Tigers at the door (or at least in U.S. airports)

SPECIAL REPORT“How this terror cell leader with a fake passport was able to work a security job at Newark [Liberty International Airport] and pass at least two FBI background checks, well, that’s the larger issue, in my opinion.” –Federal source

By Douglas J. Hagmann, Director

4 December 2007: If you were to ask the majority of people what a Tamil Tiger is, I suspect that most people would describe a predatory animal native to mainland Asia. Expanding on that answer, they might say that the only such animals in the U.S. are at the zoo or in circus acts, safely in cages and posing no threat to Americans at large.

The truth, however, is that Tamil Tigers is the common name for a terrorist organization founded in Sri Lanka in 1975 under the official name of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Although as a group their primarily concern are focused on national separatist issues in Sri Lanka, the terrorist group has cells in a number of countries throughout Europe, the UK and in the U.S. and Canada. Despite the firm denials by the Council on Foreign Relations that there is no operational or other relationship between the Tamil Tigers and Islamic terrorist organizations including but not limited to al Qaeda, research by the Northeast Intelligence Network suggests that conclusion is at least premature if not altogether inaccurate.

The Council on Foreign Relations does accurately acknowledge, however, that the Tamil Tigers perfected the “suicide belt” and homicide bombing tactics, using the same to kill former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991. Closer examination notes the similarities in the modus operandi between al Qaeda and the Tamil Tigers in other areas, including the Tigers’ attack on Sri Lanka Navy ships and the Al Qaeda attack on the U.S. destroyer Cole that killed 17 American sailors. Obviously, al Qaeda and other Islamic terror groups have learned from LTTE operations and operatives, but the interfacing may not stop there.

An event that received only marginal media coverage took place in October when authorities announced the July arrest of two men, both members of the Tamil Tigers, in New York for their plot to use stolen credit card numbers and other methods to steal $250,000 in New York “and tens of millions from ATMs worldwide.” They were part of a group of eight men, six who were previously arrested, reportedly led by Sivapalasri Velayuthampillai, 31, of Newark, New Jersey.

While their scheme of identity theft, identity fraud and plans to loot America is bad enough, authorities admitted that Velayuthampillai, the leader of the terrorist cell, worked three jobs at Newark Airport as a security agent and baggage handler with complete security clearance. He entered the U.S. with a fake passport in July 2001 and was granted political asylum five months later.

According to a federal source close to that investigation, authorities are currently looking at a possible connection between Velayuthampillai and at least one Islamic Imam living and working inside the U.S. with suspected ties to al Qaeda. “There is a possible relationship being explored that would tie this [LTTE] cell with Islamic radicals who may have provided logistical support to this cell, including helping [Velayuthampillai into his position] at Newark,” stated this source, speaking on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of this matter. The investigation is far from being over. “How this terror cell leader with a fake passport was able to work a security job at Newark [Liberty International Airport] and pass at least two FBI background checks, well, that’s the larger issue, in my opinion,” added this source.

The Northeast Intelligence Network has learned that there is a growing concern among certain law enforcement officials that inside the U.S. and Canada, the lines between LTTE, a national separatist terror group, and Islamic terrorist organizations are becoming blurred despite the denials of terrorism analysts and experts within the intelligence community. “There is a tendency among intelligence officials to believe that because one group is secular and narrowly focused, and the other is motivated by religious ideology and destruction of the West, that there is no interaction [between the groups]. This type of in-the-box thinking is part of what brought us to 9/11 and other attacks.”

Meanwhile, in a graphic display of the methodology of using female homicide bombers, a security camera in Sri Lanka captured 24-year-old Sujatha Vagawanam, a Tamil Tiger, detonating a bomb vest during her mission to kill a Sri Lankan Cabinet minister. The video was released last week and shows Vagawanam, wearing a yellow sari and a white shawl, patiently sitting in a waiting room inside the Colombo offices of Social Services Minister Douglas Devananda last Wednesday.

The woman is seen speaking to a 72 year-old assistant identified as Steven Peiris. At one point, apparently believing she was drawing too much attention to herself and at the risk of getting caught, the 24 year-old Vagawanam is seen standing up, reaching for something under her shawl on her right shoulder and obviously detonating a bomb vest, killing herself and the government aid.

Northeast Intelligence Network Assistant Director Paul Bartling contributed to this article.