ALTERNATE NAME: Liberation Tigers of Tiger Eelam
LEADER: Veluppillai Prabhakaran Osman
YEAR ESTABLISHED OR BECAME ACTIVE: 1976
ESTIMATED SIZE: 8,000
USUAL AREA OF OPERATION: Sri Lanka, particularly the state of Tamil Eelam in the northeast of the country
A U.S. TERRORIST EXCLUSION LIST DESIGNEE: The U.S. Department of State declared the Tamil Tigers to be a terrorist organization in 1997
The name Tamil Tigers is used by over twenty-five different Tamil guerrilla organizations fighting the Sinhalese-dominated government of Sri Lanka. The Tigers use terrorism to push for the creation of an independent Tamil state.
The best-known and most influential of these terrorist groups is the Liberation Tigers of Tiger Eelam (LTTE). An outgrowth of the Tamil United Liberation Front and originally known as the Tamil New Tigers, LTTE formed on May 5, 1976. By April 1989, the LTTE and the remnants of three other Tiger organizations had formed an umbrella group, the Eelam National Liberation Front.
The Tamil Tigers are the product of ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka, the country known as Ceylon under British rule. The Sinhalese were the first Indians to arrive in Sri Lanka, landing in the sixth century. The Tamils seized power on the tropical island when they arrived from southern India in the early sixteenth century. The Portuguese then subdued the Tamils before losing control of Sri Lanka to the Dutch. The British held the territory from 1802–1948. During British rule, the Tamils held great standing in Ceylon society.
When Sri Lanka gained independence on February 4, 1948, the majority (74% in 2002) Sinhalese and the minority (18% in 2002) Tamils began to drift apart. The Sinhalese were Buddhist while the Tamils were Hindu. The rift started initially because of economic competition. The break increased because of the rise of Sinhalese-Buddhist nationalism, in which the Sinhalese argued that the future of Sri Lanka depended on the unity of the government with Buddhism and the Sinhala language. They saw the Tamils as only invaders from South India. Successive Sri Lankan governments gave in to the sentiments of the nationalists and approved legislation that the Tamils viewed as discriminatory. In 1956, Sri Lanka passed legislation to disenfranchise the Tamils of Indian origin and to make Sinhala the sole official language. As a result, the Tamils were excluded from receiving the best education and denied the opportunity to hold government jobs.
By the mid 1970s, the Tamils began to push for a separate state in the areas of Sri Lanka in which they are a majority. When the Sri Lankan government standardized education, thereby making Sinhala compulsory in all schools, the demand to separate became stronger. In 1972, the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) was begun as an advocacy group for the Tamil people in Sri Lanka. A group of young, radical TULF members under the leadership of Velluppilai Prabhakaran created the Tamil New Tigers (TNT) in the belief that only armed struggle could free the Tamils from oppressive Sinhalese rule. In 1975, Prabhakaran committed the group's first act of violence by killing the mayor of Jaffna. Prabhakaran turned TNT into LTTE in 1976.
The Tamil Tigers began fighting in earnest in 1983 for a separate homeland for the island's Tamil minority. In the first LTTE attack, an ambush of a Sri Lankan army patrol in Jaffna killed 13 soldiers and sparked anti-Tamil riots in Colombo by Sinhalese mobs that butchered about 2,000 people. On May 14, 1985, the Tamil Tigers gunned down 146 Sinhalese civilians at Anurahhapura. Violence between the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan forces killed nearly 65,000 people in a country of nineteen million before both sides agreed to a 2002 ceasefire negotiated by Norway. However, talks on a permanent settlement broke down in 2003. At that time, Tamil Tigers controlled key portions of northern Sri Lanka, including Trincomalee Harbor, a port on the Bay of Bengal that is seen as a key military staging point in Southeast Asia.
