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Suicide Killings - An Overview

Of the known forms of political violence, suicide killing is the most bizarre. Assassination, as such, has limited objectives--'of destroying an enemy, frustrating a government, or, simply, eliminating a rival'. Unlike in a military operation, death of the perpetrator is certain in a suicide attack. The attacker is clearly aware of his/her impending death, but nevertheless proceeds with perpetuating the act.

Institutionalised indoctrination and rigorous physical training prepare a human bomb to undertake an operation. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), Hezbollah, Hamas and the PKK (Workers' Party of Kurdistan; also known as Apocus) have earned a dubious niche for frequently employing suicide killers with success. The politico-social environment, besides indoctrination, motivates a LTTE suicide bomber.

The LTTE has integrated suicide bombers into its land and sea fighting forces. Suicide cadres of the Tamil Tigers are known as Karum Puligal, i.e., Black Tigers. By introducing suicide killings to the South Asian region and carrying out several successful missions in Sri Lanka, and one in neighbouring India, the LTTE has been able to instil fear in the minds of the people. The LTTE's suicide attacks, like those of any terrorist group, are marked by the surprise element.

In Tiger folklore, a human bomb volunteer is held in high esteem. He or she is extended the 'privilege' of having the 'last supper' with LTTE chief Prabhakaran before setting out on the mission.

The Tamil Tigers were quick to realise the value of publicity. However, they have not always owned up the violence that they had unleashed, because the LTTE code reportedly prohibits admitting to political killings.

The Tigers carried out the first suicide operation on July 5, 1987, with the objective of preventing Sri Lankan troops from advancing to Jaffna town, the political and cultural capital of Tamils. In this daring attack, a truck laden with explosives was used. Vasanthan alias Captain Millar crashed the truck into a makeshift army camp in Nelliaddy. 40 government troops were killed in the attack.

The first high profile suicide bomb attack killing by the LTTE was that of the Sri Lankan Defence Minister, Ranjan Wijeratne, in Colombo by a car-borne attacker, on March 2, 1991; 19 others, too, were killed in the explosion. A LTTE woman suicide bomber, Dhanu, assassinated former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, who was all set to become Prime Minister once again, at an election rally in Sriperambadur, southern India, on May 21, 1991. Several months later, the Chief of the Sri Lankan Navy, Clancey Fernando, fell to a suicide bomb attack, in Colombo, on November 16, 1992. Another top armed forces officer to have been eliminated by a Tiger human bomb was a Brigadier in the army, Ananda Hamangoda, who was posthumously promoted to the rank of a Major General.

The top-most Sri Lankan political leader to have been assassinated, and that too, in a suicide bomb attack, was Ranasinghe Premadasa, President of the country at the time of his death. Premadasa fell to his bicycle-riding suicide assassin at a May Day rally in Colombo, in 1993.

In the year 1999 the LTTE's suicide bombers killed two people. In early June 1999, a 16 year-old human bomb had blown up Muthulingam Ganesh Kumar alias Razeek, who was a former guerrilla and was involved in counter-terrorism operations at the time of his death, in Batticaloa district. More than a month later, on July 29, a suicide bomber killed Neelan Thiruchelvam, a moderate Tamil leader of Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), in the Cinnamon Gardens diplomatic area of Colombo. Traffic congestion at an intersection came to the advantage of the killer who could easily approach the car and trigger the explosion.

In the year 2000, on June 5, Black Sea Tigers, suicide killers of the naval wing of the LTTE, attacked Sri Lankan naval gunboats in the waters off Vadamarachchi coast. 21 naval personnel and 13 Black Sea Tigers cadres were killed in the attack.

Two days later, on June 7, a male LTTE suicide bomber assassinated C. V. Goonaratne, Minister for Industrial Development, in the northern suburbs of Colombo. The Minister's wife succumbed to her injuries the next day. Goonaratne was leading a rally to commemorate fallen Sri Lankan security forces personnel fighting the LTTE in the Jaffna peninsula. The rally itself was organised as part of events meant to mark the first annual War Heroes Day. More than 20 people were killed and at least 50 others were injured in the explosion. Following Goonaratne's killing, Sri Lankan security agencies have reportedly advised Ministers to restrict, if not avoid, moving out on the roads.

In yet another attack by the Black Sea Tigers, on June 26, a boat completely laden with explosives rammed into a merchant vessel in the high seas off the coast of Point Pedro. A fierce eight hour-sea battle between the Sea Tigers and the naval escort of the vessel preceded the attack. The government claimed that the vessel was ferrying food and essential goods. Contesting the government's claim, the LTTE held that it was transporting arms and ammunition.

Failed suicide attacks by the Tamil Tigers have been few, in terms of not being able to liquidate the intended target. Even on such an occasion one or several others were killed in the attack.

The most prominent survivor of the LTTE's human bomb attack is Chandrika Kumaratunga, President of Sri Lanka. A female Tiger suicide bomber made an attempt on the life of Kumaratunga at an election rally, in Colombo, on December 18, 1999. Kumaratunga, the first politician to survive such an attack, had a miraculous escape but permanently lost sight in her right eye. On the same day, another suicide blast had occurred at an Opposition election rally. In all, 38 people were killed on December 18. At the Opposition rally-blast, Major General (Retd.) Lucky Alagama, former Chief of the Army Staff and another person, a Member of Parliament, were among those killed. At that time, analysts held that Alagama was targeted because he was reportedly tipped to be appointed as the Defence Minister of Sri Lanka if the United National Party candidate were to win the Presidential election.

Besides Kumaratunga, two officers in the Sri Lankan Army and a Police Inspector have survived the LTTE's human bomb attack. All the survival episodes have one thing in common--vehicles, not necessarily bullet proof, came in between the attacker and the targets, and, thus, saved them.

In the year 2000, the LTTE bungled on several occasions. On January 5, security forces personnel discovered the presence of a woman suicide bomber outside the Prime Minister's office. Even as they were dragging the human bomb away, she triggered off an explosion killing herself and 11 others, while 24 more sustained injuries.

An attempt was made on the life of a top military commander in Trincomalee district, Jaffna peninsula, on March 2. A woman suicide bomber blew herself up in front of Piyal Abeysekara's vehicle, whose driver had, however, been killed in the explosion.

In what is widely known as the Rajagriya attack on March 10, in Colombo, a suicide squad waited in prowl along the Ceremonial Drive to Parliament, in Colombo, presumably to eliminate Deputy Defence Minister Anirudh Rattawate. Even though the intended target escaped, more than 30 people were killed in the attack.

It is not clear if the LTTE was responsible for a blast on June 14, in Wattala town, in the northern suburbs of Greater Colombo. Furthermore, later reports questioned the accuracy of the suicide bomb theory propounded soon after the blast. At least two people were killed and three more were wounded in the explosion while some 25 Sri Lankan Air Force (SLAF) personnel, injured war-returnees, had a providential escape.

Tabulated below are some of the suicide bomb explosions, including those mentioned above, the Tamil Tigers have been held responsible for. The lit is not, however, exhaustive.  

Prominent political leaders assassinated by the LTTE

Child soldiers of the LTTE





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