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Tamil Tigers (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam)


Tamil Tigers (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam)

The Tamil Tigers claim Sri Lanka as their homeland and home base

courtesy of CIA World Factbook


Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Often shortened to "Tamil Tigers" of "Tamil Eelam."

Tamil refers to the predominant ethnic group of northeastern Sri Lanka (other substantial Tamil communities live in India, Malaysia and Singapore.) Eelam means homeland in the Tamil language.

Tamil Eelam is the name that the LTTE gives to the northern and eastern part of Sri Lanka that they would like to claim as independent.

Founded In:


The group began armed actions against the Sri Lankan government in 1983.

Home Base:

Sri Lanka

Backing & Affiliations:

The group finances itself and arms purchases in Europe, through a variety of illegal and legal means.

According to homeland security and counterterrorism expert Frank Cilluffo in House testimony in 2000, the Tamil Tigers used funding methods that included soliciting funds from expatriates in the West on false humanitarian grounds; narcotics trafficking and dealmaking with Indian organized crime:

"Indian traffickers supply drugs and weapons to the LTTE, who in turn sell the drugs. The profit garnered from the drugs are then used to repay the Indians for the weapons."


The establishment of an autonomous Tamil entity in Sri Lanka.


The Tamil Tigers are best known for their suicide bombings, which are carried out by elite squads called Black Tigers. They have committed about 200 attacks so far. Tamil members wear a "vest" filled with explosives to attack, a tactic that has been adopted by Hezbolla and Hamas, among other groups.

Fighters wear cyanide pills around their necks and are trained to take them if they are captured.

In addition to suicide attacks, the LTTE make use of surface-to-air missiles and rocket propelled grenades.

Their targets include military and political figures, civilians, and competing militant Tamil groups.

Notable Attacks:

  • The assassination of Indian Prime Minister Sri Rajiv Gandhi in 1991;
  • The assassination of Sri Lankan president Premadasa in 1993

Prospects for Peace:

In 1985, the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government began peace talks, but no headway was made until 2002, when they negotiated a ceasefire. The ceasefire was meant to last four years, and was reaffirmed by both sides in February 2006. Nevertheless, the LTTE resumed attacks in the spring of 2006. The situation rapidly deteriorated, and although neither side called off the truce, there was consisted fighting between the Sri Lankan military and the Tamil Tigers in the fall of 2006.

Most observers of the situation are pessimistic about the prospects for a peaceful settlement in the near future, in a government dominated after 2005 elections by hard line Sinhalese nationalists. Jihan Perera, an Sri Lanka based analyst, said that "There is a question mark about the government's willingness to put forward a realistic proposal that would at least go halfway to meeting the Tamil people's aspirations, let alone LTTE aspirations" (in "Resumption of Sri Lanka War Tests Civilians' Endurance," by Somini Sengupta, New York Times,September 18, 2006).

Historical Context:

Sri Lanka, an island in the Indian Ocean off the southeast coast of India, gained its independence in 1948. Ethnic Sinhalese Buddhists make up about three-quarters of the island's population; Tamils, both Indian and Sri Lankan, are the next largest ethnic group. Most are Hindu. Tamil terrorism is rooted in conflict between the Tamils and the Sinhalese, who predominate in government.

The Tamil population began to agitate for secession in the early 1970s, following Sinhalese measures to establish their cultural and political dominance. For example, Sinhalese was made the only official language and Buddhism was decreed the official religion. In the 1970s, student groups and others turned to armed protest to press their case with the government.

The conflict escalated in 1983, when anti-Tamil riots in the capital, Colomo, killed thousands and displaced almost 100,000 residents. The moment was decisive for many Tamils, who lent large scale support to independence movements.

According to some estimates, about 65,000 people died in the conflict between 1983 and 2002.

Role of the Tsunami
There were hopes following the devastating tsunami of December 26, 2004 that the humanitarian tragedy might help reduce the friction between the government and the Tamils. The northwestern Tamil areas of the island were among the hardest hit.

Instead, disputes between the government and the Tigers over the distribution of international aid soon arose, as did accusations from UNICEF and elsewhere that the group was recruiting child soldiers from among those orphaned by the tsunami


Also See: Suicide Terrorism: Definitions, Theories, Groups

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