumar, Santhan, Murugan, Robert Payas, and AG Perarivalan.

In the year 2000, Nalini Sriharan’s sentence was reduced to a life term. Later in the year 2014, the sentence of the other six convicts was also reduced, and during the same year, the then Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu J Jayalalitha recommended the release of all the seven convicts in the case.  

Source: Asian News International

Balochistan: Rise and Rise of Baloch Rebels

On October 22, 2022, six Security Force (SF) personnel were killed and another four were injured when the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) targeted an Army convoy at the Zarghoon Ghat area of Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan. While claiming responsibility for the attack, BLA ‘spokesperson’ Jeeyand Baloch stated that an SF convoy consisting of 10 military vehicles was targeted by the group’s Special Tactical Operations Squad (STOS), adding that at least two enemy vehicles were destroyed. He warned that BLA would continue to target ‘occupying forces’ until their full withdrawal and the ‘liberation of the Baloch motherland’.

On October 21, 2022, four SF personnel were killed and another two injured, when BLA cadres targeted an Army vehicle with an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) in the Izbotki area of Johan tehsil (revenue unit) in the Kalat District. BLA ‘spokesperson’ Jeeyand Baloch claimed responsibility for the attack.

On October 21, 2022, Hafeezullah, a local agent of the Pakistani military intelligence, was killed by BLA cadres in the Zehri area of Khuzdar District. While claiming responsibility, BLA ‘spokesperson’ Jeeyand Baloch claimed that Hafeezullah was involved in the forcible disappearances of Baloch youth in Zehri and adjoining areas. He added that the BLA would ‘bring to justice’ all other local collaborators of ‘enemy forces’ as well.

On October 19, 2022, a soldier was killed and several were injured when BLA targeted an Army outpost in the Tigran area of Zamuran tehsil in Kech District. While claiming responsibility for the attack, BLA ‘spokesperson’ Jeeyand Baloch reiterated the attacks against the occupying forces would continue.

On October 7, 2022, one Army soldier was killed and two were injured when BLA cadres targeted an Army post with hand grenade near the Degree College in the Sariab Road area of Quetta. BLA ‘spokesperson’ Jeeyand Baloch claimed responsibility for the attack.

On October 7, 2022, one Army soldier was killed and several were injured when BLA cadres attacked an Army outpost in the Sheh Mardan area of Kalat District. BLA ‘spokesperson’ Jeeyand Baloch claimed responsibility for the attack.

According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), BLA-initiated attacks have led to 37 SF deaths in the current year (data till October 23, 2022). During the corresponding period of 2021, BLA had killed 11 SF personnel. The whole of 2021 recorded 20 SF deaths in BLA attacks.

Since August 1, 2004, when the first BLA attack recorded by SATP, five soldiers and a civilian were killed when BLA cadres targeted SF vehicles in the Khuzdar District, at least 171 SF personnel have been killed by the BLA (data till October 23, 2022). On year-on-year basis, fatalities recorded in 2022, with still over two months to go, is the highest in a year since then. The previous high of 31 was recorded way back in 2011. Significantly, BLA claimed that SF fatalities were on a steep and continuous rise since 2019. While no BLA-claimed SF fatality was reported in 2018, there was one such fatality in 2019, increasing to eight in 2020 and spiking to 20 in 2021.

Since August 1, 2004, BLA-linked violence has also led to 146 civilian deaths, including eight in the current year. The BLA claims that those killed were ‘state agents’.

Between August 1, 2004, and October 23, 2022, 147 BLA cadres have also been killed.

Meanwhile, BLA’s growing strength is reflected in the February 2, 2022, simultaneous attacks by BLA cadres on the Panjgur and Nuskhi Army camps in Balochistan. Though Pakistan Government sources claimed only four SF fatalities, Radio Zrumbesh, quoting BLA ‘spokesman’ Jeeyand Baloch, claimed that 45 SF personnel were killed when a ‘martyred’ fidayeen (suicide attacker) rammed his explosive-laden vehicle into the main gate of the Frontier Corps headquarters at Nushki, clearing the way for other fidayeen to enter.

