On the trail of LTTE terror mastermind Morris
SPECIAL REPORT : Part 120April 26, 2016, 7:04 pm
By Shamindra Ferdinando
The assassination of Highways and Road Development Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle, at Shanthi grounds, Weliweriya on the morning of April 6, 2008 had also been masterminded by Colombo-based LTTE operative Morris, two years after his failed bid to eliminate Army Chief, the then Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka.
Minister Fernandopulle was 55 years at the time of his killing. The influential Catholic Minister held the post of the SLFP Treasurer and was one of the staunchest defenders of the ruling coalition, both in and outside Parliament.
A male LTTE suicide cadre blew up Fernandopulle as the politician was about to flag off a marathon to mark the Sinhala and Tamil New Year. The blast claimed the lives of a dozen persons, including K.A. Karunarathna, one-time national marathon champion and South Asian marathon gold medallist as well as Luxman Alwis, the national athletic coach.
Fernandopulle's chief bodyguard Chief Inspector Kannangara of the elite Special Task Force (STF), who had been a veteran in counter insurgency operations, in the East, was among the dead.
About 85 men, women and children received injuries. Among the dead, and the wounded, were several competitors taking part in the competition, sponsored by Nestle.
Fernandopulle's assassination was an integral part of the LTTE's overall strategy to deter the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa from pursuing the Vanni offensive. Having given up the Eastern Province, by mid-2007, the LTTE was fiercely resisting the Army on multiple fronts in the Vanni theatre. In the immediate aftermath of Fernandopulle's assassination, both President Rajapaksa and the then Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremenayake publicly vowed to annihilate the LTTE, at any cost.
The LTTE assassination plot remained a secret until the chance apprehension of an LTTE operative identified as Saraman, in early August, 2009, which swiftly led to the arrest of Morris who executed suicide attacks on Fonseka and Fernandopulle. This column dealt with the arrest of Saraman and Morris in separate raids carried out in Colombo by the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID). The then OIC, TID (now an ASP serving in the deep South) played a pivotal role in the high profile investigation.
The Morris-Saraman team probably would have escaped detection had it not been for a Sub Inspector (the officer holds a higher rank now), who had elicited information from an LTTE operative, who had been based at the LTTE side of the Omanthai entry/exit point, during eelam war IV, leading to the arrests in Colombo.
The country should not forget that the deadly Morris-Saraman duo had been arrested four months after the conclusion of the war during the third week of May, 2009, with the destruction of the LTTE's conventional fighting capability.
Their arrests, and strenuous interrogation, revealed the direct involvement of Assistant the Superintendent of Police (ASP) Lakshman Cooray in Fernandopulle's assassination. The TID arrested Cooray on the night of August 12, 2009, four days after the capture of Morris. Cooray had been a close associate of Minister Fernandopulle, who always threw his weight behind the police officer. Cooray brazenly exploited his friendship with Fernandopulle to the hilt. In fact, Cooray had cunningly secured the responsibility for overseeing Fernandopulle's security on the day of the assassination. Cooray had personally requested the police officer, an officer holding the rank of ASP, who had been in charge of the area, to give him (Cooray) the responsibility to ensure perfect execution of the suicide attack'. Police headquarters lacked a system to prevent a senior officer from switching responsibilities to facilitate an agenda inimical to the department.
Shortly before the blast, Cooray had assured Fernandopulle of his safety and security before leaving the danger zone. Cooray had been responsible for Dompe, Pugoda and Kirindiwella. Weliweriya had not been under his care though he brazenly switched responsibilities with the ASP in charge of Weliweriya.
Under interrogation Morris revealed the despicable role played by Cooray in Fernandopulle's assassination. On the day before the assassination, Cooray had taken Morris, Saraman as well as the male suicide cadre, who had been assigned for the mission, to Kanthi grounds at Weliweriya, where the assassination was to take place. Cooray had used his official vehicle for this purpose. An officer, who had been closely involved with the investigation, explained to the writer the circumstances under which the police officer obtained a super luxury Montero from a friend to continue the journey after his vehicle developed a problem while passing Biyagama.
As the senior law enforcement officer in charge of the area on the day of the assassination, ASP Cooray had been among those asked to furnish statements to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID). Having walked out of the CID headquarters, Cooray had phoned Morris to inquire about the suicide cadre whom he called as their friend in red t-shirt. An angry Morris had castigated Cooray for risking clandestine operations. Morris had warned Cooray not to behave recklessly.
Obviously, the CID had no reason to believe Cooray's involvement in the plot. In fact, Cooray until his arrest during the second week of August, 2009 continued to pretend his unwavering loyalty to the Fernandopulle family.
The Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa directed the elite Special Task Force (STF) to take over Fernandopulle's security soon after the LTTE assassinated Nation Building Minister Dassanayake Mudiyanselage Dassanayake on the morning of January 8, 2008. The LTTE directed a claymore mine blast at the Puttalam District Minister as he passed Ja-ela. Although some believed the LTTE mistook D. M. Dassanayake's vehicle to that of Fernandopulle, such a blunder couldn't have been made under any circumstances. Perhaps the Ja-ela assassination was meant to warn Fernandopulle. However, a section of the security apparatus wrongly asserted the claymore mine blast which ripped through Dassanayake’s vehicle would have been meant for Fernandopulle, one of the strongest critics of the LTTE.
Fernandopulle first entered Parliament in 1989, from the Gampaha District. In August 1994, he polled over 100,000 votes and came only second to the then Prime Ministerial candidate Mrs Chandrika Kumaratunga. After joining the government service in 1972, as a science and maths teacher, he had entered Law College, in 1974, and passed out in 1977.
Fernandopulle earned the wrath of the LTTE for publicly throwing his weight behind the breakaway LTTE faction headed by Karuna Amman.
Fernandopulle strongly defended the government’s controversial decision not to disarm the breakaway LTTE group called TMVP.
The outspoken politician said the TMVP would continue to retain arms as long as the LTTE posed a threat to the breakaway group.
Perhaps, the LTTE assassinated Minister Dassanayake on January 8, 2008 against the killing of Shanmuganathan Ravishankar, alias Col Arulventhan a.k.a Charles, north of Mannar, in an operation carried out by the Army and renegade LTTE cadres. The LTTE took the available soft target (D.M. Dassanayake) to avenge the death of Charles, the undisputed leader of LTTE Military Intelligence. Minister Dassanayake had a few police bodyguards and was never considered a target for the LTTE.
The TID believes that Cooray had been one of the most important LTTE assets in the South. In fact, he could have been the most vital asset, working with Morris. Other LTTE networks, operating in Colombo and its suburbs, certainly had different assets though none could have been compared with Cooray.
The war winning previous government failed to ensure a comprehensive investigation into alleged involvement of security forces and police officers with LTTE Intelligence. The possibility of the LTTE rump seeking their services again can never be ruled out hence the urgent requirement to thoroughly investigate the Chavakachcheri explosives haul.
'Jeyaraj' authored by Cyril Enderamulla, revealed SP Cooray's role in Fernandopulle's assassination. Unfortunately, 'Jeyaraj', launched in 2011 failed to impress the previous government. Western Provincial Councillor Lalith Wanigaratne, a relative of the assassinated Fernandopulle recollected a telephone call received from the minister, the day before the assassination.
Having discussed arrangements, pertaining to a meeting of the SLFP Balamandalaya, on the following day, Fernandopulle had told Wanigaratne of his fateful decision to join the event at the Kanthi grounds, Weliweriya. A tearful Wanigaratne quoted Fernandopulle as having told him on the night of April 5, 2008, that one-time national marathon champion, Karunaratne pushed for his presence. "SP Lakshman Cooray too wants my participation. Cooray assured me of my security and urged me not to fear. However, my security officers opposed the move. Sudarshini too didn't like my participation at the event. However, I'll go ahead with it."
Among many others who had been interviewed by Enderamulla were former Ravaya editor, Victor Ivan, and H.R.P. Perera of the Ministerial Security Division (MSD). Perera had joined Fernandopulle's security contingent, in 1999, during Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga's presidency. Perera had been initially reluctant to take the assignment as Fernandopulle was widely considered a thug, associating closely with the underworld. Perera also believed Fernandopulle provided protection to the underworld, hence his reluctance to join the ministerial security contingent.
Having cleverly discouraged Fernandopulle to discontinue the services of private bodyguards who caused mayhem, Perera had received the leadership of Fernandopulle's security contingent during 2000/2001. The MSD veteran remained in charge until the STF moved in February. In spite of the STF taking over the security with CI Kannaagara placed in charge of overall command, Perera continued to play an important role.
The CID alerted Fernandopulle regarding an alleged LTTE attempt to assassinate him in early 2008. The warning had been given on the basis of information provided by a CID informant identified as Ganesh (certainly not the real name). Having discussed the emerging threat with Fernandopulle, the CID had wanted one of his MSD bodyguards to establish contact with Ganesh working with the police. The CID operation was meant to apprehend LTTE intelligence cadre sent on special assignment to coordinate Fernandopulle's assassination. Perera had volunteered to play the role of a disgruntled MSD officer who had been deceived by a political associate of Fernandopulle engaged in sending people to Italy. Perera: "I played the role of an officer, who had lost several lakhs of rupees taken as a loan to pay for a job agent known to Fernandopulle. I offered to support LTTE operation to eliminate Fernandopulle if the LTTE helped me to settle the loan."
