In a body blow to the LTTE, the head of its military intelligence 'Colonel' Charles was killed by the Sri Lankan army in northwestern Mannar as fighting escalated following the government's decision to dump a 2002 ceasefire.
Charles or Shanmuganathan Ravishankar, 43, was killed along with three other cadres last evening in a claymore mine attack on their van by Sri Lanka Army's Deep Penetration Unit in Pallamadu in Mannaar, the pro-rebel Tamilnet website said on Sunday.
The killing of the top operative who masterminded several deadly attacks in the country will clearly rattle LTTE Supremo V Prabhakaran, who lost his close aide political wing chief S P Thamilselvan in an Air Force raid barely two months ago.
The defence ministry confirmed that it had ambushed a vehicle carrying Charles, the deputy to Pottu Amman, the chief of Tamil Tigers' intelligence wing, after "accurate ground information" from the LTTE-dominated Wanni region.
"The loss of Charles is a far greater loss to LTTE than it had suffered when it lost its political head in November last year," a ministry statement said.
The killing indicated an escalation in fighting since the government withdrew a tattered ceasefire on Wednesday. The Army said it had killed 31 militants since last evening as fierce clashes continued between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and troops.
However, there was no immediate word from the LTTE on the killing. Eeelam People's Democratic Party chief and social welfare minister Douglas Devananda said the death of Charles was a "setback" to Prabhakaran.
"Charles has been involved in killing of some senior leaders and the Colombo Central bank bomb blast," which had left 91 people dead and 1000 injured in January 1996, said Devananda, who himself recently survived a suicide attack carried out by a suspected LTTE woman bomber.
Charles, who hailed from Jaffna, had led an external operations corps of LTTE as well as a regular combat force deployed in Mannar district.
Charles was also known to have involved in other terrorist attacks and assassination of key political figures and armed forces personnel in the country.
According to intelligence reports, he was the principal handler of the terrorist network in Colombo and was the person who used to brief plans of terrorist attacks to the LTTE chief. He was also in charge of luring army personel to act as moles for the outfit.
Military sources also claimed a long-standing status conflict between Pottu Amman and Charles.
Just before the 2002 ceasefire, Prabhakaran had to move Charles to Batticaloa due to the rising hostility between his two intelligence leaders.
"It was only in 2005, Prabhakan could bring Charles back to Wanni," they said.