More recently, on September 25, 2022, six Pakistan Army officials, including two majors, were killed after a helicopter ‘crashed’ during a rescue mission near Khost in the Harnai District of Balochistan. BLA ‘spokesperson’ Jeeyand Baloch claimed responsibility, asserting that the helicopter had been shot down by rocket launchers.

Moreover, BLA carried out an audacious attack on April 26, 2022, in which at least five persons, including three Chinese nationals, their Pakistani driver and a security guard, were killed when a women suicide bomber blew herself up near a van, transporting Chinese nationals from the Karachi University Hostel to the Confucius Institute in Karachi, the provincial capital of Sindh. A Karachi University spokesperson confirmed that three of the deceased were Chinese nationals. BLA claimed responsibility for the attack. The female suicide bomber, Shaari Baloch alias Bramsh, who belonged to BLA’s Majeed Brigade, was the first Baloch woman suicide bomber.

Indeed, among the major Baloch insurgent groups, such as the Baloch Republican Army (BRA), Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF), Balochistan Liberation Tigers (BLT) and United Baloch Army (UBA), BLA has been leading from the front in recent times. Since January 2022, different Baloch groups have carried out at least 68 attacks, out of which BLA alone was responsible for 36.

Comprised mostly of Marri and Bugti tribe members, BLA was formed in response to the growing resentment in Balochistan over the continuous Government exploitation of the province’s natural resources and the neglect of development and welfare. The group has about 6,000 cadre spread across Balochistan and in the bordering areas of Afghanistan. It is currently led by Hyrbyair Marri who is in exile in London. Bashir Zeb Baloch is the ‘commander-in-chief’ of the outfit.

BLA is the only Baloch groups with a dedicated suicide squad, the Majeed Brigade. The Majeed Brigade is named after two brothers, Majeed Langove Senior and Majeed Langove Junior, who carried out suicide attacks in August 1974 and March 2010, respectively. Majeed Senior tried to assassinate then Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto when he was on an official visit to Quetta. He wanted to the Prime Minister for his dismissal of the National Awami Party’s government in Balochistan, but Majeed Senior lost his life during the operation. Majeed Junior ‘sacrificed’ himself to save his associates when SFs raided the house where they were staying in Quetta’s Wahdat Colony. Majeed Junior held back the SF raiders to give his associates time to escape. Following Majeed Junior’s death, a BLA leader, Aslam Achu, established the insurgent group’s suicide squad, and named it the Majeed Brigade, currently led by Hammal Rehan Baloch. The Brigade carried out its first vehicle-borne suicide attack on December 30, 2011, when Baaz Khan Marri targeted tribal elder Shafiq Mengal, son of former acting Chief Minister and Federal Minister Naseer Mengal, on the Arbab Karam Khan Road in Quetta. Shafeeq, who had run a ‘death squad’ targeting Baloch insurgents in different parts of the province, escaped unhurt, but 14 persons, including women and children, were killed, and 35 others were injuries.

Subsequently, the Majeed Brigade went into dormancy due to lack of funds and recruits, and it took the group seven years to carry out its second suicide attack, when a bus carrying Chinese engineers was targeted in Dalbadin in August 11, 2018. Aslam Achu’s 22-year-old son, Rehan Aslam Baloch, executed the attack. Majeed Brigade suicide bombers also hit the Chinese Consulate in Karachi (November 23, 2018); Gwadar’s Pearl Continental Hotel (May 11, 2019); and the Pakistan Stock Exchange (June 29, 2020).

Apart from Majeed Brigade, BLA has a formed STOS, which works directly under Bashir Zeb Baloch. and is tasked to monitor and eliminate Army officers and their local collaborators. Recently, on July 13, 2022, STOS abducted Lieutenant Colonel Laiq Baig Mirza along with his cousin Umer Javed, near the Warchoom area of Ziarat District. BLA ‘spokesperson’ Jeeyand Baloch claimed that Mirza was ‘arrested’ in an ‘intelligence-based operation’ for his direct involvement in the Baloch genocide, and grave human rights violations, including enforced disappearances of women and children, among other crimes. Mirza was later killed when an Army Quick Reaction Forces team tried to rescue him. Two days later, his cousin Umer Javed’s body was recovered.

