Mohammed Mihilar Mohammed Hanzeer alias Azad Maulana was the main whistleblower featured in the Channel 4 documentary on Sri Lanka that was aired on 5 September 2023. . Azad Maulana made some startling revelations against former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, State Intelligence Service head Maj-Gen Suresh Salley and Rural Road Development State Minister Shivanesathurai Santhirakanthan known widely as Pillaiyan in that film. Gotabaya, Suresh and Pillaiyan have denied the allegations..
There were two main aspects in the disclosures made by Azad Maulana. One was the allegation that top Sri Lankan intelligence officials were involved with those responsible for the horrible Easter Sunday terror bombings of Churches and Tourist Hotels on 21 April 2019. Maulana alleged that the bombings were done as part of a plot to help Gotabaya become President by creating feelings of insecurity among the people.
The other important aspect of Azad Maulana’s statements in the TV documentary was the allegation about a killer squad reportedly formed by Gotabaya Rajapaksa when he was the Defence Secretary under his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa. It was alleged that many members of the Thamil Makkal Viduthalaip Puligal(TMVP) led by Pillayaan were part of this squad known as “Tripoly Platoon” and that this squad was responsible for many extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearances and other human rights violations.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa who became the President of Sri Lanka in November 2019 and quit office in July 2022 broke his conspicuous silence by issuing a statement of denial after the documentary was aired. However Gotabaya made no reference to the allegation about “Tripoly Platoon” in the statement. The statement issued by the Defence Ministry refuting the Channel 4 “revelations” also had no reference to this.
TMVP leader and Rural Road Development State Minister Santhirakanthan alias Pillayaan faced the challenge posed by the Channel 4 TV disclosures directly. Since whistleblower Azad Maulana was his former key aide, Pillayaan took up the matter personally. The Batticaloa district MP gave a number of media interviews to newspapers and TV refuting the allegations against him and accusing his erstwhile deputy of being economic with the truth.
One does not know whether the allegation about the existence of a killer squad named Tripoly Platoon is true or not. However the charge of alleged involvement by Pillayaan’s group in various human rights violations during the war years does have its merits. Several reports by UN related agencies and NGOs concerned with Human Rights violations in Sri Lanka have mentioned Pillayaan’s group in a negative light.
I myself have in my journalistic capacity written several articles in different newspapers about incidents where Pillayaan’s group I was involved n the past. Some of these articles were about the killing of journalist Aiyathurai ,Nadesan, the murders of TNA Parliamentarians Joseph Pararajasingham and Nadarajah Raviraj, the killing of former Amparai district MP A. Chandranehru and LTTE Eastern political commissar Kausalyan, the disappearance of Easterbn University Vice-chancellor Prof S.Raveendranath and the murder of seven Tamil Rehabilitation Organization (TRO) employees.
It was well-known that the Pillayaan group was collaborating with the state as a para-military outfit during the war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam(LTTE) and were largely carrying out “officially sanctioned unofficial” instructions. In most instances Pillayaan’s goons were aided and abetted by state agencies in executing these orders
It must be noted that the Pillayaan group was not the first of its kind to operate as a state sanctioned para-military outfit in the Eastern province. The Pillayaan group was an off-shoot of the LTTE. But before its advent ,at least three such para-military outfits had collaborated with the state in the Amparai and Batticaloa districts. With the passage of time, memories of the long war are fading. Very few remember these armed groups now.
All of these armed groups were off-shoots of Tamil militant organizations.One was the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO) off -shoot group led by Ranjan. The other was the Peoples Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) linked group led by Mohan. The third was the Eelam Peoples Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) group led by Razeek. They were known as the Ranjan group, Mohan group and Razeek group respectively. Arguably the Razeek group during its heyday was regarded as the most vibrant of the three.
Interestingly enough Razeek was not a Muslim as the name indicates. Razeek was a Tamil named Muthulingam Ganeshkumar whose nom de guerre was Razeek. Being totally opposed to the LTTE, Razeek aligned himself with the Indian army first and later the Sri Lankan armed forces to fight the tigers. Ultimately he was killed by the LTTE This column focuses this week with the aid of earlier writings on the Razeek group , its leader and his death at the hands of the LTTE.
Muthulingam Ganeshkumar alias Razeek was born in the ancient Tamil village of Karaitheevu in the Amparai district. Karaitheevu was the birthplace of the eminent Tamil scholar and spiritualist Swami Vipulananda (Samithamby Mailvaaganam). Ganeshkumar’s father Muthulingam was a government clerk while his mother was a school teacher.
Ganeshkumar became a student activist of the General Union of Eelam Students (GUES) the student wing of the EPRLF during his school days. He flocked along with hundreds of Karaitheevu youth to the EPRLF after the 1983 anti- Tamil pogrom. The village itself was an EPRLF stronghold in the Amparai district like Thambiluvil and Paandiruppu. After being trained initially at an EPRLF camp in the East Razeek was selected along with 119 other EPRLF cadres to undergo intensive training at Uttar Pradesh in early 1984.
