Sri Lanka seeks closer security tie-up with India to counter sea-borne terror in region

Sri Lanka’s Gotabaya Rajapaksa government is concerned that the banned Al Qaeda and Abu Sayyaf outfits may create a terror hub in the island nation which could have major implications for the southern Indian Ocean region.

ET has learnt that Lankan authorities are working closely with their Indian counterparts to probe the Al Qaeda-Abu Sayyaf network and its links in the Gulf and eastern and southern African regions.

Against this backdrop, expansion of security partnership could be on the agenda if the Lankan president visits India later in April. Rajapaksa is mulling a New Delhi visit, people in the know told ET.

Over the years, Sri Lanka has become a vulnerable trans-shipment hub for transnational organised crime (TOC) since the LTTE commenced drug trafficking and money laundering in the 1980s to fund purchase of arms and ammunition.

India’s security establishment believes that the Sri Lankan boat intercepted on March 25 off the coast of Vizhinjam, in Kerala, with narcotics and firearms could have been be a part of a narco-terrorism network with strong links to a group in Sri Lanka.

The Indian Coast Guard and the Narcotic Control Bureau (NCB) found 300 kg of heroin worth Rs 3,000 crore (LKR 720 million) stashed in the boat along with AK-47 rifles and 1,000 rounds of 9 mm ammunition. “A number of incriminating documents were also seized from the occupants of the vessel,” said the NCB, adding that six Sri Lankan nationals were arrested in this regard.

In March, a multi-national drug smuggling racket with links in both India and Sri Lanka was unearthed. The network may have been part of Easter bombings in Sri Lanka. The Lankan authorities are also probing the link of the network in Pakistan, ET has learnt.

Terrorists in Lanka are suspected to have links with drug cartels operating from Pakistan. The drug mafias in Pakistan have been using Lanka as a route to export drugs to Europe through sea routes. The money generated from drug smuggling was used to fund the terror activities in Sri Lanka, alleged sources.

In this regard, the revival of India-Sri Lanka-Maldives NSA level dialogue has been helpful in countering terror through the seas, according to experts on the subject.