Walking the streets of Colombo, one can easily bump into the anti-car bomb barriers, steel barricades with razor-sharp barbed wire, watchtowers with armed police, roadblocks, and on and on.
Why the Sri Lankan Government and defence agencies have to come up with such stringent security measures is understandable. Even those who have not followed the long battle between the Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) can quickly sense the tension that grips this nation.
Thailand has been named part of the LTTE`s global web - the country has long been identified by Sri Lankan officials as a transit point in the LTTE`s arm-smuggling network. Geographically speaking, shipping smuggled arms can be done easily from Thai ports, and across the Bay of Bengal to Sri Lanka.
In a fresh bid to draw international cooperation, particularly among Asian countries, to help combat terrorism on their home soil, the Sri Lankan Ministry of Foreign Affairs recently organised the first International Conference on Countering Terrorism (Oct 19-21) in Colombo.
The three-day event brought together terrorism experts, academics, intelligence officers, diplomatic officials and media from 23 countries. `Terrorists` money-laundering activity works 24 hours. They are much more committed to their work than us,`` said David Leppan, director of the London-based World-Check, a private intelligence provider.
According to the agency, methods used by terrorist groups to fund their operations include credit card fraud, arms trafficking, human trafficking, extortion, cigarette smuggling, and the sale of pirated CDs.
Leppan also stressed a need to improve the database of terror groups and their affiliates to help those in the financial sector disrupt funding. Only about 7% of all terrorist groups are currently listed on the international sanction list, he said.
The LTTE is known to own and operate business enterprises, including restaurants and supermarkets in Europe, Canada and Southeast Asia. Pre-paid phone card and Hindu temple management businesses were other sources of income for the group.
Terrorism expert S. Jayasekara said fund-raising tactics employed by the LTTE will ``definitely be replicated by other terrorist and criminal groups`` therefore it was a must for Governments and anti-terrorism task forces around the world to keep a close watch on these businesses to ensure that they are not run to serve ill purposes.
Sri Lanka is one of the countries hardest hit by the December 2004 tsunami, which killed almost 40,000 people there. Within a year of the catastrophe, as many as 256 new NGOs were set up there with about US$400 million (12.7 billion baht) in funding.
Concerned authorities had neither examined these NGOs nor their financial reports because the damage was so great and a lot of money was urgently needed to restore the tsunami-ravaged country, she said. Within a year, 80% of the donations left the banks and there was no proof if the money had been used for tsunami rehabilitation or not.
Without an effective scheme to counter terrorism financing, each country will waste a lot of money and manpower on anti-terrorism operations and devices, including those which dot the city of Colombo, to safeguard people from terrorist attacks. And no one knows if these devices and security operations will be enough to prevent the next strike.