|Suicide bombers feared and
By Amantha Perera
COLOMBO - Talk about the Tamil Tigers' suicide
cadres and many in both the majority Sinhala community
and minority Tamils here in Sri Lanka react with fear.
"Their commitment is scary," says Lakshman
Wickremasinghe, a Sinhalese. His thoughts are echoed by
Nadaraja Sivaganashan, a Tamil. "They don't care who,
when or what, they will kill themselves."
of them think suicide bombings by the Tigers have not
ended for good, despite the cessation of hostilities
that has been in place since February 2002 in the
Tigers' campaign for their own homeland.
and effect of suicide bombings in Sri Lanka's
two-decade-old ethnic conflict was underscored this
month, which marks the 16th anniversary of the Tigers'
first official use of this weapon on July 5, 1987.
On that day, Captain Miller, a member of the
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), as the Tigers
are formally known, drove an explosives-laden truck into
an army camp housed at a school in Nelliady in the
northern Jaffna peninsula. Since then, the Black Tigers,
as the suicide cadres are known, have been emulated by
the likes of Hamas in the Palestinians' campaign against
Israeli occupation, and by the al-Qaeda network of
Lasantha Dahanaike, a human rights
investigator based in the United States, says that
poverty, repression - and the anger and desperation
stemming from these - are responsible for the evolution
of the suicide cadre culture.
"I don't condone
it, but it is the most effective weapon against an army
that has modern weapons at its disposal. They [suicide
cadres] are using their best weapon,'' said Dahanaike, a
Sri Lankan who has also done research on the suicide
attacks in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
other words, the use of suicide bombers depends heavily
on the particular situation in a conflict. If the
situation on the ground continues to be a breeding
ground for such desperate moves, suicide attacks will
continue, he adds.
On July 5, Miller and other
LTTE cadres who followed him were commemorated by the
LTTE all over Tamil-dominated areas in the north and
east. At least 243 Tigers have since followed in
Miller's footsteps, including 53 women.
suicide cadres were responsible for two of the most
spectacular Tiger attacks - the one that killed Indian
prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 and the
assassination attempt on Sri Lankan president Chandrika
Bandaranaike Kumaratunga in 1999. Kumaratunga survived
the attack, but lost an eye.
The background of
Black Tiger Kandasmy Lingeswaran is typical. Born to a
poor fishing family in Jaffna, he witnessed his family
and community harassed by government forces. He joined
the LTTE and like most cadres, was willing to give up
his life for the Tigers' elusive leader, Vellupillai
Prabhakaran, and what he believes is the Tamil cause.
"If war breaks out, I will fight. And in war you
make sacrifices," Lingeswaran said during an interview
soon after he was released by the government during a
prisoners-of-war swap in September.
particularly for those who have lost a loved one during
an ethnic riot or killed by a soldier, Prabhakaran is a
demigod," said author Rohan Gunaratna in his book,
International and Regional Security, Implications of
the Sri Lankan Tamil Insurgency.
reports that emerged during the investigation into the
Gandhi assassination revealed that Dhanu's motivation
for becoming a suicide bomber stemmed from her rape by
Indian soldiers stationed in Sri Lanka during the late
From the time a cadre is singled out to
be a Black Tiger, he or she courts mythical admiration.
The Black Tiger is separated from ordinary cadres and
severs all contact with family and friends. Before
embarking on a suicide mission, he or she will partake
in a special meal with Prabhakaran.
Black Tigers are venerated. In LTTE cemeteries, suicide
cadres have pride of place with granite tombstones over
graves that hold no bodies.
Shrines built in
memory of them dot Sri Lanka's northeast. At the
location of the attack in Nelliady, which is now under
government control, the Tigers erected a statue of
Miller last year. It was here that the main
commemoration ceremony in Jaffna took place earlier this
The Tiger rebels also look after suicide
cadres' families after their demise. For the likes of
Lingeswaran, in death he may be able to give his poor
family something that he never could in life, a
comfortable life and respect. Miller's mother too was
among the chief guests at the July 5 ceremony.
The newest addition to the suicide wing is the
Sea Tigers. Footage of such attacks has shown them
speeding toward Sri Lankan Navy crafts in
explosive-ridden crafts, waving and acknowledging the
cheers of cadres on other boats.
A suicide cadre
is a potent weapon that can not be detected very easily,
says government military spokesman Brig Sanath
Karunaratne. "It is a one-way soldier and there is very
little stopping. Once you get someone into that
mentality, there can be no limit," he said.
instance, Babu, the LTTE cadre who killed President
Ranasinghe Premadasa in 1993, had infiltrated the
president's staff through a household staffer and
remained inactive for almost two years before carrying
out the suicide attack.
For its part, the LTTE
realizes that the Black Tigers give them an unmatched
edge. "The Black Tigers are the strongest force of a
much weakened people," said Amithaab, an LTTE official
at the Nelliady ceremony.
The Tamil daily Sudar
Oli recently quoted Prabhakran as paying tribute to
suicide cadres. "No weapon and no technology on earth,
can stop the determination of the LTTE's suicide
bombers. The suicide squad came into being at a critical
juncture in the history of the Tamil liberation movement
and has taken it to the next stage."
ways, this month's ceremony in Nelliady was a means for
the Tigers to tell the Sri Lankan government and other
parties involved in the peace process that it is still a
force to reckon with militarily.
For the time
being, the Black Tigers are hibernating. They have only
been put on public display once, during the Heroes Day
celebrations in November, when they marched with black
(Inter Press Service)