When the word terrorism or terrorist is spoken, the immediate image for most people is the likes of Al Qaida and the bombings of the London Subway or the 9/11 attacks on American soil. This is a very limited understanding of terrorist groups. In almost every nation, religion, and ethnic group, there are factions of individuals who are dedicated to a political cause. They are so dedicated that they are willing to commit acts of violence on a large scale in order to make their point and force those in power to satisfy their demands. Most often, these groups have an agenda which is antithetical to the aims and best interests of the larger population; something that does not matter to them. Terrorists will do whatever it is they deem necessary in order to achieve their ends. The base word terror explains exactly how they choose to force change, by filling the opposition with terror and fear, unable to guess what these violent and often bloodthirsty individuals will do to win the day. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, more commonly referred to as the LTTE or Tamil Tigers, were a terrorist group who were operating in northern Sri Lanka who, until their military defeat in 2009, tried to use violence and murder in order to secede from Sri Lanka and found an independent state for people only of the Tamil ethnicity.
The Tamil people are a type of person of Indian heritage who originated in what is now the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. According to historical documents and ancient relics that have survived from the region, it has been ascertained by historians and archaeologists that the Tamils were a highly industrious people who were adept soldiers and placed heavy importance on military success and in defense of the home population. These characteristics would have lasting effects on the Tamils, as is evident by their violent devotion to a nation state of their own in modern times. The historical record shows that the Tamils have always been efficient and violent. It is believed that this region was once its own independent nation but was colonized and claimed by various groups throughout history, culminating with the British Empire's colonization of India wherein not only a new ruling class but also a cultural dominance was bestowed on the people.
Following Indian independence in 1947, there was massive restructuring that occurred throughout the country and state lines were redrawn and lands redistributed accordingly. At the time of Indian independence, Tamils comprised approximately 10% of Sri Lanka's population, a percentage which increased following the ethnic cleansing of the Civil War (Bhattacharji). Eventually, in 1968, the Indian state which had been called Madras State was officially renamed Tamil Nadu in recognition of the primary population of the region. However, despite the name change to reflect the majority population of the area, the government was doing whatever possible to prevent the Tamils from achieving political or communal power with their social strata.
From that early point, there was discussion both in Tamil Nadu and in Sri Lanka about the Tamils wanting an independent state. Unwilling to give up any of its own territory, the Sri Lankan government instead instituted a racially biased policy which prohibited Tamils from obtaining positions of political power and then passed legislation which legally discriminated the Tamils (Rajasingham). Whenever a group is isolated or oppressed by a majority culture, there is bound to be friction. The Tamil people, being marginalized and ostracized by their government demanded equality and when it became apparent that this was not going to happen, demanded autonomy. However, there are proper and highly improper ways of demanding civil rights. The proper ways do not involve murder, rape, torture, or some of the other techniques implemented by the Tamil Tigers. Ultimately, this clash of ideologies and political beliefs led to the formulation of the Tamil Tigers and the later Sri Lankan Civil War which went on for approximately three decades.
The first separatist group among the Tamil population was the Tamil Students League or Tamil Manavar Peravai (Sabaratnam). This group was created in reaction to the Sri Lankan government refusing many Tamil people from seeking higher education. It was also the first group in the area to vocalize its intent to use violence and force against the government in order to obtain power. By 1972, the group had extended its reach and committed several bombings, and also had attempted the murder of high political officials. The group evolved and incorporated several other militant factions within Sri Lanka, eventually becoming the powerful and virulent LTTE.
In May of 1976, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam was founded by Vullupillai Prabhakaran. Unlike the former groups, Prabhakaran and his followers did not see any political solution to their problems and felt that the only way of obtaining sovereignty was through violence, not discourse. They were organized and efficient, matched only by their ruthlessness and dedication to the obliteration of Sri Lankan control over land that they believed belonged to them. Three factors contributed to the rise of Prabhakaran and the LTTE. Sabaratnam claims that these are: the mobilization of the Tamil people, Indian military training and "the vast amount of money Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.G. Ramachandran (MGR)" gave to the group (1). The LTTE had a list of demands which they articulated to the Sri Lankan government. If the demands were not met, there would be bloodshed. The constitution which was drafted explained the following objectives:
A) Total independence of Tamil Eelam.
B) The establishment of a sovereign, socialist democratic people's government.
C) Abolition of all forms of exploitation, the caste system in particular.
D) Establishment of a socialist mode of production.
E) Uphold armed revolutionary struggle; an extension of the political struggle for liberation.
F) Guerilla warfare will be gradually and systematically transformed into a genuine people's war of liberation (Sabaratnam 1).
Additionally, there were military activities which were divided into three divisions: "Elimination of the police intelligence network and traitors, crippling the administrative structure of the Sri Lankan government, and destroying army camps and bringing the areas under army control under LTTE control and setting up administrative structures which would lay the foundation for the self-rule of Tamil Eelam" (Sabaratnam 1). This document made it clear that for the Tamil Tigers, there would be no political compromise, no agreements with the Sri Lankan government. The LTTE were willing to fight for what they believed was their right; to the last man if necessary.
There were other groups still working in the same territory who were bent upon using politics to appease the Tamils, including the People's Liberations Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE). However, with the Tigers becoming more and more visible through their acts of terrorism, the less militant groups lost out on their supporters. It became obvious by the early 1980s that there would be no negotiations with the Tamil Tigers over the issue of sovereignty. Attempts to compromise with the group failed and the leader Prabhakaran made statements wherein he made it clear that the only thing his people would agree to was a completely independent state.
In the 1980s, the Indian government sent their own forces into Sri Lanka in order to hopefully quell the violence between the two groups (Pickert). There has been speculation that India was actually involved in the training and perpetration of the rebellion by the LTTE. So far no evidence has been ascertained to prove the claims made by the Sri Lankans that the Indian government had any involvement whatsoever in the formulation or progression of the Tamil Tigers either militarily or financially. However, not even the Indian forces had a chance of stopping the rising violence. By 1990, India completely removed its people from the island. Things only got worse after the removal of Indian forces because the LTTE was actually encouraged by the retreat. Since that time no nation intervened in the Civil War in support of either the Tamil Tigers or the Sri Lankan government, who was also found to have perpetrated war crimes during the period.
Among the many violent acts committed by the Tamil Tigers during their reign of power were assassinations of two prominent world leaders, Sir Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa and former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. On May 21, 1991 a suicide bomber was responsible for the death of Gandhi (Tamil). To date, they are the only separatist group to have achieved two high profile assassinations. They actually attempted several more murders but were not as successful in those endeavors. The assassin tactics were performed by the "Black Tigers," an elite unit trained to perform suicide bombings and other widespread violent attacks.
The Tamil Tigers are an important component of the history of terrorism in that they were some of the first people to practice some of the more treacherous acts of modern terrorists. For example, the International Institute for Strategic Studies has proclaimed that the LTTE were the first…