One of the longest surviving Baloch insurgent groups, BLA has increased its operations against SFs and ‘state agents’. The outfit is likely to intensify its operations in days to come, justifying the escalation on the grounds that the Pakistani state has failed to meet the genuine demands of the Baloch people.

Views expressed are personal

The Ukraine Safari


I don’t usually write about cultural products from my own country, but I must make an exception for Slovenian filmmaker Miran Zupanič’s new documentary Sarajevo Safari, which details one of the most bizarre and pathological episodes of the 1992-96 siege of the Bosnian capital.

It is well known that Serb snipers in the hills surrounding the city would arbitrarily shoot residents on the streets below, and that select Serb allies (mostly Russians) were invited to fire some shots of their own. Yet now we learn that this opportunity was provided not only as a gesture of appreciation but also as a kind of tourist activity for paying customers. Through “safaris” organized by the Bosnian Serb Army, dozens of rich foreigners – mostly from the United States, the United Kingdom, and Italy, but also from Russia – paid top dollar for the chance to shoot at helpless civilians.

Consider the special form of subjectivity that such a safari would confer on the “hunter.” Though the victims were anonymous, this was no video game; the perverse thrill lay in the fact that it was real. And yet, by playing the “hunter,” these rich tourists, occupying a safe perch above the city, effectively excluded themselves from ordinary reality. For their targets, the stakes were life or death.

There is something perversely honest in this melding of reality and spectacle. After all, aren’t top politicians and corporate managers also engaged in a kind of safari? From their safe perch in the C-suite, executives often ruin many lives.

Dmitry Medvedev, a former Russian president who now serves as deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council, recently imputed a similar logic to Western political leaders. Dismissing warnings by the US and NATO about the consequences of a Russian tactical nuclear strike, Medvedev argued that:

“[T]he security of Washington, London, Brussels is much more important for the North Atlantic Alliance than the fate of a dying Ukraine that no one needs. The supply of modern weapons is just a business for Western countries. Overseas and European demagogues are not going to perish in a nuclear apocalypse. Therefore, they will swallow the use of any weapon in the current conflict.”

Medvedev has also said that the Kremlin will “do everything” to prevent “hostile neighbors” like “Nazi Ukraine” from acquiring or hosting nuclear weapons, as this supposedly would pose an existential threat to the Russian state. But since it is Russia that is threatening Ukraine’s existence as a state, Medvedev’s logic dictates that Ukraine, too, should have arms – and even nuclear weapons – to achieve military parity.

Recall Putin’s own words this past June: “… there is no in-between, no intermediate state: either a country is sovereign, or it is a colony, no matter what the colonies are called.” Since he obviously views Ukraine as a Russian colony, the West should not treat Ukraine as though it agreed with him. That means rejecting the idea that Western powers should bypass Ukraine and broker a settlement with Russia.

Unfortunately, many Western leftists have been playing directly into Putin’s hands on this issue. Consider Harlan Ullman of the Atlantic Council, who writes: “Clemenceau observed that ‘war is too important to be left to the generals.’ In this case, is Ukraine too important to be left to Zelensky? The US needs a strategy with an off-ramp to seek an end to the violence and the war.”

Leftists from Noam Chomsky to Jeffrey Sachs (not to mention the many Russia apologists on the right) have adopted similar positions. After first insisting that Ukraine cannot win a war against Russia, they now imply that it should not win, because that would leave Putin cornered and therefore dangerous.

But if we had followed the peaceniks’ advice and not sent arms to Ukraine, that country would now be fully occupied, its subjugation accompanied by far greater atrocities than those found in Bucha, Izium, and many other places.

A far better stance has been adopted by the German Greens, who advocate not only full support for Ukraine but also structural reforms to accelerate the transition away from oil and gas, which in turn will steer humanity away from catastrophic climate change. The rest of the Western left has been on safari, refusing an intervention that will challenge its established way of life.

Peaceniks argue that Russia needs a victory or concession that will allow it to “save face.” But that logic cuts both ways. Following Medvedev and Putin’s nuclear threats, it is Ukraine and the West that can no longer compromise and still save face. Recall that Medvedev predicted that the West would refuse to respond militarily to a Russian nuclear strike because it is too cowardly and greedy to do so.

