Police in Malaysia announced the arrests Thursday of seven people with alleged links to Sri Lanka’s defunct Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rebel organization, including two Malaysian state assemblymen.
Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay, Malaysia’s police counter-terrorism chief, did not name the politicians from Malacca and Negeri Sembilan states, but he described their actions and suspected ties to the LTTE, or Tamil Tigers.
The rebels, with financial support from the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora, fought a 26-year-long separatist war with the Sri Lankan government, until the military defeated them in May 2009 and killed their top commander, Velupillai Prabhakaran.
“The two elected state assemblyman from Malacca and Negeri Sembilan had delivered speeches supporting the LTTE and distributed items related to the group during an event to remember dead LTTE fighters, held in Malacca in November 2018,” Ayob said.
One of the other five suspects was plotting an attack on the Sri Lankan High Commission in Kuala Lumpur, according to Ayob.
A leader of the Democratic Action Party (DAP) identified the politicians. Lim Guan Eng, the party’s secretary-general who is also Malaysia’s finance minister, stated that their involvement in DAP showed no signs that the two had departed from its policy of moderation, non-violence and peaceful resolution of conflicts.
“The arrests were shocking and I have expressed to the authorities that the party stands firmly behind our two state legislators, Malacca exco member and Gadek assemblyman G. Saminathan and Seremban Jaya assemblyman P. Gunasekaran,” said Lim Guan Eng, DAP secretary-general.
DAP is a member of Malaysia’s ruling Pakatan Harapan coalition.
“I was just briefed that both of them will be subject to investigation under SOSMA [the Security Offenses (Special Measures) Act] which allows for 28 days of detention. The police promised a speedy investigation to allow for the submission of their investigation papers to the Attorney General’s Chambers and to allow our two DAP leaders to be released early,” Lim said.
Another DAP politician questioned the arrests and pointed out that LTTE had not existed for years. Charles Santiago, an MP from Klang, told reporters that the organization disbanded after its leaders were killed.
In addition to the two politicians, police on Thursday arrested an insurance agent who allegedly planned to attack Colombo’s embassy in Kuala Lumpur, according to Ayob. He added that officers carried out raids in the states of Selangor, Negeri Sembilan, Malacca, Perak, Kedah, and the Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur.
“A lengthy investigation into the suspects has been carried out since November 2018 and we collected concrete evidence to arrest them,” Ayob told reporters at the federal police headquarters in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday evening.
He said the insurance agent planned the attack with another suspect who was not captured, adding that police were expecting to make additional arrests.
The four other suspects in custody possessed reading materials and other items related to the Tamil Tigers, and two had been convicted of attacking Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner to Malaysia in 2016.
“Individuals who are involved in terrorist activities, we will definitely bring them to book. It doesn’t matter who they are, what party they are from, their religious belief, racial background, or where they are from,” Ayob said.
Founded in May 1976 by Prabhakaran, LTTE’s mission was to establish a separate nation of Eeelam from the northern and eastern regions of Sri Lanka where Tamils form an ethnic majority. At the height of their power, the Tigers possessed a well-developed militia and carried out many high-profile bomb attacks, including assassinations of politicians, including Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 and Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa in 1993.
Apart from Sri Lanka, the United States, Britain and Canada – where large expatriate Sri Lankan Tamil communities are concentrated – are among countries that have designated the LTTE as a terror group.
Terrorism analyst Mohd Mizan Aslam, a researcher at the Malaysia Perlis University, said the threat should not be taken lightly, despite the death of Prabhakaran on the battlefield 10 years ago.
Malaysia was one of the countries in an international LTTE network and its ideology had been “spreading quickly,” Aslam told BenarNews.
Hadi Azmi in Kuala Lumpur contributed to this report.