Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam: Essential Points

Mackenzie Briefing Notes

By John C. Thompson
A Fascinating Terrorist Group

Arising in the mid-1970s, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have become one of the world's leading terrorist groups. Following the classic model of a 'National Liberation' movement of those years, they escalated their activities in the early 1980s to create a guerrilla force, and the resulting civil war has continued ever since.

The LTTE remain noteworthy for several reasons. These include:

  1. A history of innovative tactics and techniques. The LTTE were (until surpassed by various Palestinian groups during the 2000-04 Second Intifada) the most prolific users of suicide bombing tactics, pioneered the use of the suicide belt-bomb, and introduced many new tactics including the use of hang-gliders and ultra-light aircraft, frogmen, improvised submarines and much else.
  2. A unique use of Émigré communities to support their cause. While the use of emigrated nationals to support various homeland conflicts is an old story; the Tigers were unique in facilitating the Diaspora of Sri Lankan Tamils into Western democratic states. As hundreds of thousands of Tamils made the transition from poor refugees and newly landed immigrants to prosperous citizens, they were controlled to a degree never seen before and systemically milked for contributions to support the LTTE's war effort. Diaspora organizations that opposed Tiger perspectives were simply not allowed to exist.
  3. An immediate resort to sophisticated organized crime. There is a very long history of various insurgent movements turning to organized crime to meet their expenses and payroll; this is usually a gradual process. As the Tigers helped establish the Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora, they also used it as a foundation to help spread an international network of smugglers and narcotics traffickers. The vast majority of Tamil émigrés are law-abiding with little tolerance for the criminals in their own community: Yet the speed with which Tamil organized crime networks became established in the 1980s and early '90s was remarkable.
  4. Close harmonization of all aspects of the movement. Few terrorist groups act in isolation. Most have some manner of political front, arrangements for logistics, and mechanisms to raise money through legitimate and criminal means. For the LTTE ever since the early 1980s, a variety of political fronts, fundraising organizations, arms and equipment purchasing, and various criminal enterprises have always worked closely together.
On the War in Sri Lanka

Few conflicts have simple causes, and the human appetite for easily understood narratives inevitably casts the players in a conflict into roles as 'good guys' and 'bad guys', with helpless victims on the side. The reality is always different.

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