Following continued arrests of gang members by the TID: ava, gone?

The attack on two policemen on July 30 in Kopay was perhaps the last nail in the coffin for the feared Jaffna based criminal gang, Ava. Following the attack carried out by gang members in several striking raids across Jaffna and Colombo, the Police along with the Terrorism Investigation Division (TID) and the Special Task Force (STF) arrested 17 members of the group in a short span of time.

While the suspects included several teenagers, the Police also arrested the leader of the group, Sathyavel Nadan Nishanthan also known as Nisha Victor, dealing a heavy blow to the criminal group.

While investigations continue with more arrests imminent, authorities are more determined than ever to contain and eradicate any similar groups operating in the country. “The Sri Lanka Police will not allow criminal gangs to emerge and operate in the country,” said Police Media Spokesman SP Ruwan Gunasekara when asked, adding that the Police and TID will continue carrying out separate investigations to not only arrest those involved in the group, but also to completely halt criminal activities carried out by them.

Ava Group

Emerging in the post war period in Jaffna the origins of the Ava group remain unclear. Said to be consisting of around 60 members ranging from ages 18 - 25. The group appears to be modelled after a motorcycle gang as commonly found in Tamilnadu films, wielding swords, knives and knuckle dusters in a bid to spread fear among the populace.

Speaking on grounds of anonymity, a local resident alleged that the groups which are engaged in criminal activities have links to a particular political party in the area. “Local authorities say the gang members are former LTTE cadres, but there are no such cadres now as they have been rehabilitated by the government,” the local said. ‘The persons involved in these crimes are linked to a political party’, he said.

“This is well known among the public,” he said, while adding that clamping down on such groups is needed. According to the civilian, the groups target the affluent. “They threaten to kidnap them if they are not paid and sometimes they do carry out the threats and demand a ransom,” the local informed. According to him, professionals such as doctors and lawyers, for example, are targeted by these gangs. “The locals who are resident abroad are afraid to return due to the extortions being carried out by these groups.” The Jaffna resident spoke from personal experience.

Another local alleged that these groups consist of youth who have been unable to secure jobs after leaving school. “They engaged in rowdy behaviour and disturbed the day-to-day lives of the residents,” he claimed.

According to him despite allegations by various individuals the Army is not involved in any of these activities. He says, the activities of Ava have been curtailed by the Police and that criminal activities are very much reduced in the North despite the recent incidents.

The Incident

In the most recent incident, 14 or more Ava group members attacked two police officers with sharp objects near the Kopay Nandavil Kovil on the afternoon of July 30. According to SP Gunasekara, the Police officers had been on duty at the time of the attack when a group of youth in motorcycles wielding sharp weapons had descended on them.

While the cops escaped with serious injuries the incident sparked swift action on the part of the Police.

Despite a severe crackdown on criminal activity in the past, the gang has continued to operate stealthily in the North. Connected to a number of incidents in the area it was the attack on yet another two Police Intelligence officers in 2016 that once again drew attention to the group. According to the group that claimed responsibility to the incident, the attack was carried out as revenge for the shooting by Police which killed two Jaffna university students at the time.

Also, according to the Police, Sathyavel Nadan Nishanthan alias Nisha Victor, the leader of the group is connected to a large number of criminal incidents in the North.

“He is wanted for causing injury to two people in Chunnakam in 2014,” SP Gunasekara said, adding that he is also connected to a 2015 incident where he caused serious damage to a house in Kopay.

Arrests

According to Gunasekara, the Police also believe he was connected to the attack on two intelligence officers in 2016. “We have also received a complaint regarding causing damage to a shop,” he said. ‘He is also suspected to have stabbed a shop owner in Jaffna this year’, he said.

Nisha Victor was also involved in attacking a university student with a sharp object, Gunasekara said.

While in November 2016, 38 members of the gang were arrested, including the then leader Kumaresan Vinodhan aka Ava, the recent arrests leave the gang almost paralyzed. Coming down hard on the criminal gang, the Police commenced the raids the following day of the attack, by initially arresting two youth, Thivarasa Madhusan aka Madhush, a resident of Nallur and Vijayarathnam Sivaraj, a resident of Manippay.

While four more arrests followed in Jaffna, the TID arrested a suspect from Mattakkuliya on August 7.

The Officers arrested three suspects along with the leader of the Ava Group in the Pettah while investigating officers also discovered two swords, a live hand grenade and a knife in their possession.

In the past two weeks, the Police and TID have collectively arrested 17 youth in connection to the Ava Group, according to SP Gunasekara.

The Police are now carrying out investigations to uncover possible foreign links to the criminal gang.

According to Gunasekara, investigations are being conducted to ascertain information regarding individuals as well as groups funding or operating the Ava gang locally and internationally, he said. “Intelligence agencies will also be consulted to cross-check if the suspects had past links to the LTTE,” SP Gunasekara further added.

While the motive of the latest attack on the Police force remains unclear, according to SP Gunasekara, the Police will perform its duty to eradicate such groups disturbing the law and order of the country.

“We will not allow the ugly head of crime and terror to rise,” he said, adding that investigations will continue in this regard. 

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