DID the police arrest Malaysians linked to the Tamil Tigers? Or are the 12 individuals including two DAP assemblymen, detained on suspicion of supporting the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), only paper tigers?
The answer depends on which side of the political divide you are on. To get a neutral point of view, I contacted two counterterrorism experts.
I asked National University of Singapore's security analyst Bilveer Singh whether the arrests of the two DAP politicians were political and if they posed a real terrorism threat.
"Any arrest of politicians is political," he replied.
Interestingly, Bilveer noted that the LTTE has not launched any attacks since it was smashed in 2009.
"The LTTE is regrouping itself, especially overseas, and this makes what is happening in Malaysia disconcerting. Involvement in terrorism is about a spectrum of involvement and when you have DAP leaders praying to (Velupillai) Prabhakaran (the slain LTTE leader) then security agencies can get worried, especially since the LTTE perfected the art of suicide attacks," he said.
"While the DAP leaders may not be terrorists, clearly they have shown support for LTTE and its causes. In multiracial Malaysia, this type of support is dangerous. From the Malaysian legal perspective, these DAP leaders have committed a crime and hence the arrest."
Historically, according to Bilveer, Malaysia was a key financial conduit for the Tamil Tigers and the network appeared to be intact.
"Malaysia has historically been seen as a money bag for LTTE. There are lots of support from Tamils in Malaysia and hence the current concern, especially if political leaders are also part of the support network," he said.
With so much focus on Jemaah Islamiyah and Islamic State (IS), the security analyst said the LTTE has laid low, consolidated and grown.
"Most dangerous is the link with governing politicians," he said.
Bilveer pointed out that the LTTE has never given up the idea and concept of a Tamil Eelam homeland, especially with how the Sri Lanka government and armed forces brutally ended the insurgency.
"It is and will always be until some proper political settlements are made hence reviving (the LTTE) is a clear and long-term goal," he said.
Counter terrorism analyst Dr Ahmad El-Muhammad said from what he observed, the case seemed genuine and the links real, as per investigation (they were in possession of LTTE materials, very much like IS supporters in Malaysia).
"Regarding the political side of it, I agree there is a political context to it, which has political implications. However, the police, I believe, work on the basis of evidence. To say that it's purely political is quite an overstretch of facts." said Dr Ahmad.
However, a regional security operative believes the arrests were politically motivated.
"The LTTE has been defunct for ten years. What terror activities has it been involved in Malaysia?" said the operative who declined to be identified.
DAP's Perai assemblyman Dr P. Ramasamy said he wasn't sure whether the arrests of Melaka executive council member G. Saminathan and Seremban Jaya assemblyman P. Gunasekaran was political or terrorism related.
"I don't know why they are arrested. Maybe the police have reasons. But if they are taken under Sosma (Security Offences Special Measures Act), then all I'm asking for them to be charged in court and given a fair trial," said the Penang Deputy Chief Minister II.
"You link them with LTTE. But LTTE is a defunct organisation. There is no LTTE in the world today. Why do we have to create a bogeyman? If (those arrested are linked to) LTTE, then it must involve in armed struggle in Sri Lanka. But the armed struggle in Sri Lanka is in all intent and purpose gone – it's no more."
Ramasamy said there were Tamil groups which organise ceremonies to grief for the massacre of Tamils in Sri Lankan in 2009. "Tamils have a natural sympathy for fellow Tamils in Sri Lanka and elsewhere. And there is a sense of nostalgia for the armed struggle. But nostalgia can't be interpreted as support," he said.
Ramasamy noted that there were lots of speculations for the arrests and they took place in the context of sliding Malay support for Pakatan Harapan in particular Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia. He noted that also in the background was the recent Malay Dignity Conference, which brought light to Malay grievances and the community’s anger over opposition – primary from Indian leaders – on controversial Indian-born preacher Zakir Naik.
"There are speculations that the arrests could be political and they are aiming at the DAP, but I'm not very sure. The point is these arrests should not have taken place," he said.
On whether the arrests were to weaken the DAP, Ramasamy said that was what he was hearing.
"And the talk of a unity government without DAP and Amanah points to the direction of weakening DAP. But all these are rumours," he said.
On whether DAP members and supporters were angry with the Pakatan government over the LTTE arrests, Ramasamy said it was natural.
"We are all behind (Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad), Pakatan government and the removal of Sosma and Pota (Prevention of Terrorism Act) and now suddenly the same government is arresting some members of Pakatan," he said.
"Of course, they are angry. We can understand if we are in the opposition. But we don't understand when we are supporting the ruling coalition. This is what I get from the ground."
On whether it was a move to push DAP out of the government, Ramasamy stressed that it was a mere rumour. "Whether it is true or not, I am not sure," he said.
Parti Negara protem vice president S. Gobi Krishnan did not think that the arrests of the DAP assemblymen were connected to politics.
"DAP is very strong, and it will become even stronger if all these arrests are politically motivated," he said.
He said he had faith in the police, saying that the authorities have been very successful in maintaining security in the country.
"That's a fact that cannot be denied. And a big part of this was played by Datuk Ayob Khan, the head of Counter Terrorism," he said.
"The arrests were done not because of their support towards Sri Lankan Tamils but because they were suspected of wanting to disrupt the peace and security in Malaysia. I believe we should put our emotions aside and look at it objectively. Our sympathy is only for the Sri Lankan Tamils," he said.
Gobi Krishnan said the belief that the previous government only cared for the majority while neglecting the minorities is unfortunately being propagated by the Pakatan government.
"It doesn't help that this suspicion is further fuelled by the act of the Malaysian government, whether in Old Malaysia or New Malaysia, in welcoming other freedom fighters such as Hamas, MNLF (Moro National Liberation Front) and southern Thailand rebels while not exonerating LTTE.
"If the LTTE is designated as a terrorist group, the rest should be classified the same as they were all fighting for a common cause i.e. separate state for their ethnic and religious group," he said.
Tamil Tigers or paper tigers, the arrests of the politicians have an impact on the country's volatile politics.
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