The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam
Known front organisations
World Tamil Association (WTA)
World Tamil Movement (WTM)
Federation of Associations of Canadian Tamils (FACT)
Velupillai Prabhakaran (commander-in-chief)
In Sri Lanka - approximately 10,000 armed members of which 3,000-6,000 are trained hard core fighters
Worldwide - unknown
The establishment of a Tamil Eelam (homeland) politically separate from the rest of Sri Lanka
The LTTE uses basic guerilla hit and run tactics combined with terrorist activities targeting political and military figures within and outside Sri Lanka. Political assasinations and terrorist bombings are the main attack methods used. However the LTTE has refrained from targeting Western tourists for fear of crackdowns from the West. The LTTE operates mainly in the North and Eastern reigion of Sri Lanka, but since they lost their main base in the coastal city of Jaffna to the Government forces they have moved to the Vanni jungle in the interior of the country.
The LTTE's weapon of choice seems to be the ever reliable Chinese Type 56 and Type 81 and the Soviet AK47 assault rifles. They also use various handguns and also shotguns captured from farmers and the Government Militia. Other weapons known to be used by the LTTE are mortars, Soviet SA-7 Surface to Air Missiles and RPG-7 grenade launchers.
The LTTE is known to have the capability to manufacture its own weapons. These include mortars, high powered landmines and the Jony Batta anti-personnel mine. The LTTE suicide bomber kit comprising of a vest full of high explosives, ball bearings, batteries and a dead-man switch has been found to be very effective against civillian targets. It is suspected that this may become the standard suicide kit for other terrorist organisations.
Overview of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam are a terrorist ("terrorism" being defined in the CIA Annual Report as premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by sub national groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience) organization dedicated to the establishment of a separate Tamil homeland in the Northern province of Sri Lanka. Formed in 1973 by Velupillai Prabhakaran who is still their Commander as the Tamil New Tigers, the LTTE per se came in to being in May 1976. The LTTE has been involved in armed conflict against Sri Lankan government forces since 1983.
The LTTE in Sri Lanka
The Sri Lankan force of the LTTE comprises of about 10,000 armed members of which about 3,000-6,000 are trained hard core fighters. This makes the LTTE on of the largest terrorist organizations in the world. The local force has many separate sections - the elite Black Tigers, the Sea Tigers who form the naval wing and the Baby Brigade of young boys and girls between 11 and 18 years of age. All members of the LTTE wear a glass cyanide capsule around their neck which they are sworn to bite in the event of capture. During the time they held Jaffna the LTTE established a judicial system of both courts and a law enforcement arm. Using the buildings and supplies left behind by the government and with help from such international groups as the International Red Cross and Amnesty International the LTTE also set up hospitals and a medical system.
The international arm of the LTTE is one of the most widespread and well connected of all international terrorist groups. The network performs on three separate levels, publicity and propaganda, arms procurement and fundraising. The publicity section operates under the aliases of World Tamil Association (WTA), World Tamil Movement (WTM) and the Federation of Associations of Canadian Tamils (FACT). The publicity section has 38 offices globally and provides diplomatic missions and news companies with up to date - albeit heavily edited and slanted - battle-field reports. It is also responsible for the use of the Internet as a propaganda and fundraising tool.
The arms procurement wing of the LTTE may be one of the most secret and low key of all its sections. That does not mean that it is in any way to be taken lightly. The LTTE has its own fleet of freighters which it uses to transport materiel bought in the international illegal arms markets of Singapore, Thailand and Yangon. They are also known to tap into the stream of ex-Soviet armament coming out of Afghanistan through Pakistan. The arms procurement section is known to have purchased TNT and RDX explosives (from the Ukraine), Soviet SA-7 Surface to Air Missiles (probably from Cambodia), the Chinese Type 56 and Type 81 and the Soviet AK 47 assault rifles (from the the international arms market). They are also known to have purchased such "dual use" items such as computers, diving gear and radios from Singapore.
The LTTE uses the widespread Tamil network to gain funds. Fund collection methods range from investments to donations to outright blackmail and extortion. In Switzerland the 23,000-strong Tamil population is "persuaded" to part with between $40-$80 each month. In some cases this practice has involved violence and even murder, which led the Swiss police to arrest 15 suspects including the LTTE's head operative in Switzerland Nadarajah Muralidaran. The LTTE's monthly world wide revenues show a very profitable organisation. The estimates from Switzerland, Canada and Britain are approximately $660,000, $730,000 and $390,000 monthly. The income may be as high as $2 million a month.
The LTTE has been suspected to also be heavily involved in drug running and their extensive international network would provide them with a powerful base with which to operate. However, real, hard evidence of drug running has been conspicuously lacking. But it is known that in the past decade Tamil expatriates and asylum seekers have been important to the drug smuggling trade.
On the 8th of October 1997 the LTTE (along with 29 other organisations) was formally declared a terrorist organisation by the US Department of State. This makes it a punishable offence to provide support for the LTTE in the US. This seems to be a part of a global crackown on the LTTE. Canada has arrested and taking steps to deport Suresh Manickavasagam as a suspected LTTE member. Manickavasagam was the Coordinator for the Federation of Associations of Canadian Tamils and the Administrator of the World Tamil Movement. Both the FACT and the WTM are named umbrella organisations for the LTTE in "Patterns of Global Terrorism" (US State Department Publication 10321).
This comes as a serious blow to the LTTE as it is faced with the prospect of fighting both a conventional war against the Sri Lankan Government and the a "hearts and minds" battle against the rest of the world.
More LTTE information online at
"Tigers Inc." Anthony Davis. Asiaweek July 26, 1996: Cover Story. Available at http://www.pathfinder.com/Asiaweek/96/0726/cs1.html
"Terrorist Group Profiles - LTTE" Dudley Knox Library. Available at http://web.nps.navy.mil/~library/tgp/ltte.htm
U.S. State Department Counter Terrorism Site. Available at http://www.state.gov/www/global/terrorism/
LTTE Home Page. Available at http://www.eelam.com
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This page was last updated on the 16th of January 1998