Here, we enter the domain of philosophy, because Putin and Medvedev’s words clearly echo Hegel’s master-slave dialectic. If two self-consciousnesses are engaged in a life-or-death struggle, there can be no winner, because one will die and the victor will no longer have another self-consciousness around who can recognize its own self-consciousness. The entire history of human culture rests on the original compromise by which someone becomes the servant that “averts its eyes” to prevent mutual assured destruction.

Medvedev and Putin presume that the decadent, hedonist West will avert its eyes. And that brings us back to the dynamic captured in Sarajevo Safari. Privileged elites feel as though they can intervene in the real world in strategic ways that entail no personal danger. But reality catches up with everyone eventually. When it does, we must not heed the advice of those concerned only with not provoking the beast in the valley.

[This article was originally published in Project Syndicate. Click here to read the original ]

Is Canada Providing Free Run for Separatists and Terrorists?

It is well recognized all over the world that Canada is a glorious country with vast and beautiful landscapes, considerable natural and mineral resources and many attractive tourist spots. Given these reasons, Canada remains a prosperous country, though underpopulated.

In such favourable circumstances, the practice of welcoming migrants and refugees from various countries to Canada is adopted as a policy measure by the Government of Canada, not only to bolster its population level but also to reflect its humane approach. Today, people from several countries including Europe, Asia and Africa have migrated to Canada and settled down as full-fledged citizens, enjoying liberty, rights and privileges that the Canadian government liberally provide to its citizens.

However, there also seem to be a negative angle to such liberal policy towards migrants and refugees, as the demographic structure of Canada is getting disturbed and a sort of sectarian outlook appears to be developing between different groups with varying background, which may create friction in the coming years. Even now, there is evidence of such friction happening. So far, it appears that the government of Canada has not looked into a such possible scenario with the seriousness and care that they deserve.

Such developments have taken place in Western Europe also in recent times when thousands of refugees/migrants from Syria and other Islamic countries were permitted to enter Europe on humanitarian grounds. These migrants /refugees are unable to get integrated into the general population, as they lack the skill or sufficient education and have different religious practices. Such a situation has resulted in an increased level of crimes and violence and shootings in European countries in recent times and there is huge concern about such a situation. Recently, some Hindu temples were attacked in UK by those belonging to the Islam religion and many people wonder whether this would be the state of things to come in Europe in the coming years. Governments in Europe seem to be at a loss not knowing how to tackle this difficult situation, which is causing social tension and violence in public life.

In Canada, one serious development is that separatists and terrorist elements who manage to get entry into Canada as migrants, however small in number they may be in the total population, are getting entrenched in Canada. It appears that the Canadian government have ignored such elements so far since separatism and terrorism are not targeted or aimed at Canada but at other countries in the world. Such developments are now causing anxiety and huge concern to other affected countries such as Sri Lanka, India

LTTE, a separatist and extremist group with the declared objective of splitting Sri Lanka by force, has largely operated and seems to be now operating from Canadian soil. While this is causing a serious problem for Sri Lanka, the Canadian government have allowed them to operate in Canada and not bothering about the concern of the Sri Lankan government.

In an almost similar way, the Khalistan movement is operating in Canada with the declared objective of forming a separate Khalistan state in India. Despite India’s appeal, the Canadian government has not checked the activities and growth of the Khalistan separatist movement in Canada.

The Canadian government is doing a very big mistake by thinking that such separatists and terrorist groups operating in Canada will not harm Canada but only other countries.

But the recent experience shows that stabbings in Canada have become too frequent. Entrenched separatist groups have started attacking innocent people who may belong to India or other countries. Against which the separatist groups are operating. Very recently, a series of stabbing at an indigenous community in a town nearby Saskatchewan has left ten people dead and fifteen wounded. In 2020, a man disguised as a police officer shot people in their homes and set fire across the province of Nova Scotia killing 22 people. In 2019, a man used a van to kill ten pedestrians in Toronto. 

Recently, a few Indian students have been killed and Hindu religious centres have been attacked.

