Our main news item yesterday (in the city and late city editions) must have shocked many. It revealed that an extortion gang had demanded money from some top politicians and chairman of a state institution. If political leaders are not safe from the underworld who else is? Demanding money from a minister is the ultimate in the extortion trade. (It is like waylaying Mahasona and demanding a bili!)
The police were galvanised into action for once! The mastermind of the extortion racket died in police shooting and other members were arrested in the Welikada Prison, where they were serving jail terms. They had been carrying out their extortion racket from behind bars with the help of mobile phones. Prison has become a home away from home for criminals thanks to bribery and corruption. And the Prison Chief must explain how the suspects had operated under his nose.
At least now the government must realise the danger the underworld poses to society and take action to remove the scourge. Extortion is the order of the day. Thugs obtain protection money openly from private bus operators and other businessmen in Colombo. Victims have no alternative but to part with money lest they and their families should be harmed. The police look the other way for fear of reprisals as criminals have political links. A resident of Colombo 07 has written to us that a person identifying himself as a minister`s bodyguard is trying to grab his house! He has been under threat for months and the police, he alleges, continue to ignore his complaints. Will the IGP have this allegation probed? (We have details.)
Criminals have, we learn, divided the city into zones among themselves to avoid treading on one another`s toes so that they could operate smoothly! Whom can the law abiding citizens turn to? The police are wary of taking action and the government lacks the will to take on the underworld. It looks as if we had capitulated to organised criminals having eliminated terrorists.
The underworld is also a vector carrying the germ of terrorism. In the late 1980s, the JVP hired common criminals to carry out assassinations, the first being university student activist Daya Pathirana`s murder, which marked the beginning of the outfit`s second violent uprising. There is also evidence that the LTTE, too, contracted the underworld to facilitate its terror attacks. The possibility of terrorists using the underworld as a vehicle to launch a destabilising campaign cannot be ruled out.
The National Commission against Proliferation of Illicit Small Arms and Light Weapons-Sri Lanka (NCAPISA) has found (as at February 2008) the number of small arms in possession of criminal elements and army deserters is as high as 30,000. Some experts believe the number could be even higher. The NCAPISA says these weapons are `directly linked to the sharp increase in crime including murder, armed robbery, rape, kidnapping, abduction, drug trafficking etc.`
Thus, it may be seen that the underworld has remained numerically superior to the LTTE. What if a surviving terrorist leader succeeds in mobilising a section of these trigger-happy armed criminals willing to commit any crime for money?
Our victory over terrorism will not be complete unless the nether world of crime is wiped out. The time has come for waging an all out war against criminals and liberating the country from their clutches. Will President Mahinda Rajapaksa take the lead?