Pakistan hiring Sri Lankan Muslims as spies spooks intelligence agencies

NEW DELHI: The arrest of a third Sri Lankan spying on India on behalf of Pakistan in less than 10 months has got intelligence agencies to train their focus back on growing radicalization among Tamil-speaking Muslims in eastern Sri Lanka where Pakistan has been fishing for a long time. Although the latest Pakistani spy in the Indian net, Arun Selvarajan, is a Colombo-based Tamil Hindu, two others arrested since April are Tamil-speaking Muslims belonging to eastern Sri Lanka.

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In April, Intelligence Bureau arrested Sri Lankan national Sakir Hussain in Chennai who revealed a Pakistani conspiracy to attack US and Israeli consulates in Chennai with help from two Maldivian nationals. A month later, his associate Mohammed Sulaiman, another Sri Lankan, was arrested in Malaysia on similar charges. Both, like Selvarajan and Chennai-born Pakistani spy Thameem Ansari (arrested in 2012), were recruited by Pakistani diplomat Amir Zubair Siddiqui in Colombo.

Intelligence sources say, there is information that not only is ISI regularly recruiting youth from this troubled region of Sri Lanka for espionage and covert operations against India but even LeT has set up a base and now wields some sort of influence in the region.


Arun Selvarajan, arrested Sri Lankan national of Tamil origin at a court in Poonamalee near Chennai. (TOI Photo)


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“The region has been in some ethnic turmoil of late and Pakistan has been fishing in troubled waters. For its intelligence-collection and covert action operations directed against India, ISI uses four external bases – Kathmandu, Dubai, Bangkok and Colombo. The last one has traditionally been used as a base to collect intelligence about developments in sensitive Indian nuclear and missile establishments, many of which are located in south India, particularly in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. But the last few arrests show that these elements could now be used to mount an attack. This is worrying,” said a security establishment officer.

Notably, while Sakir Hussain was trying to help attack US and Israeli consulates, Selvarajan had conducted reconnaissance of Kalapakkam nuclear plant site, according to NIA.

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Radicalization in eastern Sri Lanka began way back in the 1980s when clashes with LTTE and Tamils led to a section of Muslims gravitating towards fundamentalist forces. Post Lanka-LTTE war, this radicalization is now being fuelled by increasing attacks of triumphant Buddhist Sinhala groups on the religious minority, who make 9.7% of Sri Lanka’s population.

There have been a series of clashes between Buddhists and Muslims in the past couple of years. A Muslim minister in Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government recently criticized the regime for the clashes and warned it would lead to radicalization. “A community pushed against the wall like this will suddenly become a fertile ground for outside forces,” Sri Lanka’s justice minister Rauf Hakeem was quoted by agencies as saying.

Ajai Sahni of Institute for Conflict Management, however, says the situation is as yet not as alarming for India vis-a-vis Sri Lanka as it is in context of Maldives. “It is in Maldives where Pakistan has been most successful and that’s where the real threat lies. In Sri Lanka, though there has been radicalization since the 1980s, men from the region are being used for small spying activity and help in reconnaissance. It is definitely one extra tool in Pakistan’s terror box, but of limited value,” said Sahni.

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