The situation in Canada has caused so much concern to the Government of India that it has advised students and visitors from India to be careful to safeguard themselves in public places against violent acts by some terrorist groups.

The writing on the wall is now very clear concerning the likely scenario in future in Canada concerning law and order.

Tolerating terrorists and separatists in the name of personal liberty and freedom on Canadian soil will become a suicidal path for Canada if such policy would not scrapped immediately. The terrorists will not only cause problems elsewhere but will also convert Canadian soil into a hotbed of terrorism if the Canadian government were to fail to understand the gravity of the situation and take necessary measures to control the separatist/terrorist groups operating freely in Canada now.

Future of Salafists and Deobandis


Twenty-one years ago, the 9/11 attacks in the US set off a range of social and political changes in Muslim societies. The Middle East was the flashpoint as it was believed that the Al Qaeda ideology was deep-rooted in the political conflict and prevalent religious thought in that part of the globe. In subsequent years, the ‘Arab Spring’ largely failed in leading to a democratic change in the region. Now, the Gulf monarchies are trying to bring about the changes which many expected a democratic process to deliver.

The monetary and political cost of the ‘change’ envisioned and set out by monarchies in the Middle East is low, but its impact seems enormous: it is changing Muslim societies worldwide. Many anticipate that the ongoing moderation or religious reform in Saudi Arabia, and the Abraham Accords between Israel and the UAE will counteract and weaken the radical groups in Muslim societies that have long been thriving on the Gulf states’ financial and political support. Although the claim thus far lacks empirical evidence, the pace and outcome of the ‘change process’ will make its validation easier.

Events and developments in the Middle East influence ideological and political trends in Pakistan. But the latter is also concerned about the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan, political changes in Iran, and the rise of communal hatred in India. All these and other externalities and the state’s response to them are slowly changing the country’s sociopolitical and ideological outlook. The change, which will take time to become visible, will not only reshape religious thought but also determine the future trends of extremism in society. So far, non-state actors, religious groups, and power elites are trying to understand the changes in the region and will shape their strategies accordingly.

Pakistan’s growing financial dependence on the Gulf region will not only influence its geopolitical and strategic choices, but also the state’s attitude towards the religious groups which play on their close sectarian affinity with Middle Eastern countries, especially Saudi Arabia. The religious reform in Saudi Arabia has brought about a big challenge for the conservative Salafi and Deobandi religious groups in Pakistan, which find it difficult to change their outlook overnight. More than 20 Salafi groups and parties were thriving on the Gulf states’ support, apart from the violent Deobandi sectarian groups which were aligned with them. A few groups are trying to adjust to the changes to keep their financial support from the Gulf countries intact.

However, some resist and try to find alternative foreign funding sources or expand their local support bases. Over a period, the Pakistani state has also changed its approach toward certain militant and radical religious groups that once enjoyed the patron[1]age of state institutions. The state has changed its approach after external pressure, and especially the FATF, led it to review its policies. The banned Jamaatud Dawa (JuD), a major Salafi group in Pak[1]istan with an armed wing, the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), is undergoing a transformation. This transformation can help in understanding how the changes in the Middle East and the policies of the state institutions together impact radical forces in Pakistan. Right now, three disparate views persist within the organisation.

The first view favours abandoning the militant path and focusing only on educational and preaching activities. Proponents of this view also support Mohammed bin Salman’s policies in Saudi Arabia and the Abraham Accords. There is also a strong opinion within the group for adopting the path of electoral politics. The JuD had participated in the last general election and invested huge resources, but its performance was abysmal. How[1]ever, the young leadership sees politics as a reasonable safe exit to deflect the pressure from their cadre demanding the restoration of organisational activities.

The view is not popular among the main leadership, but JuD workers and supporters have an appetite for it, as they compare their strengths with the Barelvi Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan that they believe has filled the vacuum which the JuD left behind. Besides these two views, there is also a faction within the group that still insists on jihad, does not want to quit the path of militancy, and is willing to continue its activities without the support of state institutions.

