LTTE chief KP knew Rajiv Gandhi was to be killed

LTTE chief KP knew Rajiv Gandhi was to be killed

The new chief of the Tamil Tigers who is now in Sri Lankan custody was one of the rare few outside the group's intelligence set-up who knew months earlier that former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was to be assassinated.

Without naming Gandhi, Selvarasa Pathmanathan alias Kumaran Pathmanathan alias KP told a Sri Lankan Tamil in Tamil Nadu in November 1990 that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) would soon target the "Indian leadership".

KP - as he is widely known - made the explosive revelation over telephone from a foreign country six months before LTTE suicide bomber Dhanu finally killed Gandhi at an election rally in Sriperambadur near Chennai May 21, 1991.

But KP, in contrast to a section of media reports, is not an accused in the Gandhi case and is not directly linked to the killing. He is merely a suspect in the eyes of the Multi Disciplinary Monitoring Authority (MDMA), which is still probing the larger conspiracy angle related to Gandhi's killing.

KP's advance knowledge of the assassination has intrigued Indian security agencies.

Since secret decisions of the nature of Gandhi's killing were shared in the regimented LTTE on a strict need to know basis, questions have been asked how and why he came to know about the plot.

One logical explanation was the LTTE's absolute dependency on KP, who was the key international arms procurer for the Tigers, a role he performed with aplomb. He became the LTTE chief after the death of the group's founder leader Velupillai Prabhakaran in May this year.

The LTTE may have felt that KP needed to be told in advance since the international ramifications of Gandhi's killing might jeopardise the carefully laid out global network aimed at procuring arms and ammunition.

Another senior LTTE member outside its intelligence unit who too knew about the Gandhi killing in advance was Tiruchi Shanthan, who in 1990-91 was in charge of all Tiger operations in Tamil Nadu.

So, questioning KP could yield enormously useful information to India since the pellets, explosives and the Singapore Fragmentation Grenade (SFG) used in the assassination reached the LTTE courtesy the arrested man though they were meant for the war in Sri Lanka and not for the Gandhi killing per se.

However, if India decides to ask its security agencies to question KP, those picked for the task should be well clued into LTTE affairs.

There is a group of dominantly low-key officers in India, both serving and retired, who have followed the Tigers for decades. But it has been seen in the past that qualified people often get sidelined on such missions.

KP's link to the Gandhi case is a small part of the mammoth role he played in building up the LTTE since 1983. Just as there could have been no LTTE without Prabhakaran, there may have been no Prabhakaran minus KP.

KP never underwent military training. When he was in India, Prabhakaran decided in 1984 to set up an ultra secret group within the LTTE to buy and transport war material from around the world. KP was picked for the job.

KP rose to the occasion. A man with natural talent for forgery and disguises, he soon acquired multiple identifies as well as passports (including Indian) and slowly built up the LTTE's procurement division.

He set up several front companies (in which he was a master) in several countries to smuggle gold and narcotics. He used the money to buy war material. In India, he secretly operated a dairy farm in Tamil Nadu in the 1980s.

He also set up a secret shipping network for the LTTE that was used to transport weapons brought abroad to Sri Lanka. He operated in total secrecy, reporting only to Prabhakaran.

It is courtesy KP that the LTTE gained thousands of tonnes of arms and ammunition, including advanced defence systems, anti-tank weapons, sniper rifles, mortars, rocket propelled grenades, ammunition, night vision devices, metal detectors, fibreglass boats as well as sophisticated radio and wireless communications.

Except in the last few years when he was known to be mostly in Malaysia, KP was constantly on the move in the 1980s and 1990s, always a step ahead of all his pursuers. One Indian official said he was "the most elusive of all pimpernels".

Using several identifies, he visited Lebanon, the Thai-Cambodia border, France, Britain, Sweden, Greece, Cyprus, Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Myanmar, Malaysia and Australia. He was known to have been in Britain in 2006 when LTTE ideologue Anton Balasingham died.It was due to KP that the LTTE got its first small aircraft.

However, KP's meteoric rise generated jealousy in the LTTE. Prabhakaran sidelined the man from 2003, bringing in place another loyalist known by his nom de guerre Castro, who was no match for KP's natural talents.

As the LTTE began to sink, Prabhakaran realised the folly and resurrected KP this year. It was too late. Many LTTE watchers believe that Prabhakaran might still be alive if only KP's wings had not been clipped six years ago.