Returning to Sri Lanka Razeek was involved in EPRLF activity in the east till 1986. He was promoted and sent to Mullaitheevu. The LTTE trained its guns on the TELO in April 1986 and followed suit against the EPRLF in December 1986. The comparatively weaker EPRLF found itself helpless in the face of the fratricidal onslaught by the LTTE.
Razeek was compelled to witness the killing of his comrades, not by the enemy, but by members of a fellow militant movement. Instead of liberating his homeland he was compelled to find ways and means of self-preservation. At one point Razeek cornered by the tigers had no choice other than to take his chances with the traditional enemy the “Sinhala” army. He surrendered to the Mullaitheevu army camp. This was perhaps the defining moment of his life.
Thereafter he along with some others cooperated with the Sri Lankan Army. Razeek was engaged as a “Spotter” to identify LTTE cadres when Operation Liberation was conducted in Vadamaratchy by the army in May 1987. The Indo-Lanka Accord of July 1987 transformed the situation. There was peace.
The fragile peace was shattered when war broke out between the Indian Army and the LTTE in October 1987, With the war against the tigers escalating , New Delhi propped up the EPRLF as an alternative to the LTTE. The EPRLF took over the newly established North – East Provincial council in November 1988.. The EPRLF’s Annamalai Varadarajapperumal became the chief minister.
Razeek a close confidante of Perumal was elevated in rank. He functioned for a while in an “unofficial” auxiliary unit to the Indian Army. Later he became a regional commandant of the Civilian Volunteer Force (CVF) mobilised by the India aided North -Eastern provincial council administration. The CVF was also described as the Tamil National Army.
The Indiam Army returned in toto to India in March 1990. Razeek continued to function independently in the east for some time but was forced to leave for India to avoid being killed by the LTTE. Nothing much was heard of him till he surfaced in Colombo after full-scale war broke out between the Armed forces and the LTTE again. Also the EPRLF leader and secretary – general Kandasamy Padmanabha had been killed by the LTTE in Madras in June 1990.
The new EPRLF Secretary General Kandiah Premachandran alias Suresh was not willing to resurrect the military wing of the EPRLF again. Razeek however wanted to go on with his avowed life mission of fighting the tigers. So he entered into a deal with the Army Intelligence section and formed his own group. Initially it was considered a break away faction of the EPRLF. Soon it became clear that it was functionally independent despite having links to the EPRLF.
The group bearing the nomenclature of “Razeek Group” for public consumption began functioning in the Eastern Province particularly the Batticaloa district. Coopted as a unit of the National Auxiliary Force , the Razeek group obtained military training and functioned as an integral unit of the army while retaining autonomy of action.
Razeek himself had a simple unambiguous approach towards the LTTE. Unlike some other Tamil groups who aligned themselves with the army on the one hand but were sympathetically inclined towards the LTTE on the other, the Razeek group fought as an integral part of the Sri Lankan army while retaining operational autonomy.
The group was inducted into the national auxiliary corps and designated as the ninth battalion of the Sri Lankan National Guards. The 250 strong unit was trained in the North Central Province Infantry training school at Minneriya. Razeek himself underwent an officers training course. He was commissioned as a second lieutnenant but refused to accept formal appointment saying that he was entitled to rank of Major or at least Captain because of his seniority. After his death Razeek was posthumously promoted as Lieutenant.
Soon the Razeek group became the most determined Tamil group fighting the LTTE. There was neither compromise nor reluctance. Unlike other Tamil groups , hunting with hounds and running with rabbits, the Razeek group fought a bitter and bloody campaign. It soon became the dominant Tamil entity in Batticaloa town.
Entrenched in Batticaloa
The Razeek group entrenched itself firmly in Batticaloa. Their main camp then was in the huge mansion and sprawling property on lake road opposite the lagoon, that was at one time the residence of former Parliamentarian Sam Thambimuthu. Both he and his wife Kala were gunned down in 1990 by the LTTE at the Canadian High Commission gateway in Colombo.
The Razeek group had a pervasive,dominant presence in the town and was always on the alert for tiger infiltrators. As a result the LTTE found itself unable to easily penetrate the areas falling under Batticaloa Municipality. Razeek himself boasted to journalists in Tamil that the tigers could not “Wag their tails” (Vaalaatta Aelaadhu) in Batticaloa, But fate decreed otherwise. The tigers did not merely wag their tails but pounced in a fatal leap.
Ganeshkumar alias Razeek had a craze for guns and motor cycles. On the fateful day of his death (29 May 1999) Razeek had gone with some of his cadres to a garage and motor vehicles repairing unit called “Ivans’ ‘ in the heart of Batticaloa town. Run by a Batticaloa Burgher family it was situated on the Trincomalee Road Near the Central Bus Depot in an area called Thaandavan Veli.
Razeek had gone to Ivans for the purpose of purchasing a motorcycle from a Muslim trader named Mohammed Ali Thahir. There was also another motorcycle seized from a tiger cadre that was being repaired at Ivan’s. There was absolutely no need for Razeek himself to attend personally to these tasks. But the motor cycle buff that he was, Razeek did not want to delegate duties to others in this sphere.
