|Demise of the Tamil Tigers? Perhaps, but an Appreciation|
|Tuesday, 24 February 2009|
By Zachary Abuza
(Given below are excerpts taken from the article Demise of the Tamil Tigers? Perhaps, but an Appreciation, by Zachary Abuza, published on Counterterrorism Blog on 23 February 2009)
“The report of my death is an exaggeration” – Mark Twain
While I would love to eulogize about the death of the Tamil Tigers, it is of course premature. However, I offer this “appreciation” of the Tamil Tigers, an organization that has been, bar none, the most cutting-edge, adaptive and creative terrorist organization in the world. There is not a terrorist organization in the world that has not adopted LTTE tactics or at least aspired to do so. As the LTTE has never targeted the United States, it has been a low priority for law enforcement, military and the intelligence services. Yet, the Tamil Tigers merit study.
Founded in May 1976, by Villupilai Prabhakaran, the Tamil Tigers – formerly the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) – grew from being a several thousand man guerilla force to being at its height a conventional force with some 10,000 combatants. Though their military collapse since mid 2006, has been surprisingly swift, one cannot forget that for years, they fought the Sri Lankan military to a standstill and controlled a significant amount of territory. Their nearly forty-year struggle is highlighted by firsts and superlatives:
• The LTTE have perpetrated more suicide bombings than Hamas and Hezbollah combined.
• The LTTE’s suicide vest design has been copied by nearly a dozen organizations.
• The LTTE is an equal opportunity employer: the LTTE has used female bombers in a more than 3-2 ratio. The LTTE fields a conventional women’s corp.
• The LTTE has used suicide bombing as a weapon of choice in terms of targeted assassination, including the 1991 assassination of Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and the near assassination of Sri Lankan President Kumaratanga in 1999. The LTTE assassinated nearly 50 prominent moderate Tamil leaders, and is estimated to have killed thousands of moderate and anti-LTTE Tamils.
• The LTTE has used suicide frogman and other special operatives to penetrate far behind enemy lines.
• The LTTE targeted pillars of the Sri Lankan economy, including bombings of the Central Bank in 1996 and Colombo’s World Trade Center in 1997. In 2001, LTTE operatives penetrated the international airport and destroyed three jetliners, half of Airlanka’s fleet, in addition to 23 military aircraft.
• The LTTE was the first organization to post martyrs’ posters for the “Black Tigers”, their suicide corp.
• The LTTE is the first sub state actor to use suicide naval vessels. There have been over 40 suicide naval attacks since June 1990, seven years before the USS Cole attack.
• The LTTE had a full-fledged navy, and many of their craft were indigenously designed and built. Sri Lankan forces recently captured a submarine in its final stages of construction.
• The LTTE was one of only two terrorist organizations to use a WMD (the other being Aom Shinrikyo).The Tigers used a chlorine gas bomb against Sri Lankan forces in 1990.
• The LTTE became the first sub-state actor to acquire an air force. Though used in desperation over the weekend, in two attempted “kamikaze” attacks, the LTTE has used their Czech trainers 9 times since March 2007 Sri Lankan forces captured six airfields in LTTE territory.
While their innovations on the battlefield were remarkable, it is nothing in terms of their innovations in finance and logistics. In short, the LTTE wrote the book on terrorist financing. Originally supported by India, the Tigers, turned on their patron in 1987, and since pursued a policy of self-reliance. The “Snow Tigers” under the leadership Tharmalingham Shunmugham aka Kumaran Pathmanathan (KP), have funded themselves through legal and extralegal means and have procurement operatives based in around the world.
The LTTE have used arms dealers in Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Lebanon, Egypt and Cyprus; shopped black markets in former war zones – Cambodia (Thailand), Afghanistan, Mozambique and the former Yugoslavia; and shopped the countries of the former Soviet bloc - Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Ukraine, Slovakia and Kazakstan and North Korea.
The Tiger’s revenue stream has been estimated to be between $50 to $80 million per year. The money was diversified and invested around the world in money and stock markets through an array of front companies.
The LTTE invest directly or front money for supporters as a terrorist venture capitalist, in freight forwarding, gold and jewelry shops, restaurants, magazines and video sales, stores, bus companies, telephone and computer services. At one time, the Tigers owned and operated 11 merchant ships, flying under the flags of Panama, Honduras and Liberia, repeatedly changing the name of the ships, and manifest details.
More money came from illicit sources, including, racketeering, extortion, drug smuggling, money laundering, gold smuggling, and human smuggling. The LTTE have been behind some of the largest human trafficking rings in the European Union.