The JuD cadre is confused; they have not only devoted their lives to the group but also brought their families into the organisational fold. Most of them were surviving on the financial support provided by the JuD, but now they are struggling and need immediate engagement. The state has not provided any rehabilitation to these abandoned workers. Now they are an easy target for groups like Islamic State in Khorasan (IS-K). Other banned groups are also facing the same challenge. The Salafists, stigmatised by various violent and nonviolent expressions of fundamentalism, are left with little choice. They have Mohammed bin Salman on one side and IS-K on the other. They can choose between the two, with almost no option for a middle ground.

The Deobandis are fragmented too, as always, but their significant majority, including the violent sectarian groups, still feel in line with the Saudis. The Taliban takeover in Afghanistan has also given them a sense of victory. The Saudis will have an interest in continuing to support them for the sake of countering Iranian influence in the country both on societal and state levels. The state institutions would also have in mind the utility of these outfits for future political scenarios. However, they would not allow the Deobandi madressahs to nurture another generation of the militants that would ultimately hurt the state institutions’ interests.

The Gulf states cannot develop a relationship with the wider civil society in Pakistan because of the latter’s democratic credentials, and they will keep depending on their old allies among the religious parties. It is not certain that the Gulf states will try to impose any change on the religious groups until they serve their purpose. Iran, too, has no interest in abandoning its Shia allies in Pakistan. The religious groups will not change overnight, but the changes in the Middle East will impact them slowly and steadily.

Assam: Emerging Epicenter of Islamist Extremism?


There are few noted arrests were made by police to nullify multiple ABT (Ansar al-Islam/Ansarullah Bangla Team)-linked/inspired modules, spread across Dhubri, Barpeta, Bongaigaon, Goalpara, Morigaon, Kamrup (Metropolitan) and Nagaon Districts, which have come to focus since March 2022. On March 4, 2022, the Assam Police arrested five ABT cadres including Saiful Islam aka Haroon Rashid, a Bangladeshi national, from Barpeta.

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) took over Saiful Islam’s case on March 22, 2022. According to the NIA First Information Report, there is an active module of ABT in Barpeta District, led by Saiful Islam, who entered India illegally and was engaged as an Arabic Teacher at the Dhakaliapara Masjid. Saiful Islam was active in motivating impressionable youth/men to join jihadi outfits and to work in modules, Ansars (sleeper cells), to create a base for Al-Qaeda and its manifestations in India. The other members of the module were Khairul Islam, Badshah Suleiman Khan, Noushad Ali and Taimur Rahman Khan. All the accused persons were involved in the commission of various offences, including conspiracy, waging war against the state, harbouring, and collecting funds for committing unlawful and terrorist acts.

According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), at least 30 ABT-linked extremists have been arrested by the Police from different Districts of the State since March 4, 2022, (till September 11, 2022).

Though details about ABT activities are still emerging, Assam Chief Minister (CM) Himanta Biswa Sarma stated on August 4, 2022, that ABT had increased its focus on Assam during the COVID-19 pandemic, when the administration and police were busy handling the crisis. He disclosed,

These people [ABT cadres] were working as preachers in mosques – as a cover job – their aim was to wage jihad against India and establish ‘shariat’ law. Several training camps were organised by these people especially during COVID-19 times. They were trained in tradecraft (techniques/technology used in modern espionage), radicalisation, indoctrination, gun training and bomb-making… They [ABT] do not use mobile calls but use chat apps to communicate. Not Telegram, but these chat apps found are unheard of. They are peer-to-peer encrypted chat apps and are more sophisticated and beyond the end-to-end chat apps.

Further, on August 28, 2022, Special Director General of Police (Law and Order) G. P. Singh noted that, “till now, we haven’t received any indication of arms training’’. When asked whether the madrasas (seminaries)-linked to ABT were registered, he asserted, “We will take action if they are not as per govt guidelines.” Earlier, on April 25, 2022, Additional Director General of Police (Special Branch) Hiren Nath added that, though “there was no formal arms training” by the ABT, they have “started indoctrination”.

Also, on September 1, 2022, a long-time observer of militancy in the Northeast, Rajeev Bhattacharya, comparing ABT with others like Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), wrote, “Jamatul-ul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), for instance, was structured unlike the ABT which is loosely organised and decentralized.”

