From: Wade T. Smith (email@example.com)
Date: Wed 15 Jan 2003 - 14:27:53 GMT
On Wednesday, January 15, 2003, at 09:06 AM, memetics-digest wrote:
> Last I heard, the originally Japanese term Kamikaze translates into
> "Divine Wind", which may be considered to be a movement alright but
> not really a social one I'm afraid :-).
Alas, suicide missions are very much a social movement.
January 14, 2003
Suicide Bombing Masters: Sri Lankan Rebels
By AMY WALDMAN
THE WANNI, Sri Lanka — Inside the Kantharuban Arivuchcholai orphanage,
which is set in a clearing hacked from the jungle's oppressive
vegetation, sits a small painted hut, a mini-museum of sorts.
Inside it is a picture of Kantharuban, who blew himself up in 1991.
There is a picture of Captain Millar, who blew himself up in 1987.
There is a picture of 12 cadres of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam
who swallowed cyanide capsules after capture by Indian troops in 1987.
Eleven-year-old Rajani, who calls the orphanage home, knows them all.
He knows that Kantharuban, an orphan like him, asked that the home be
founded. Captain Millar, Rajani said, was "the first Black Tiger," a
member of the special suicide unit of the rebels, who have been
fighting for a homeland for the Tamil ethnic minority in Sri Lanka for
"They go in sea and on land in black robes," he said, proud of his
knowledge. "They will go and jam themselves against anything."
When Captain Millar plowed a truck full of explosives into an army camp
in July 1987, 40 soldiers died, along with the captain, and a culture
It has elevated the suicide attack to the ultimate commitment to the
The Tigers did not invent the suicide attack, but they proved the
tactic to be so unnerving and effective for a vastly outmanned fighting
force that their methods were studied and copied, notably in the Middle
"Of all the suicide-capable terrorist groups we have studied, they are
the most ruthless, the most disciplined," said Rohan Gunaratna, a
research fellow at the Center for the Study of Terrorism and Political
Violence at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. He said the
group was responsible for more than half of the suicide attacks carried
In the 15 years since Captain Millar's attack — starting before the
tactic was widely used in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict or by the Al
Qaeda pilots who rammed passenger planes into two of the world's
tallest buildings — the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam became the
world's foremost suicide bombers, sending out about 220 attackers in
Until Sept. 11, "they were the deadliest terror organization in the
world," one American official said. They used men, women, children and
animals; boats, trucks and cars. They mounted suicide attacks on the
battlefield as well as off.
Suicide bombers killed one Sri Lankan president, wounded another and
killed a former Indian prime minister. They took out government
ministers, mayors and moderate Tamil leaders, decimating the country's
political and intellectual leadership.
They attacked naval ships — destroying a third of the Sri Lankan Navy —
and oil tankers; the airport in Colombo, the capital; the Temple of the
Tooth, home to Sri Lanka's most sacred Buddhist relic; and Colombo's
own World Trade Center. They killed certainly hundreds, and possibly
thousands, of civilians, although civilians were never their explicit
Their killing innovations were studied.
Mr. Gunaratna said the attack on the American destroyer Cole by Al
Qaeda in 2000 had been almost identical to a Tiger attack on a Sri
Lankan naval ship in 1991. The head of the Sea Tigers, Soosai, who
organized suicide attacks on boats, oil tankers and the like, boasted
in a recent BBC interview that the Cole attack had been copied from the
The Tigers evolved ever more sophisticated suicide bodysuits, and more
refined surveillance. They skillfully insinuated themselves within
striking distance of their targets. They professionalized, and
institutionalized, suicide bombing.
Today, actions by the Black Tigers and the Sea Tigers are being held in
The Tigers have declared and observed a cease-fire and are at the
negotiating table trying to reach a political settlement with the Sri
For the first time in years, Tiger territory is easily accessible to
the outside world. Much like the orphanage with its shrine, it has
revealed itself as a place steeped in the notion of self-sacrifice.