It was around 12. 30 noon when a youngster in his teens came cycling on the Trincomalee road. Razeek was then standing in the garage front compound and chatting to Thahir. His bodyguard Chandran Jeyakumar was a few yards away. Alongside Razeek was 27 year old Paramanathan Thayaparan alias Thaya his second in command. Further away was a double cab vehicle with four more armed cadres.
The teenaged assassin suddenly cut in to the garage premises towards Razeek and jumped on him. The human bomb exploded. Razeek, Chandran, Thaheer and the killer were dead on the spot. Nine others including five of Razeek’s cadres were injured. of them . Later Razeek’s deputy Thaya too succumbed to his injuries in hospital. The tigers had struck again.
The killing of 35 year old Razeek on 29 June 1999 was the first occasion on which the LTTE had killed a leader of a rival Tamil group through the human bomb suicide attack method. As stated earlier the chief of the “Razeek Group ” had acquired a name for himself as one who had dedicated himself wholeheartedly to the mission of fighting the tigers. But now the dreaded tiger hunter had been hunted down by his quarry.
Killed 374 Tigers
A small group of journalists visiting Batticaloa had interviewed Razeek only a few days before he was killed. The confident Razeek had then claimed proudly that in recent operations his men had killed 30 tigers. He had lost 21 of his men. Razeek also referred fondly to his phase of cooperation with the Indian Peace Keeping force(IPKF) in the late eighties. He claimed to have hunted down and killed 374 tigers then. When asked “Are you scared the tigers will get you?” Razeek had replied “No. it is a way of life. We have been in this game since 1983”
A detailed investigations was launched in Batticaloa to find out how the LTTE obtained intelligence concerning Razeek’s movements. Preliminary investigations revealed that at least one of the employees at Ivans garage was a tiger informant.
More importantly there was also evidence that the group itself had been infiltrated by the LTTE. One of the cadres who had come with Razeek to the garage had excused himself after a while saying he was sick and got Razeek’s permission to return to base. The man never went back and was suspected of having tipped off the LTTE. Also a group of Razeek cadres had reportedly “deserted” after the assassination. Subsequently a massive internal “cleansing” campaign was undertaken. It was supervised by the group’s acting head 33 year old Sivaguru Navaratnarajah alias “Gandhi”.
Funeral at Karaitheevu
The man who had soldiered on in relentless pursuit of the tigers was given a funeral with full military honours at Karaitheevu on May 30th 1999. The ceremony was presided over by Thurairatnam the then EPRLF political head for Batticaloa and Amparai districts. The military top brass of the region attended the funeral. Razik’s coffin itself was wrapped in a Sri Lankan flag.
A noteworthy feature was the conspicuous absence of public mourning for Razeek. The convulsions caused by his death within the group had prevented the cadres from organising widespread demonstrations of mourning. As far as the ordinary people were concerned they did not seem saddened at all.
The reason for this seemed obvious. Although Razeek was regarded in awe as a rare Tamil soul who fearlessly fought against the tigers there was an unsavoury side to his personality too. The EPRLF at one time was regarded as the least violent and most decent of the Tamil groups. The passage of time particularly in the case of its relationship vis a vis the LTTE had transformed that image. Razeek himself was both a creature and creator of the “New” EPRLF.
He acquired a reputation for ruthlessness during the IPKF period itself. He was no respecter of Human rights when it came to combatting the tigers. Also like many Tamil militants of Eastern origin, Razeek had a sense of animus towards the Muslim people. It is alleged that Razik was responsible for the massacre of Muslim Policemen in 1990.
Bid to Outdo the LTTE
After taking over Batticaloa in 1995, Razik began adopting very negative tactics in combatting the tigers. In a bid to outdo the LTTE in terror tactics, Razeek built up a terrible and horrible reputation. It is said that he once dragged alive a suspected tiger cadre chained to his motorcycle for several miles along the road in full view of the public. There have been beheadings too. The group was notorious for its torture methods when interrogating LTTE suspects.
In addition Razeek began setting up a financial empire too. Massive amounts of money were extorted from the civilian population as taxes. Levies were imposed on almost every sector including farmers and businessmen.. Several businesses were set up and citizens compelled to patronise them A lucrative avenue of income was the monopoly exercised by the Razeek group in felling timber and transporting sand for building purposes.
Feared More Than Loved
These negative attributes of Razeek made him very unpopular in the area. He was feared more than loved. In that context a public show of grief was definitely impossible.
The death of Razeek who was reputed for his relentless pursuit of tiger cadres in the east and the consequent decline of the Razeek group resulted in the creation of a vacuum in anti-LTTE activity in the east. This vacuum was filled some years later by the Pillayaan group.(ENDS)
D.B.S.Jeyaraj can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article appears in the “Political Pulse”Column of the “Daily FT”dated 13th October 2023.It can be accessed here –