By Walter Jayawardhana reporting from Los Angles

CHARGED: Left to right, Jeyaseelan Thuraisingam, Panchalingam Nagalingam, Jothiravi Sittampalam.

Police said, a string of pre-dawn raids in Toronto and other cities in Canada and many arrests of Tamils following those raids have dealt a major blow to Tamil gangs often blamed for street killings and funneling their ill-gotten money to Sri Lanka’s Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

The arrests of more than fifty alleged members, mainly of the Tamil gangs, A.K. Kannan and V.V.T, October 18, and the pre-dawn raids in Toronto and beyond by hundreds of police officers armed with search warrants in to their hideouts also uncovered an arsenal of weapons they possessed , the police further revealed.

A local news website in Toronto hailed, “They’re violent-they are dangerous-and they’re in custody.” The Police said they have spent six months and used 400 officers and immigration officials to take down their suspects.

The two main Tamil gangs, though clash in raging street wars often in the metropolitan area of Toronto are suspected of being connected to the Sri Lankan separatist rebels the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. A.K.Kannan gang is named after its leader’s street name, Kannan (god ) and his favorite weapon, the AK 47. The rival group’s name, VVT stand for Velvetiturai, the birthplace of many gang members and their leader in Sri Lanka, Velupillai Prabhakaran.

The arrests went beyond the metropolitan area of Toronto into the neighbouring Peel Region. Some arrests were even made in Ottawa and Guelph.

Nearly 400 police officers in Toronto, Ottawa and Guelph , armed with search warrants descended on the homes of suspected Tamil gang members about 4 a.m. ,October 18, and immediately took into custody weapons that may have been used for crimes.

Police sources said , since the gangs have been tied to several homicides and shootings over the past years forensic officers are now looking at the weapons recovered to see if they were used in any of those murders. Many homicides and other shootings had gone unresolved due to the intimidation tactics of the gangs, police said.

Police said among those who were arrested were leaders of some of the Tamil gangs. Fraud, robbery, drug, immigration, and firearms charges were among the plaints filed against the Tamil gang members. These arrests also mark the first time in Canada the Police have used a section of the Immigration Act that prohibits criminal organizations. In this instance the police applied it to street gangs, as a new tactic, and if convicted could lead to deportations or imprisonments for some who were arrested.

The quasi-political Tamil gangs have been active in the metropolitan area of Toronto for the whole of the last decade. But the last two months saw a sudden increase of violence by the gangs. Two Tamils of Sri Lankan origin in their early twenties and loosely connected to these gangs died during this period in an execution style shooting.

The VVT and AK Kannan gangs are also suspected of being close to dozen other Toronto shootings. In 1998 there was a brief truce in gang wars after a peace deal was brokered in a Hindu temple at Richmond Hill in Toronto. But a murder in 1999 renewed the fighting between the two.

The police also suspect Tamil gang members of stealing a truck of an investigating police officer and torching it. Tamil gang members were also caught in police division parking lots , video taping license plates of officer’s personal vehicles.

Police suspect there are about 1000 Tamil gang members among the 120,000 Sri Lankan Tamils living in Toronto area. According to a Royal Canadian Mounted Police report made public last year and published in the National Post, Tamil criminals in Ontario and Quebec are involved in a growing range of illegal acts from home invasions and drug trafficking to human smuggling and arms trafficking. One RCMP officer said in April there had been 65 shootings in the city just in previous seven months. The report also referred to five unsolved murders linked to Tamil gangs. RCMP reports, as published in the National Post, also revealed both gangs in Toronto and Montreal funneled some of their ill-gotten money to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

The following are some of the profiles published of those who were arrested by a leading newspaper, the Toronto Star:

Jothiravi Sittampalam: Police claim the 31-year old started the AK Kannan gang in 1992 after arriving in Canada from Sri Lanka. His street name is Kannan meaning god. He has had at least two attempts made on his life in the past year. Last April, he was tailed as he left a Brampton courthouse and his car surrounded when he arrived at an off-ramp of highway 404. Then last month, shots were fired wildly into the car but the only injury he sustained was a cut on one of his fingers. Then last month, shots were fired into the rental car he was driving to his Scarborough home . Again, he walked away from the ambush .In an interview with the Star this summer , Kannan just shrugged when asked whether he started the gang.

Panchalingam Nagalingam: Some police officers and community members call the 28-year old , the “Cat” for his uncanny ability to cheat death. Last December, bullets narrowly missed his baby son and girl friend. Through the media he told to leave his family alone and to deal with him instead. In March he was shot six times as he left the Mimico Detention Center where he was serving a sentence on weekends. During an interview two months ago, Nagalingam said, he had no idea why he was targeted.

Suresh Kanagalingam: His street name is “Koli” meaning chicken. Police say he is a high level VVT member. In 1998 he made headlines after being abducted from a Parliament Street Pizza Shop. He was also charged with attempted murder in a September 2000 case, but had the charges withdrawn last month. He did plead guilty to assault of another victim and he was sentenced to time served in pre-trial custody.

Kailesh Thanabalasingham: Police say he is one of the VVT leaders. He is a more of a backroom dealer and not as high profile as the other members, community sources said. He splits his time between Toronto and Ottawa. When he was arrested Kailesh was in Ottawa.

Jayaseelan Thuraisingham: According to the police he started the Seelapu gang and he is simply called Seelapu. His gang is aligned with the VVT gang. When he was arrested he was in Guelph.


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