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LTTE & al-Qaeda: An Assessment
By Aaron Mannes
Sri Lanka's Daily News reports that the LTTE has stolen Norwegian passports and sold them to al-Qaeda affiliates. This is not implausible. Rohan Gunaratna (currently head of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research in Singapore) wrote in Inside Al Qaeda: Global Network of Terror, that the LTTE provided forged passports for Ramzi Yousef (specialists close to the WTC 1 trials dispute this assertion). Also, while allied with the Pakistani government in the late 1980s and early 1990s the LTTE smuggled weapons from Pakistan-based Islamists to their counterparts in the Philippines.
Naturally, allies of the Sri Lankan government are playing up this possible link between their local enemy and the enemy which is the focus of international attention. However, if this cooperation occurred it should not be construed as a grand strategic alliance. The LTTE has an international network of support among the Tamil diaspora and, because of Sri Lanka's strategic location astride shipping lanes, its own fleet of sea-going vessels. So it is well positioned to play a role in trans-national criminal activity. The alleged LTTE passport sales highlight how terrorism is the tip of the iceberg of trans-national threats.
In the past I've written that the U.S. should expand its efforts against the LTTE because it was morally consistent with targeting terrorists, it would contribute to stability on the Indian-subcontinent, and because the LTTE was embedded in international criminal networks that also service Islamist terrorists. It would appear, based on recent arrests of LTTE operatives attempting to purchase weapons in the U.S. (see here and here) that the US. has stepped up operations against the LTTE. However, the Tigers have an international network and it is less clear if resources have been devoted to fostering the regional structures necessary to effectively target an organization like the Tamil Tigers.