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Saturday, June 17, 2000

8,000 Tamil guerrillas in Toronto: police
Task force report says funds funnelled to Tigers: Members of 'terrorist factions' said to have used paramilitary training in operations here

Stewart Bell
National Post

Thousands of Tamil guerrillas with "extensive" paramilitary training are living in the Toronto area, according to a detailed police report. The report alleges also that large sums of money are being funnelled to the Tamil Tigers terrorist group in Sri Lanka through a Canadian non-profit organization.

The report by the Toronto police Tamil Task Force estimates that, based on interviews with past and present guerrillas, Canada's largest city is home to as many as 8,000 members of "Tamil terrorist factions," most notably the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), or Tamil Tigers.

"These persons are known to have had extensive paramilitary training in the use of automatic weapons, hand-to-hand combat, Russian RPGs (anti-tank weapons), rocket launchers and other offensive weapons and substances ... Many of these have been used in the Greater Toronto Area to carry out their projects," the report says.

A makeshift napalm bomb, armour-piercing bullets, AK-47 assault rifles and submachine guns have been either used by or seized from suspected Tamil gang members in and around Toronto with links to the Tigers, the report adds, drawing links between the VVT gang, the Tamil Tigers and the World Tamil Movement, a key member of the Federation of Associations of Canadian Tamils.

If accurate, the police report points to a massive failure in the immigration screening system, which is supposed to protect Canadians from terrorists and war criminals seeking refuge here.

It may also explain how the Tamil Tigers have managed to establish such a lucrative fundraising network in Canada.

Dave Harris, a security consultant and former chief of strategic planning at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, said the report's estimate of the number of Tamil guerrillas who have resettled in Toronto was probably accurate. "It think that's plausible," he said. The police report is two years old, but the flow of Tamils to Canada has increased in that time, suggesting that the number of paramilitaries in Toronto may have risen too.

The island of Sri Lanka is Canada's leading source of refugees; more than 150,000 have migrated to Canada in the past two decades and some continue to support the Tamil Tigers.

Police and intelligence agencies say that money raised in Canada's Tamil community through donations, organized crime and front organizations is being funnelled to the Tamil Tigers to finance war.

The Tigers have mounted a series of terrorist attacks since 1983 -- including dozens of suicide bombings that have killed scores of politicians and civilians -- in an effort to gain independence from Sri Lanka.

Last week, the LTTE's suicide squad killed a cabinet minister and 22 bystanders, drawing condemnation from the United Nations, Western powers including Canada, and Amnesty International.

Supporters of the Tamil independence campaign plan a rally today at Queen's Park in Toronto.

Aside from Tamil Tigers, the Toronto area is harbouring members of other militant Sri Lankan Tamil groups, including the Peoples Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam and the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization, says the police report, entitled Pilot Project Report, Tamil Organized Crime.

It reports that in the late 1990s police began noticing an increase in violent crime "in which the common denominator was that the suspects and victims were Tamils." The crimes included murders, drive-by shootings, weapons smuggling, arson, robberies, home invasions, migrant smuggling and money-laundering, as well as bank, casino and credit card fraud.

"Losses in the millions have been incurred by the major banks," says the report.

Stolen and lost Canadian passports and immigration papers "are being used to transport illegal immigrants into Canada and to forge other documents. This organized crime is being performed on a very large scale and is overseen by the Tamil criminal elements within Canada and Sri Lanka," it says.

"The present cost for the transportation of a single Sri Lankan male is $26,000 and the price paid for a valid Canadian passport is $7,000. This money directly and indirectly funds the LTTE through other groups such as the World Tamil Movement and allows criminals to move back and forth.

"As a result, a large number of Tamils in Canada are submitting lost and stolen identification occurrences. Two major sources of forged/stolen passports have been identified in Peel and Etobicoke. Sources/agents have agreed to infiltrate these groups."