The devastation of Sri Lanka by the tsunami of 2004 offered the hope that the calamity might force cooperation between the government and the LTTE that would also revive the peace process. Instead, the Tigers initially fought the government and themselves over the distribution system for sharing international relief supplies. They then took advantage of the situation to establish themselves as the administrators of Tamil. They also enhanced their military capacity by expanding their navy and adding a fledgling air force. Sri Lankan officials hesitated to collaborate with the Tigers to distribute aid because doing so would give the Tigers some international recognition. The government argued that allowing the Tigers to control aid supplies would also recognize them as the Tamils' sole representatives and give them a say in the areas that they did not control, such as Muslim settlements in Tamil. On June 24, 2005, the Sri Lankan government signed a deal, the Post-Tsunami Operational Management Structure (P-TOMS), sharing relief aid with the Tamil Tigers. Furious Muslims, Buddhists, and officials of parties that had exited the government upon the signing of the accord then went to the courts and blocked implementation of P-TOMS.
Perhaps because of their strengthened position as a result of the political aftereffects of the tsunami, the Tamil Tigers elected to end the ceasefire. By killing Sri Lankan Foreign Minister and Tamil Lakshman Kadirgamar, with sniper fire as he came out of the swimming pool at his private residence on August 12, 2005, the Tamil Tigers seriously jeopardized the peace agreement. The murder of the minister, a key participant in the peace process, enraged much of non-Tamil Sri Lanka. Most of the fifteen political parties represented in the Sri Lankan government as well as Buddhist priests and ordinary Sri Lankans condemned the Tamil Tigers for the assassination.
PHILOSOPHY AND TACTICS
The Tamil Tigers aim to create a separate state for Sri Lanka's Tamil people out of the nation's northern and eastern provinces. In these provinces, the Tamil people are the majority. In 1976, LTTE began a guerrilla terrorist movement to target the "enemies" of a Tamil state. These enemies include members of rival Tamil radical groups, ex-Tamil Tigers, Sri Lankan government officials, Muslims, Buddhists, and Indians. The tactics of the Tamil Tigers include assassinations and bombings as well as armed assaults on enemy forces. In their most successful military attack, the Tamil Tigers overran a Sri Lankan army camp in the northeastern town of Mullativu on July 18, 1996, and killed 1,200 troops.
The Tamil Tigers have denied using child soldiers, but human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch and UNICEF, claim that LTTE has filled out its ranks by kidnapping an estimated 1,200 children and forcing them to fight. Families that refuse to hand over children are reportedly subjected to coercive methods, including threats against the child's parents, the burning of houses, and abduction. Children who refuse to fight are beaten and threatened. LTTE's reliance on child soldiers has badly stained its international reputation and prompted the European Union to block Tamil Tigers delegations from visiting member countries in 2005.
Veluppillai Prabhakaran is the head of the LTTE. He was born in 1954 in Valvettiturai as the youngest of four children of a government clerk and his wife. The family belonged to the Karaiyar fishing and pearl-diving caste. The Karaiyars, with a reputation for toughness and a spirit of enterprise, often served as soldiers of the Tamil kings. It is this Karaiyar background that raises doubts about Prabhakaran's leadership abilities among high-caste supporters of the Tamil Tigers, although they recognize his military prowess.
Typical of most LTTE leaders, Prabhakaran lacks a university education. He attended school for seven years before leaving to join Tamil Ilainar Peravai (TIP), the youth league of the Tamil United Liberation Front, in 1972. When the TIP leader was arrested by Sri Lanka government forces and gave away the names of top TIP officials under torture, Prabhakaran was elected leader because he was unknown to the security forces. He briefly fled to India before returning to found the Tamil New Tigers in 1972. This group became the LTTE in 1976. A traditional Tamil as well as one of the world's most prolific terrorists, Prabhakaran prohibits alcohol, tobacco, stimulants, and extramarital or premarital affairs among the Tamil Tigers.
Married in 1984 and with two children, he is known as a charismatic man. He has been in hiding for years, in part because he is widely suspected of arranging the murder of Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in revenge after Gandhi sent Indian troops to the Tamil-dominated sections of Sri Lanka in accordance with India's 1987 agreement with the island nation. In 2002, Prabhararan made a rare public appearance at a tightly guarded press conference to announce his support for peace and a negotiated settlement. At the same time, he began making efforts to mend fences with the Muslims of Tamil.