Perhaps the single-most important revenue stream is a baseline tax on the 800,000-strong Tamil diaspora, known as the Tamil Tax. They are most active in countries with large diaspora communities, especially, Canada, Switzerland, Australia, UK, US, Scandinavia, Malaysia, and Singapore. Canadian security forces estimated that the LTTE earned $6.5 million from investments in Canada between October 1998 - October 1999. The Canadian intelligence report estimated that Tamil communities in the UK, Canada and Australia, alone, provided $1.5 million per month. In Canada, the tax began as roughly C$1/day per family, though was increased. In the UK it’s roughly £300 per year.
Increasingly the LTTE has been an issue for USA law enforcement. Though proscribed by the US in 1997, there were few enforcements, until after 9/11 when the US took terrorist financing more seriously, and had to target more than just Muslim organizations and individuals for appearance’s sake. Currently, the FBI is investigating a Wall Street financier suspected of donating millions of dollars to the rebels, while an employee of Microsoft was indicted for procuring computers and software for the Tigers. Recently, 8 suspects were arrested in an ATM fraud scandal in NY. In April 2007, the FBI arrested the alleged U.S. director of the Tigers and 11 other LTTE suspects in the New York City region. In Baltimore, “a pair of Indonesian men pled guilty and were sentenced recently for working with others to export surface to air missiles, state-of-the-art firearms, machine guns, and night vision goggles to the Tigers in Sri Lanka.”
On 15 November 2007, the Treasury Department, proscribed the LTTE’s development agency, established after the 26 October 2004 tsunami, the Tamil Relief Organization. “TRO passed off its operations as charitable, when in fact it was raising money for a designated terrorist group responsible for heinous acts of terrorism," said Adam J. Szubin, Director of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). “TRO's efforts worldwide reportedly have allowed the LTTE to use humanitarian aid, which TRO collected from the international community after the December 2004 tsunami, to launch new campaigns to strengthen LTTE military capacity.”
Since the 22 February 2002 Norwegian-backed ceasefire fell apart, and all out war resumed in September 2006, the Tamil’s demise has been surprisingly swift. They are now confined to a small patch of jungle (roughly 35 sq miles) north of Mullaitivu, on the northeastern coast. Why the quick demise? Clearly the thirty years of war wreaked havoc on society, and proved to be a demographic catastrophe. As a result, the LTTE have been forced to rely on child soldiers, limiting their battlefield efficacy. An Amnesty International report estimated that 60 percent of LTTE cadres are under the age of 18 and that 40 percent of LTTE cadres killed in action are between the ages of 9 and 18. While these estimates seem slightly high, there is no doubt that the LTTE had to recruit child combatants to fill their depleted ranks. Second, the Sri Lankan military, never the most apt, had a string of successes. They captured the Tamil city of Jaffna in 1995, then were able to target the LTTE from both the north and the south. Following the 2005 election of the hard-line president Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Sri Lankan armed forces increased in size by 40%. Sri Lanka's military now has about 300,000 troops, in a country with a population of just 22 million. Popular support for the government’s war efforts, now that the LTTE is on the ropes, has rarely been higher. The Tamil cities of Killinochi and Mulitaivu fell this year, depriving the LTTE of concentrated populations centers and a base of revenue. Third, the once cohesive LTTE began to fracture. In 2004, Vinayagamoorthi Muralitharan, aka Col. Karuna, who controlled the eastern provinces, defected with his forces to the government. Disputes over the inflow of aid following the 2004 tsunami, led to further infighting. As ceasefire violations increased in 2003-06, it was clear that Prabakharan had no intention of giving the ceasefire a chance, angering his war-weary population and rank and file soldiers. In fact, the LTTE had used three previous ceasefires (1985, 1989-90, and 1994-95) as opportunities to regroup and re-arm. Finally, the post-9/11 environment had severe repercussions for LTTE fundraising and weapons procurement. Prabhakaran, himself, acknowledged that the LTTE had been "compelled by unprecedented historical circumstances to participate in [the 2002-04] peace talks with the Sinhalese state," first by the "Indian regional superpower" and "by the pressure of the international community.”
What to expect? There is nothing more ferocious than a cornered tiger. Expect a wave of suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks. While LTTE forces might be cornered, the LTTE has operatives and caches spread out. Desperate times call for desperate measures, including attacks on their own civilian population fleeing the war zone. Expect more attacks on moderate Tamil leaders who seek greater autonomy through legal-parliamentary means. If Prabakharan is captured or killed, the LTTE will be greatly weakened. He is the charismatic leader, the embodiment of the revolution. There is no heir to power with his popular appeal/fear or respect from rank and file.
|Last Updated ( Friday, 09 October 2009 )|
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