An LTTE operative, identified as Anton (certainly not the real name) who had come from the Vanni, booked a room at Full Moon hotel situated close to the 18th mile post on the Colombo – Negombo main road. Subsequently, Ganesh and Anton had visited Fernandopulle's Welihena residence to meet Perera who assured his cooperation. According to Perera, Anton had inquired whether he could place a bomb under the almirah in Fernandopulle's room. Perera had explained his inability to do that as he was no longer responsible for security within the house in the wake of the STF taking over Fernandopulle's security. Anton had also requested Perera to find accommodation for an LTTE hit squad coming to assassinate Fernandopulle. The CID had swiftly done that. Having stayed at Full Moon for several days, Anton had left for Kilinochchi before contacting Perera over the phone. The LTTEer had claimed that the assassination plan had been put off temporarily as he was wounded in a bomb explosion.
In hindsight, the operation launched by the CID, on the basis of information received from Ganesh, could be a ploy to deceive Fernandopulle and those who had been responsible for his security. The call given by Anton to Perera informing the latter of putting on hold the assassination plan could have given a false sense of security. Obviously, the LTTE didn't require services of any other police officer to facilitate the project as ASP Cooray was on its payroll.
ASP Cooray had won Fernandopulle's confidence to such an extent he could have brought in an LTTE assassin into Fernandopulle's Welihena residence without being stopped by the STF or the MSD. Cooray had unrestricted access to Fernandopulle's residence and was widely considered as one of those in uniform, closest to the minister.
Perera also revealed that a very important person known to Fernandopulle had assured him that the LTTE wouldn't harm him under any circumstances therefore he could work freely. Claiming that they couldn't identify that person, Perera alleged that such an assurance was given to persuade the minister to lower his guard. The MSD officer alleged that VIP was certainly part of a conspiracy to eliminate Fernandopulle.
Fernandopulle had left his Welihena residence at about 5.30 on the morning of April 6, 2008, for a funeral at Huriyagahamula, Minuwangoda. Having visited Huriyagahamula Fernandopulle accompanied by his bodyguards, reached Shanhi grounds between 6.30 am-6.45 am. Except for SP Lakshman Cooray, there hadn't been anyone at Kanthi grounds, according to Perera. Cooray had walked towards Fernandopulle, from a vehicle parked at a corner of Kanthi grounds. Fernandopulle had inquired about security. Perera had heard Lakshman Cooray assuring Fernandopulle that there was no problem and full security measures were in place. As those who had organised the marathon weren't present Chief Inspector Kannangara, of the STF as well as leader of the MSD team Perera, had strongly urged Fernandopulle to leave the grounds. Fernandopulle had agreed to leave the scene. Fernandopulle and his bodyguards left for Kanduboda temple where they had tea. Subsequently, Fernandopulle wanted to visit another temple. While on their way to that temple, Perera had received a call on Fernandopulle's hand phone from a person at Kanthi grounds requesting the minister to come there soon. Perera had suggested to Kannangara that Fernandopulle should skip the event at Kanthi grounds. However, CI Kannangara had asserted Fernandopulle should go ahead with it.
Having reached Kanthi grounds, Fernandopulle proceeded to flag off the marathon. Perera survived the blast as he couldn't cross the road with Fernandopulle to the place where the minister was to flag off the marathon. A massive blast hit the crowd as Fernandopulle flagged off the marathon. Perera recalled Lakshman Cooray inquiring from him about Fernandopulle.
Cyril Enderamulla's 'Jeyaraj' also dealt with Victor Ivan assertion in respect of Fernandopulle's assassination. According to Ivan, TNA leader R. Sampanthan, MP, the then TNA MP Suresh Premachandran and MP Mavai Senathiraja as well as Minister Dr Rajitha Senaratne and Lanka Seva (NGO) chief Harsha Navaratne had been at a discussion at NGO guru Kumar Rupesinghe's residence. Castigating the Sinhala leadership for the war, Sampanthan has acknowledged that it wasn't a genocidal war directed at the Tamil community. When the TNA accused the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa of failing to settle differences through talks before waging war, Harsha Navaratne had revealed desperate attempts made by the former President to reach an understanding with the LTTE.
On President Rajapaksa's instructions, Harsha Navaratne had accompanied Secretary to the President Lalith Weeratunga to Killinochchi; close on the heels of the LTTE resuming mine attacks in the North to explore ways and means of reaching an understanding. The LTTE launched mine attacks during the first week of Dec 2005 soon after Mahinda Rajapaksa assumed presidency. According to Harsha Navaratne, the LTTE had declined to stop the attacks.
Harsha Navaratne also revealed President Rajapaksa sending him and Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle to meet the top LTTE leadership in the wake of Mavilaru in mid-2006.
Fernandopulle and Sea Tiger leader Soosai had exchanged strong words during talks in Kilinochchi according to Harsha Navaratne. Ivan asserted that Fernandopulle had earned the wrath of the LTTE on that day and that, too, contributed to the LTTE's decision to eliminate him at a crucial time of the military campaign.