Rumors also abound that LTTE has imposed a monthly war tax on Tamils around the world that raised $2 million a year, but no police force has filed charges. The organization is also known as the "cyanide cult" because each Tamil Tiger carries a cyanide capsule around his or her neck to commit suicide in the event of capture by the Sri Lankan government. (The Sri Lankan government has been accused by human rights organizations and Tamils of using torture against political opponents, making cyanide a reasonable rebel defensive tactic.)
LTTE was one of the first modern groups to use suicide bombers. Mostly the Tamil Tigers specialize in suicide attacks, with about 230 such attacks recorded, including the murder of India's Rajiv Gandhi and the May 1, 1993, assassination of Sri Lanka President Ranasinghe Premadasa. On October 13, 1994, LTTE killed presidential candidate Gamini Dissanayake and fifty-one others in a suicide attack. In 1999, the Tamil Tigers nearly killed Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga in a suicide attack that cost her an eye and left twenty-two people dead.
One of the first terrorist organizations to realize the importance of good public relations, the Tamil Tigers targets the Tamils in Sri Lanka. They have a news office that provides information from LTTE-affiliated social service agencies and use radio to promote their message. They also sponsor contests and anniversary celebrations in schools that encourage students to join the LTTE ranks.
The Tamil Tigers were one of the organizations affected by the worldwide attack on terrorism that followed the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. LTTE had received funds estimated to be in the millions from Tamils that settled abroad, especially in Canada, and from revenues generated by businesses around the world that were operated by the Tigers under fictitious names. The antiterrorist crackdown dried up many of these funds. The LTTE leaders subsequently became more interested in a peace agreement. They agreed to a ceasefire in 2001, but repeatedly broke the truce. Norwegian monitors estimated that there were 3,000 violations of the truce by the LTTE as well as 150 violations by the Sri Lankan government. Most of the LTTE violations involved recruitment of child soldiers.
The largest settlement of Tamils outside of Sri Lanka is in Canada. These people responded on August 15, 2005, to the murder of the Sri Lankan foreign minister by the Tamil Tigers. The Sri Lanka United National Association of Canada told the National Post of Canada that "We call on the Sri Lankan authorities to leave no stone unturned in arresting not only the gunmen who fired the shots, but also those leaders of the terrorist movement directing the gunmen."
- Velupillai Prabhakaran forms the Tamil New Tigers.
- The Tamil New Tigers become the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
- LTTE commits its first act of violence by ambushing a Sri Lankan army patrol in Jaffna that kills thirteen soldiers and sparks anti-Tamil riots.
- India and Sri Lanka sign a pact to end Tamil separatism, and India sends peace-keeping troops to Tamil; 1,500 Indians die in subsequent fighting.
- Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi is blown up by a Tamil Tiger suicide bomber.
- Sri Lanka outlaws the LTTE.
- Sri Lanka and LTTE signed a long-term ceasefire agreement.
In response to the European Union's banning of LTTE delegations from its member countries, the Tamil Tigers posted an interview on the Tamilnet web site on September 30, 2005. LTTE political wing leader S.P. Tamilselvan declared that the Tamil people rallied under one leadership, that of the Tamil Tigers, to fight for their basic human rights. He further stated that the Sinhalese people who refused to acknowledge injustices to Tamils in the past were unlikely to provide justice to Tamils in the future. Rather than seeing LTTE as a terrorist organization, Tamilselvan viewed it as a protector of human rights.
The Tamil Tigers appear no closer to achieving a separate state than they were at the time they formed in the 1970s. However, there is a growing acceptance of federalism in Sri Lanka that would permit the establishment of such a state. While the tenuous ceasefire agreement between the Tigers and the government continues to hold, most observers expect that hostilities will resume in the absence of peace talks and continuing violations of the truce.
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) a.k.a. The Tamil Tigers, The Ellalan Force
Founded in 1976, the LTTE is the most powerful Tamil group in Sri Lanka. It began its insurgency against the Sri Lankan Government in 1983 and has relied on a guerrilla strategy that includes the use of terrorist tactics. The LTTE currently is observing a cease-fire agreement with the Sri Lankan Government.
