When a Kidnap Marred George H.W. Bush’s Only India Visit

PM Indira Gandhi & VP HW Bush May 1984

by T. Ramakrishnan, The Hindu, Chennai, December 1, 2018

The only visit of former U.S. President George H.W. Bush to India in May 1984 was marked by the episode of abduction of an American couple by a rebel Tamil outfit in Jaffna, Sri Lanka.

While in New Delhi, Mr. Bush had played a role in securing the release of the couple by interacting with the Indian government, which was, in turn, closely coordinating with Sri Lankan government on the issue.

The kidnap episode, which lasted five days, came to an end on the day Mr. Bush left India for Pakistan.

It all began with the couple – Stanley Bryson Allen and Mary Elizabeth – getting abducted by the rebel group, Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) from their residence in Jaffna on the night of May 10, 1984, just two days prior to Mr. Bush, the then Vice-President of the U.S., reaching New Delhi, as part of his four-day visit to India.

Accusing Mr. Allen as an “agent” of the Central Intelligence Agency, the rebel group had demanded the release of 20 political prisoners and the payment of gold worth $50 million, which should be deposited with the Tamil Nadu government, in return for the safe release of the American couple. The rebel group had set 72 hours as the deadline to the Sri Lankan government. But, Mr. Allen was then part of a water project funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

While the popular impression in India was that the kidnap episode had been enacted to coincide with Mr. Bush’s visit, the EPRLF had said it had wanted to highlight the CIA’s “activities” in Jaffna ahead of the then Sri Lankan President J.R. Jayawardene’s visit to the U.S. in June 1984.

A report published by The Hindu on May 14 stated that Mr. Bush, who was personally in charge of the crisis management group in Washington, was “following closely” the steps in securing the kidnapped persons.

On the day (May 14, 1984) of the expiry of the deadline, a spate of activities took place both in India and Sri Lanka.

In New Delhi, Mr. Bush met for two hours with the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, whose appeal to the kidnappers to release the couple on humanitarian grounds was broadcast over All India Radio every half an hour nearly for nine hours throughout the day.

At an official lunch hosted by the Prime Minister that day, Mr. Bush was informed that the deadline was getting extended. The same day, the then Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.G. Ramachandran had warned the kidnappers that a stage might be reached that the militants would lose the sympathy and support of people of Tamil Nadu.

In Colombo, late in the day, Sri Lankan National Security Minister Lalith Athulathmudali informed reporters that the hostages were said to have been released.

On May 15, 1984, when the U.S. Vice-President left New Delhi for Islamabad, the couple were handed over to the Bishop of Jaffna. Before departing from India, Mr. Bush had appreciated India’s efforts to secure the release of the Allens.

Apart from the diplomatic activities, the actions of the Tamil Nadu police too had apparently contributed to the release of the couple. Fifteen members of the EPRLF had been arrested by the authorities. K. Mohandas, who had headed the State intelligence wing when MGR was Chief Minister, in his book, The Man and The Myth, claimed that a threat issued by him to a group of EPRLF leaders such as K. Padmanabha, Varadaraja Perumal and Douglas Devananda had facilitated the release.

by The New York Times, May 16, 1984

An American couple kidnapped and held for five days under threat of death was set free tonight.

Stanley Allen, 36 years old, and his wife, Mary, 29, of Columbus, Ohio, were handed over by their abductors after 8 P.M. to the Roman Catholic Bishop of Jaffna on the northern tip of Sri Lanka, ending a search by Government soldiers and the police.

The Government radio said the Allens were in good health. National Security Minister Lalith Athulathmudali said he would ”get them to Colombo first thing tomorrow morning.”

(In Washington, John Hughes, the State Department spokesman, said the Allens were ”in good spirit.” He said, ”They are in good health and obviously overjoyed to be alive and free.”)

The kidnappers, members of a group seeking a separate state in Sri Lanka for the minority Tamils, threatened to kill the couple on Monday if the Government did not free 20 guerrillas from prison and pay a ransom of $2 million in gold. There was no word on whether the Government had met the demands, but it had announced it would not meet them. Couple Abducted in Van

The Allens, who were married March 24, were abducted at gunpoint Thursday from their home in Jaffna. Mr. Allen has been supervising a $4 million water project financed by the United States Agency for International Development in Jaffna. The rebels had accused the couple of working for the Central Intelligence Agency.

The Allens were watching a video movie when the guerrillas burst into their home and took them away in a van, according to an account given by an employee of the couple to the police.

A separatist Tamil organization calling itself the Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front was reported Monday night to have ordered its military wing, the People’s Liberation Army, to set them free. The military group is one of several fighting for a separate state. They say the largely Hindu Tamils face discrimination from the largely Buddhist Sinhalese majority.

Until the Allens were released, the guerrillas refused to give the Sri Lanka Government proof they were alive.

Mr. Athulathmudali appealed for evidence earlier today, saying ”the world must be assured.”