There have been earlier instances of infiltration by ABT into Assam as well. The interrogation of a Bangladeshi ABT cadre, Faisal Ahmed, arrested from the Bommanahalli area of Bangalore city, Karnataka, on July 1, 2022, revealed that he had arrived in Silchar in the Cachar District of Assam in 2015. He, thereafter, made a fake voter ID card under the name, Shahid Majumdar, and also obtained an Indian passport. Importantly, Faisal Ahmed was one of the four ABT militants convicted for killing Bangladeshi blogger Ananta Bijoy Das in thr Subidbazar area of Sylhet on May 12, 2015. On March 30, 2022, the Anti-Terrorism Special Tribunal-based in Sylhet convicted and sentenced four persons, including Faisal Ahmed to death.

Meanwhile, another Bangladesh-based Islamist terrorist group, the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) continues with its efforts to extend its influence in Assam. The presence of JMB came to notice when, on October 2, 2014, Shakil Ahmed and Suvon Mandal aka Subhan, both active members of the JMB, were killed, and Abdul Hakim aka Hassan sustained injuries in an accidental explosion in a rented two-story house at Khagragarh under the Burdwan Police Station of Burdwan District, West Bengal. All three were found to be Bangladeshi citizens. A spate of arrests that followed the incident underscored the extent of the spread of the outfit.

According to the SATP database, since October 2, 2014, at least 61 JMB cadres have been arrested in Assam. The last arrest was made on July 7, 2022, when two JMB terrorists, Mokkodos Ali Ahmed and Sofiqul Islam, were arrested from Barpeta District.

The interrogation of arrested JMB militants revealed that their objective was to counter purported ‘Bodo aggression’. Between 2008 and 2014, there have been periodic clashes between Bodos and Muslims in lower Assam.  In 2008, at least 55 persons were killed in such clashes; 109 were killed in 2012 and 46 in 2014.

Before the advent of these Bangladesh-based jihadi groups, several Islamist extremist formations existed in Assam. The then Parliamentary Affairs Minister Rockybul Hussain informed the State Assembly on December 15, 2014, that between January 2001 to November 2014, a total of 130 Islamist extremists, including 106 Muslim United Liberation Tigers of Assam (MULTA) militants, 14 Harakat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM) militants and 10 JMB militants had been arrested in the State. Since then (December 1, 2014) another 149 Islamic extremists [including 55 JMB, 30 ABT, 26 Muslim Tiger Force of Assam (MTFA), 21 MULTA,10 Hizb-ul-Mujahedeen (HM), five Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), one each from Muslim Liberation Army (MLA) and Peoples United Liberation Front (PULF], have been arrested in Assam.

A majority of the Islamist militant groups in Assam were founded between 1990 and 1996 with the prime objective of safeguarding the ‘overall interests’ of the minority Muslim communities in the region. These groups had the backing of Pakatan’s Inter-Services Intelligence and the then Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP)-led regime in Bangladesh. According to SATP, at least 21 Islamist terror formations have operated in Assam at different periods.

The entry of the Bangladeshi groups is partly due to the severe crackdown by the Sheikh Hasina-led Awami League government of Bangladesh that had disrupted the networks of all Islamist groups, including the JMB and ABT, forcing them underground or to seek refuge in bordering regions of Indian states like Assam, Bengal or Tripura, where the demographic composition is favorable for concealment.

Moreover, the present polarized political debates have created a perception of targeting/isolating religious minorities (especially Bengali speaking Muslims) in the state, due to recent events, including the Supreme Court monitored updating of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) 1951, followed by the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), as well as administrative measures such as ‘anti-encroachment drives’ to free government land. The division of Muslims along ethno-linguistic lines can also be a pull factor for these jihadi groups.

The conflict in Assam is largely shaped on the discourse of identity-based politics based on insider-outsider identification, as well as claims to autochthonous status and primacy over local resources, but has gradually been transformed into a religious struggle, and a polarizing politics to consolidate electoral gains. The dominant narratives are likely to be counterproductive, rupturing social bonds and leading to destabilization.

This article is a part of SLG Syndication project. Giriraj Bhattacharjee, Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management in Delhi wrote this for South Asia Terrorism Portal, where this piece first appeared. Click here to read the complete article.