Pictures of suicide attackers like Captain Millar are commonplace. The
Tigers sometimes filmed their suicide attacks, and a store in
Kilinochchi, their administrative headquarters, sells CD's with tribute
songs to the Black Tigers and videodiscs of the attack on the airport.
A large billboard along the A-9 road, which runs through Tiger
territory on its way north, shows women how to fully exploit their
deaths. If wounded in battle, colorful graphics demonstrate, they are
to play dead until enemy soldiers approach, and then blow up as many as
possible — and themselves in the process.
Suicide has long been part of the Tiger culture. Tigers were given
cyanide capsules and told to use them if captured. Many did.
But suicide bombing was an offensive weapon, not a defensive one. It
was devised to make up for the Tamils' numerical disadvantage — their
population is about one-fourth that of the majority Sinhalese — and to
flummox the country's military and political leadership.
The goal, S. Thamilchelvam, the Tigers' political head, said, was "to
ensure maximum damage done with minimum loss of life."
The Tigers have long claimed overt responsibility only for attacks on
military sites. In their graveyard outside Kilinochchi, there are
headstones without bodies for many Black Tigers and Sea Tigers.
But there are none for those whom S. Tamilarasan, a 22-year-old aide in
the political wing, called "the indirect" — those involved in attacks
on sites, like the Colombo airport, or leaders that were too
politically sensitive to claim.
In an interview, Mr. Thamilchelvam said the Tigers had hit only
military targets, but then conceded that political targets had been
attacked as well.
The separation of the political and the military makes sense in the
Western context, he said, but not in Sri Lanka, which has largely been
governed by the Sinhalese since independence in 1948.
"In the politics of Sri Lanka the military is only an instrument of a
genocidal policy, of annihilation, of trying to weaken the Tigers," he
said. "You cannot find a distinction between the political hierarchy
and a military soldier. Political decisions, unfortunately, in Sri
Lanka become military policy or action."
For the movement, the Black Tigers acquired more than utilitarian
value. Considered the most heroic of Tiger fighters, they became as
well symbols of the loyalty that the movement for a Tamil state — and
its leader, Vellupillai Prabhakaran — commanded.
"Every Tiger is committed to end his or her life for the goal," Mr.
The Tigers abjure the phrase suicide bombing. Mr. Thamilchelvam cited
two words in Tamil. One, "thatkolai," means to kill yourself. The
other, "thatkodai," means to give yourself. That was the word the
Tigers used, and preferred.
"It is a gift of the self — self-immolation, or self-gift," he said.
"The person gives him or herself in full."
That commitment defined the Tiger fighter, he said. "When one enlists,
there is no remuneration. The only promise is I am prepared to give
everything I have, including my life. It is an oath to the nation."
Cadres applied to be Black Tigers, communicating their desire to Mr.
Prabhakaran, according to Thamilini, the 30-year-old head of the female
cadres. Some 30 to 40 percent of their suicide bombers, including the
one who killed former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi of India in 1991,
have been women.
A reply would come from Mr. Prabhakaran, she said. Sometimes it was an
outright refusal. More often, she said, this answer came back: "There
are many applicants. Do what duties are sent to you. If the necessity
arises we'll call you."
Those selected to be Black Tigers underwent intense physical and
psychological training and reportedly a last dinner with Mr.
Prabhakaran. That was when Kanthaburan, for whom the orphanage here is
named, made his request that a home be created for parentless children
like him, said Puviavyasan, the Tiger who runs the orphanage.
Those selected, said Thamilini, were strong in spirit and firm in
purpose. She explicitly rejected any comparison to Palestinian suicide
bombers, who she suggested were often dejected in life.
"People dejected in life won't be able to go as Black Tigers," she
said. "There must be a clear conception of why and for what we are
fighting. A deep humanitarianism is very necessary — a love of others,
for the people."
Tiger bombings have killed at minimum hundreds of civilians who were
caught near the targets. The bombing of the Central Bank in 1996, done
on a working day, killed at least 90 people; assassinations of
political leaders have usually taken the lives of dozens of other
But Thamilini drew a distinction of intent. The Tigers' "target is not
the common people, but the army," she said. "In Palestine it is quite
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