The LTTE has integrated a battlefield insurgent strategy with a terrorist program that targets key personnel in the countryside and senior Sri Lankan political and military leaders in Colombo and other urban centers. The LTTE is most notorious for its cadre of suicide bombers, the Black Tigers. Political assassinations and bombings were commonplace tactics prior to the cease-fire.
Exact strength is unknown, but the LTTE is estimated to have 8,000 to 10,000 armed combatants in Sri Lanka, with a core of 3,000 to 6,000 trained fighters. The LTTE also has a significant overseas support structure for fundraising, weapons procurement, and propaganda activities.
LOCATION/AREA OF OPERATIONS
The LTTE controls most of the northern and eastern coastal areas of Sri Lanka but has conducted operations throughout the island. Headquartered in northern Sri Lanka, LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran has established an extensive network of checkpoints and informants to keep track of any outsiders who enter the group's area of control.
The LTTE's overt organizations support Tamil separatism by lobbying foreign governments and the United Nations. The LTTE also uses its international contacts and the large Tamil diaspora in North America, Europe, and Asia to procure weapons, communications, funding, and other needed supplies.
Source: U.S. Department of State. Country Reports on Terrorism. Washington, D.C., 2004.
Balasingham, Anton. The Politics of Duplicity: Revisiting the Jaffna Talks. Mitcham, England: Fairmax Publishing, 2000.
Hellmann-Rajanayagam, Dagmar. The Tamil Tigers: Armed Struggle for Identity. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1994.
Mukarji, Apratim. Sri Lanka: A Dangerous Interlude. Chicago: New Dawn Press, 2005.
Tamil Tigers. "Southern Journalists on Goodwill Mission to Trincomalee." 〈http://www.tamilnet.com〉 (accessed October 10, 2005).
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), also known as the World Tamil Association (WTA), World Tamil Movement (WTM), the Federation of Associations of Canadian Tamils (FACT), the Ellalan Force, and the Sangilian Force, was founded in 1976. LTTE is the most powerful Tamil group in Sri Lanka and uses overt and illegal methods to raise funds, acquire weapons, and publicize its cause of establishing an independent Tamil state. The LTTE began its armed conflict with the Sri Lankan government in 1983 and relies on a guerrilla strategy that includes the use of terrorist tactics.
The Tigers have integrated a battlefield insurgent strategy with a terrorist program that targets not only key personnel in the countryside, but also senior Sri Lankan political and military leaders in Colombo and other urban centers. The Tigers are most notorious for their cadre of suicide bombers, the Black Tigers. Political assassinations and bombings are commonplace. The LTTE has refrained from targeting foreign diplomatic and commercial establishments but maintains an active media effort.
The exact strength of LTTE is unknown, but it is estimated to have 8,000 to 10,000 armed combatants in Sri Lanka, with a core of trained fighters of approximately 3,000 to 6,000. The LTTE also has a significant overseas support structure for fundraising, weapons procurement, and propaganda activities.
The Tigers control most of the northern and eastern coastal areas of Sri Lanka but have conducted operations throughout the island. Headquartered in northern Sri Lanka, LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran has established an extensive network of checkpoints and informants to keep track of any outsiders who enter the group's area of control.
The LTTE's overt organizations support Tamil separatism by lobbying foreign governments and the United Nations. The LTTE also uses its international contacts to procure weapons, communications, and any other equipment and supplies it needs. The LTTE exploits large Tamil communities in North America, Europe, and Asia to obtain funds and supplies for its fighters in Sri Lanka, often through false claims or even extortion.
█ FURTHER READING:
Taylor, Francis X. U.S. Department of State. Patterns of Global Terrorism 2001. Annual Report: On the Record Briefing. May 21, 2002 <http://www.state.gov/s/ct/rls/rm/10367.htm> (April 17,2003).
U.S. Department of State. Annual reports. <http://www.state.gov/www/global/terrorism/annual_reports.html> (April 16, 2003).
Terrorism, Philosophical and Ideological Origins
Terrorist and Para-State Organizations
Terrorist Organization List, United States
Terrorist Organizations, Freezing of Assets