The World Tamil Movement is one of eight "important constituent members" of the Federeation of Associations of Canadian Tamils, according to a program handed out at a May 6 FACT dinner attended by Paul Martin, the Finance Minister, Maria Minna, the Minister of International Cooperation and several other backbench politicians.

Canada is trying to deport the former co-ordinator of the WTM and FACT, alleging he was sent to Toronto by the Tigers to raise money to finance the insurgency in Sri Lanka. Both groups have been identified as "front organizations" for the LTTE in Patterns of Global Terrorism 1999, a report by the U.S. State Department, and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam's International Organization and Operations -- A Preliminary Analysis, written by Professor Peter Chalk and published by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

The VVT gang (named after Valvettithurai, the birthplace of the Tamil Tigers) serves as the "enforcer" for the Tamil Tigers in Canada, says the report. Those who have criticized the LTTE have been assaulted and had their businesses ruined by VVT members, the report says.

The gang is composed of past and present LTTE members, such as Niranjan Claude Fabian, who the report identifies as a former assassin for the rebel group. Fabian was convicted of passport forgery and ordered deported but the matter is on hold while he appeals his case. He ranks either second or third in the gang, it says.

Another VVT leader, Sriranjan Rasa, is awaiting deportation after being convicted of conspiracy to commit assault causing bodily harm, conspiracy to use forged credit cards and possession of a restricted weapon. "Several photos of the gang leader, Sri Ranjan Rasa, were seized during a search and show him wearing camouflage gear, carrying weapons and standing in front of the LTTE flag," the report says.

The report says the VVT has used a homemade napalm bomb and smuggled three AK-47 assault rifles into Toronto. An AK-47 ammunition clip loaded with 27 armor piercing bullets was seized by police. Toronto police also seized an Uzi submachine gun from a suspected gang member. Police found a cache of weapons, including a 9mm submachine gun, in a Scarborough, Ont., snowbank in 1998,

The organized crime is raising vast amounts of money. In one case, a man and woman opened a bank account at the Bank of Nova Scotia in 1997. During the following weeks, counterfeit U.S. cheques were deposited into the account. Cheques were written to a number of people and companies using the money.

The loss to the bank was $147,000. The woman fled back to Sri Lanka, but the man remained in Toronto and has been identified as being involved in the smuggling of migrants to Canada from Sri Lanka, the report says.

Some of the money drawn on the account was diverted to a downtown Toronto jewellry company. Police discovered the company was making cash deposits in excess of $100,000 a day. The money was being wired to the U.S.

"It is believed that the company is laundering funds for a Tamil alien smuggling ring operating in both Canada and the United States," the report says. "Investigation is presently ongoing with regards to the frauds, alien smuggling and money laundering.

"Estimated moneys laundered to date are in excess of $30 million dollars Canadian."

Despite the volume of crime being committed by the gangs, police are having difficulty making arrests because witnesses are afraid to testify. One gang circulated a Tamil-language flyer offering a reward to anyone who helped them find Crown witnesses.

Even when gang members are convicted, they are not being deported. The Federal Court of Canada has ruled that Tamil militants should be deported even if they might be tortured upon their return, but the matter is now before the Supreme Court of Canada, which will have the final say.

The February 1998 report was filed as evidence against Rasa, who admitted he was a VVT gang member but denied the group was part of the Tamil Tigers network. The document emerged last month when the Federal Court ruled that Rasa should be deported as a danger to the public.

While the report was written more than two years ago, Supt. Rocky Cleveland, who oversees the Tamil task force in Toronto, said Tamil gang activity continues to be a problem. "It is not a statement about the Tamil community, it is a statement about people taking part in criminal conduct for the purposes of financial gain," he said.

At a news conference this week, representatives of several Tamil-Canadian interest groups including FACT denied they were fundraising to support the Tamil Tigers and threatened to sue the National Post, calling its reporting "a calculated attack on Tamil-Canadians."