The Indian government has no credible information that Tamil Tigers chief Velupillai Prabhakaran was injured in a Sri Lanka Air Force raid on his bunker in the last week of November.
Indian security agencies believe that reports that Prabhakaran was injured and that he may seek medical treatment abroad are part of psychological warfare against a beleaguered Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
An informed source dismissed as "ridiculous" a report on Friday in a Sri Lankan newspaper that the supposed air raid on Prabhakaran killed 116 bodyguards of the LTTE chief.
Officials told IANS on condition of anonymity that the Indian security establishment, which keeps a close tab on the Sri Lankan conflict, would have in all probability learnt by now if Prabhakaran had indeed been injured.
"All we can say now is that we have no credible intelligence to believe that Prabhakaran was wounded in any raid," the source said. "While we never rule out anything completely, we find these reports difficult to digest."
The LTTE has not commented on the supposed bombing of Prabhakaran's base that was first reported by a Sri Lankan newspaper on December 16.
The paper said the 54-year-old suffered slight injuries in the arms, legs and the back when the air force dropped 12 bombs on the Jayanthinagar bunker complex in the northern district of Kilinochchi on November 28.
It went on to say that Prabhakaran recovered after treatment at the LTTE-run Thileepan Medical Centre and had begun moving about.
The Sri Lankan military spokesman then said the forces had no such information although the incident had supposedly taken place over two weeks earlier.
But Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa said this week that while he had no details, the air force did take up two "high profile" targets on November 28 and one of the target areas in the LTTE region was then "closed for two weeks".
The government's Media Centre for National Security (MCNS) announced on December 19 that Prabhakaran was indeed injured at Jayanthinagar but on November 26, not November 28.
MCNS said the raid followed intelligence reports of the Tiger leader's presence in Jayanthinagar. Explaining the long silence, it said though the air force believed Prabhakaran was injured, ground intelligence was not able to confirm it for so long.
The pro-LTTE TamilNet website and others did report a raid on Jayanthinagar on November 26. But Tamilnet had reported injury only to an 18-year-old boy.
The Indian sources see a parallel between the reported attack on Prabhakaran and the death of LTTE political chief SP Tamilselvan on November 2 in a similarly targeted early morning air bombing.
Tamilselvan died along with five senior LTTE guerrillas he was in a meeting with. The others reportedly piled on him in a desperate bid to save him but the effort proved futile.
When the Prabhakaran confidant died, the LTTE sealed off the area. Prabhakaran then sent a handpicked team to assess the damage and report to him, sources said.
It was only after that, sources added, that Pottu Amman, the LTTE intelligence chief and otherwise a key figure in the Tiger set-up, could go to the area.
Prabhakaran is known to operate from deep and seemingly impenetrable bunkers that were laid by the Tigers in Sri Lanka's thickly forested north in the 1980s when Indian troops were deployed there.
According to one published account, some bunkers are 30 to 40 feet deep. Deep underground tunnels are interlinked and rooms have been chiselled out. Some have low roofs while others have more space.
The LTTE is known to guard Prabhakaran zealously and his movements are rarely known outside a small circle, which knows that the security forces would love to get him.
This is not the first time the media has reported that Prabhakaran has been killed or injured. The LTTE issued photographs to prove that he was alive in the wake of intense speculation in 1989 that he had been killed.
The Sri Lankan media reported after the 2004 tsunami that Prabhakaran had been consumed by massive waves and that the LTTE had ordered a golden coffin for him.