The Largest Security-Cleared Career Network for Defense and Intelligence Jobs - JOIN NOW


Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)
World Tamil Association (WTA)
World Tamil Movement (WTM)
Federation of Associations of Canadian Tamils (FACT)
Ellalan Force

On 17 May 2009 Sri Lanka's rebels announced they would be laying down their guns to prevent what they call further unnecessary slaughter of Tamil civilians by government troops. The island nation's military said it had defeated the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, ending a long civil war, and had rescued nearly 200,000 trapped civilians. Sri Lanka's government congratulated itself on a job well done, defeating terrorism and rescuing all civilians from its clutches. The country's disaster-relief and human-rights minister, Mahinda Samarasinghe, spoke to reporters in the capital. "The military phase is over. The LTTE has been militarily defeated. Now the biggest hostage rescue operation in the world has come to a conclusion," Samarasinghe. "The figure I have here is since 20th of April, 179,000 hostages have been rescued."

Tamil rebels began an armed uprising in 1983, after they complained of discrimination against the minority Tamil community. The rebels said they want wide-ranging autonomy for Tamil-dominated areas under their control in the north and the east. The Tamil Tigers have fought a civil war for a quarter century in hopes of establishing an independent ethnic homeland on the Sinhalese-dominated island. Most of Sri Lanka's Tamils are Hindus with a significant number of Christians. The Sinhalese are primarily Buddhists.

The Tamil people of the island of Ceylon (now called Sri Lanka) constitute a distinct nation. They form a social entity, with their own history, traditions, culture, language and traditional homeland. The Tamil people call their nation 'Tamil Eelam'. Founded in 1976, the LTTE was the most powerful Tamil group in Sri Lanka and used 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 relied on a guerrilla strategy that included the use of terrorist tactics. The group's elite Black Tiger squad conducted suicide bombings against important targets, and all rank-and-file members carried a cyanide capsule to kill themselves rather than allow themselves to be caught. The LTTE was very insular and highly organized with its own intelligence service, naval element (the Sea Tigers), and women's political and military wings.


There were approximately 10,000 armed combatants in Sri Lanka; about 3,000 to 6,000 formed a trained cadre of fighters. The LTTE also had a significant overseas support structure for fundraising, weapons procurement, and propaganda activities. The LTTE also had its own naval wing designated the Sea Tigers.

Location/Area of Operation

At one time the Tigers controlled most of the northern and eastern coastal areas of Sri Lanka, and had conducted operations throughout the island. Headquartered in the Wanni region, LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran had established an extensive network of checkpoints and informants to keep track of any outsiders who entered the group's area of control.

External Aid

The LTTE's overt organizations supported Tamil separatism by lobbying foreign governments and the United Nations. The LTTE also used its international contacts to procure weapons, communications, and bombmaking equipment. The LTTE exploited large Tamil communities in North America, Europe, and Asia to obtain funds and supplies for its fighters in Sri Lanka. The Tamil diaspora -- in the UK, Canada, Australia, the US and throughout Europe -- was a major source of Tiger funds which were turned into the weapons of war. Some of these funds were extorted by the Tigers directly. Some, were contributed to "humanitarian" organizations which were legally registered in various countries overseas but act as Tiger fronts. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam were involved in numerous trans-national criminal activities, including partnerships with Pakistani heroin producers/traffickers, alien smuggling, extortion from Tamil families living abroad, and various forms of fraud. All this in order to raise funds for their insurgent activities in Sri Lanka


The LTTE integrated a battlefield insurgent strategy with a terrorist program that targeted key government and military personnel, the economy, and public infrastructure. Political assassinations included the suicide bomber attacks against Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa in 1993 and Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991, which was the group's only known act outside Sri Lanka. The LTTE detonated two massive truck bombs directed against the Sri Lankan economy, one at the Central Bank in January 1996 and another at the Colombo World Trade Center in October 1997. The LTTE also attacked several ships in Sri Lankan waters, including foreign commercial vessels and infrastructure targets such as commuter trains, buses, oil tanks, and power stations. The LTTE prefered to attack vulnerable government facilities then withdraw before reinforcements arrive, or to time its attacks to take advantage of security lapses on holidays, at night, or in the early morning.

The LTTE also attacked several commercial ships flying foreign flags in the waters off the north and east of the country. In 1998, threats were directed at domestic air carriers flying between Colombo and Jaffna, and in September of that year, a domestic civilian aircraft flying from Colombo to Jaffna crashed, killing everyone on board. The cause of the accident is still unknown.

Bomb attacks remained the greatest terrorist hazard. The LTTE attempted or carried out numerous political assassinations or attempts. In 1999, suicide bombings resulted in the death of 30 persons and injury to 143 others in Colombo, Trincomalee, Batticaloa, Jaffna and Medawachchi. In January 2000, a suicide bomber killed more than a dozen and wounded several passers-by when she detonated her bomb outside the Prime Minister's Office after being detected by security personnel. In March 2000, as many as eight LTTE terrorists attacked a government motorcade traveling on a major Colombo thoroughfare, killing 25 people and wounding many others. In June 2000, a suicide bomber assassinated the Minister for Industrial Development in a Colombo suburb. Twenty-one others were killed and 60 people were injured in the attack. In October 2000, two American and one British women and their Sri Lankan driver were seriously injured in their vehicle in Central Colombo when an LTTE suicide bomber confronted by police exploded his device rather than surrender. Three policemen were killed. In October 2001, an LTTE suicide bomber stopped by police in the vicinity of an election rally in Colombo detonated his device rather than surrender, killing five people and injuring 16 others.

In addition to individual suicide bombers, vehicle-mounted bombs were used by the LTTE. Major hotels have been directly affected by terrorist activities and could be again because of their proximity to likely economic, government and military targets

In January 1998, the Temple of the Tooth, an important religious and tourist site in Kandy, was subjected to a truck bomb; eight people were killed, and the temple, nearby businesses and an historic hotel were damaged.

Small bombs were frequently placed against infrastructure targets such as telephone switchgear or electrical power transformers. Public buses have also been the targets of terrorist attacks. In September 1999, bombs were detonated in buses in separate incidents in Negombo and Badula. In one week in February 2000, seven separate explosions of bombs left on public buses in Colombo and other cities killed three and wounded over 140 people. Bombs have also been found on trains and on train roadbeds, resulting in one death and injuries to over 50 people.

In May 2000, the Sri Lankan Government activated provisions of the Public Security Ordinance, giving certain government authorities sweeping powers to deal with threats to national security. The next month the LTTE gained a signifigant victory in taking the Elephant pass army garrison, located in a town on the Jaffna Peninnsula.

Join the mailing list

One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger - by Matthew Yglesias

Page last modified: 05-08-2012 15:16:26 ZULU