India probe into Sri Lankan boat intercepted with drugs, weapons suggests LTTE revival

National Investigation Agency India - NIA

An ongoing probe by India’s National Investigation Agency (NIA) into the recent seizure of narcotics, weapons and ammunition has led to speculation that an international drug running and weapon trading racket is aimed at reviving the Sri Lankan Tamil separatist group LTTE, Indian media reported on Tuesday (Aug. 31).

The case is linked to the interception of a boat carrying the contraband on March 18 by the Indian Coast Guard following an intelligence input, according to The Indian Express. A total of 300 kg heroin, five AK-47 rifles and 1,000 live rounds of 9mm ammunition had been recovered by the officials off the coast of Vizhinjam near Thiruvananthapuram.

The mastermind behind the operation was Sri Lankan Tamil Suresh Rajan, a resident of Colombo who had been living at Kundrathur, a Chennai suburb, for some time.

Multiple sources in Kerala and Tamil Nadu intelligence agencies said they failed to closely look at the case as it was being probed by the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB). “The NCB was about to chargesheet six Sinhalese who were on board when NIA stepped in and probed further,” said an intelligence officer attached to Kerala Police.

The NIA probe would later find that six Sinhalese were labourers. Meanwhile, Rajan was arrested from Angamaly, Kerala in August and was later taken into custody by the Tamil Nadu Q-branch for his links with LTTE groups still active in Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka.

But after the NIA stepped in and took over the probe, they found scientific evidence of a Dubai link from a Thuraya handset (considered an advanced satellite phone) which was seized from the boat. “That was the crucial evidence that led to the arrest of Suresh and his associate Soundararajan,” the officer said.

During searches conducted by NIA at premises linked to the accused in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, several incriminating documents, including books relating to LTTE and several cellphones, gadgets and SIM cards were seized.

According to the officer, the March 18 incident was not an isolated case. “Evidences collected from Rajan after his arrest, including those of transactions worth crores, shows that he was an international drug smuggler with active links with Pakistan-based drug runner Haji Salim, who often shuttled between Dubai, Pakistan and Iran. Rajan held a prominent role in drugs and arms trafficking to Sri Lanka through the backyard of India,” the officer said.

A Tamil Nadu intelligence officer said there was evidence that Rajan met Sri Lankan drug lord Madhush Lakshitha alias ‘Makandure Madush’, who was killed in a shootout in the island nation in October 2020. “Rajan also was in touch with Salim,” said the officer.

There was also evidence that Rajan and Soundarajan worked closely with individuals who are being monitored for their sympathies for LTTE and its reported revival mission. “If drugs were to earn money, the five AK-47 rifles seized from the boats were supposedly for LTTE sleeper cells,” the officer said.

Officers in Kerala and Tamil Nadu familiar with the NIA probe said they are closely working with Central agencies to explore the LTTE angle. “We cannot ascertain at this moment whether there is already a revival (of LTTE) in Sri Lanka or Tamil Nadu, or if it is a group earning money in the guise of reviving the group,” said an officer.

Two similar seizures of Sri Lankan boats — before and after the Vizhinjam incident — are still being probed by the NCB. In March, the Coast Guard intercepted a Sri Lankan boat off Minicoy with six crew members and seized another Sri Lankan boat off Kanyakumari in November with 120 kg of narcotics worth approximately Rs 1,000 crore and five weapons.

(Source: The Indian Express)