When EPRLF kidnapped an American couple in 1984 & sought ransom paid to Tamil Nadu Government
Posted on June 16th, 2018

…The deposition by K Mohandas, former Director General of Police (Intelligence) Tamil Nadu to the Commission on 2 January 1996 following the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi is interesting.

“One night I was sleeping in my house. I got a call from the US Consul General from Madras at 11 PM. He told me frantically that Mr. and Mrs. Allen, who are working as water resources experts in Jaffna had been kidnapped by militants. He wanted my assistance to rescue them. I told him how could I help him for the incident that had happened in Jaffna. He pressed that the President of the United States of America was interested. The Consul General said that a large amount of gold and six or so militants in Sri Lankan custody must be released. This must be done within 48 hours or else Mr. and Mrs. Allens would be shot dead. Then something struck me and I asked the Consul General to find out the names of the militants whom they were asking for release. Then as soon as I placed the phone down, I got a call from G. Parthasarthy from Delhi repeating the same request. I rang up MGR and took his permission to take up this matter. I immediately proceeded to office calling all my principal officers to come to the office. As soon as I reached the office, I got a call from the US Consul General revealing the names of the militants whose release the kidnappers had wanted. My officers immediately said that they were from the EPRLF. So the hunt began to find out whether there are any important EPRLF fellows in Madras. After about 24 hours, we got 3 or 4 of them sleeping in a house. There were also two women who were released. The catch was very important. Among the people we caught were one Mr. Padmanabha who was later massacred by LTTE. Then, two, Varadharaja Perumal, the subsequent Chief Minister installed by the IPKF in East Sri Lanka, and three, General Douglas, self styled, who was the chief of militant wing of the EPRLF. I asked my officers to take the three to a five star hotel. It was at about 2.00 A.M. with a lot of security, the officers started questioning. But upto 6.00 A.M. they did not budge. So I went there with two commandos with loaded revolver. I made the three fellows stand. I placed my revolver on the table and made the commandos aim with their AK-47 at them. There was silence for two minutes. I looked at them straight and said: `It is your people who have made ransom demand on Mr. Allens. I will not allow you to open your mouth. Whatever happens to Allens will happen to you three right in this room.’ After five minutes, General Douglas said that he would speak to his people in Jaffna to release Allens. I said ‘Mind you, nothing in return; no gold; no release of their comrades.’ General Douglas contacted Jaffna and got the release of Mr. and Mrs. Allens and, within four hours, Mr. and Mrs. Allens were released at the residence of Bishop of Jaffna with their eyes blindfolded. There were kidnappings and counter kidnappings within the Sri Lankan militant groups in Tamil Nadu.”

K.Mohandas, the then police chief of Tamil Nadu, who was a confidant of MGR, exposed (Douglas) Devananda as the culprit of the 1984 kidnapping drama in his 1992 book. During the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission on September 3 in 2010 Devananda apologized for the mistakes made during his militant life.

The week following the release of the American couple the EPRLF, TELO stormed the Batticoloa jail to release Reverend A. Singarayar & Nirmala Nithyanathan, a lecturer at the University of Jaffna who were to stand trial for terrorist offences. Their names were included to the list of detainees the EPRLF wanted released in exchange for the American couple. A Roman Catholic priest & a Jaffna University lecturer in prison for terrorism certainly confirms our contention of both links to terrorism in Sri Lanka.

1984 UPI Mike Casey’s article Religious violence between the minority Tamils and the majority Sinhalese in the former British colony of Ceylon has left more than 450 people dead in the last year.”


According to The Hindu (18 May 1984) titled Aim of exposing CIA achieved – EPRLF”

EPRLF said they had been watching the activities of the Allens for the past six months…..‘Although they claimed they were water resources experts, they did little on this project, and along with two other Americans, were taking photographs and making logistic studies of the Jaffna peninsula.’

Sunday Times Sri Lanka quoting extracts from N K Narayan Swami’s Inside an Elusive Mind – Prabakaran” The EPRLF, the small leftist group also trained by India, kidnapped a young American couple working on a US funded water project at Point Pedro, a coastal town in the Jaffna peninsula. They were accused of being CIA agents. The EPRLF demanded a huge ransom. The group wanted the amount deposited with the Tamil Nadu government. An outraged New Delhi came down heavily on the EPRLF, resulting in the release of the Americans.”

According to the Economist (19 May 1984)

The kidnappers were from a group that calls itself the Eelamist People’s Revolutionary Front (Eelam is the name given by separatists to their would-be Tamil state). Its secretary-general, Mr.K.Pathmanathan [sic: the correct name is Padmanabha; who was a pal of Dayan Jayatilleka whose father Mervyn de Silva, should have contributed this news report, since he was the Sri Lankan correspondent of the Economist] who is believed to have had training in Lebanon, was picked up in Delhi with five colleagues and questioned”


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