Thursday, March 9, 2017

Suicide Bombers of the LTTE and Posttraumatic Phenomenon

There’s a hole in the world tonight.
There’s a Cloud of fear and sorrow.
There’s a hole in the world tonight.
Don’t let there be a hole in the world tomorrow.

Dr Ruwan M Jayatunge 
Suicide attack is an ancient practice with a modern history. The Mahabharata an ancient epic describes suicide warfare. Islamic Order of Assassins (hashashin) during the early Crusader times was well-known examples. The concept of “terror” as systematic use of violence to attain political ends was first codified by Maximilien Robespierre during the French Revolution. Vladimir Illich Ulyanove (Lenin) used terror against classes, which was later developed by Stalin in a ruthless form.

During the World War 2 the Japanese kamikaze pilots launched suicide attack against the US forces. In Guerrilla Warfare authored by Ernesto Che Guevara described suicide attacks as a path to victory which naturally boosts the morale of other rebels. In the early years of struggle, Che and Fidel Castro used deadly suicide attacks against Batista’s regime.

Social instability in the North since Nineteen Seventies provided a fertile ground for terrorist activities. As a small undercover terrorist group the LTTE transformed into a large group with a massive financial backing and producing Black Tigers who are motivated kill and get killed.  The LTTE suicide bombing emerged as a politically based violence. Since July 5, 1987 when the current wave of suicide bombings began, Sri Lanka had been facing a new threat and it has changed the dynamics of the Sri Lankan society. The people became more vigilant and suspicious especially in public places and responded to suicidal bombings with a collective anxiety.

Suicide bombing is not a simple phenomenon with easy explanation. In a suicide attack, the attacker intends to kill others and inflict widespread damage with the knowledge that he would die in the process. The LTTE used suicide as a political and a military tool to spread terror, create mass fear psychosis, and cripple the economy and to disrupt peace.

What is the devastating culture behind suicide killings?. A suicide bomber do not act alone, there are many factors and people behind him. He is hand picked, indoctrinated and given a mission. This is a prolog process, which needs intensive training. He undergoes a dramatic transformation mentally and physically. After a vigorous training, the bomber is ready to detonate himself to fulfill a specific political, religious or ideological goal which he believes completely.  He believes that the suicide bombing is an act of martyrdom. After his death, the peer group recognizes suicide bombing   as an act of altruism, heroism and adoration. 

Group-dynamics play a major part in suicide bombing.  Paul Gill in his case work   "A political psychology analysis of suicide bomber radicalization highlights this factor. Evidence from Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Iraq and elsewhere concur that suicide bombers do not act individually. Following the group pressure, the suicide bomber is strongly dedicated to the mission. Dr. Jerold Post of George Washington University did series of interviews with suicide bombers and of the view that group pressure and identity motivates suicide bombers to act. Psychological manipulation by the group leader directs him to self-destruction.

Although the LTTE did not promote religious extremism, most of the Sri Lankan suicide bombers believed in life after death.(based on the findings by the late Major Major Thuvan Meeden of the SL Army Military Intelligence Corps)  They were promised a happy afterlife. As they believed after the mission, they go to the heaven and observe the struggle of their comrades. They become immortals. Many Black Tiger songs carried this radical message.

How does a man turn in to a suicide bomber? Philip Zimbardo’s 1971 research at the Stanford University gives a positive clue how ordinary men can be turned in to outrageous personalities via physical and mental torture. The repercussions of war trauma psychologically affect many suicide bombers. For instance, most of the Al-Qaeda suicide bombers were exposed to combat situations. Research findings indicate that most suicide bombers have had at least one of their loved ones killed or severely harmed at the hands of their enemies. With severe rage and resentment, they begin to act.

Often suicide bombers have extreme thinking patterns. The researcher Randy Borum identifies a four-stage process whereby individuals develop extremist   beliefs. A group or individual first identifies some sort of undesirable state of affairs; then frames   that event or condition as unjust   ; then blames the injustice on a target policy, person, or nation; and then vilifies or demonizes  the responsible party so that aggression  seems justified.

The LTTE suicide killing was one of the most bizarre forms of political action adopted by its authority via glorification of death and violence. For the LTTE this action was not cleanly a military tactic or reprisal. It was a mass ritual as well as an action beyond death. The LTTE suicide carders better known as Black Tigers (or in Tamil: Karum Puligal) were  psychologically motivated to kill and get killed.

The selection of a member for a suicide mission was a complex process. They were handled and trained by experienced personnel. There were a number of issues that had to be taken in to consideration before the selection. The selected member’s loyalty to the organization, psychological makeup, group identity, suicidal ideation etc had to be analyzed. Then the human bombs had to undergo  institutionalized indoctrination and systematic injection of odium with adoration of death as well as scrupulous physical training. The intense indoctrination leads to blind obedience. Although the human bomb was aware of his/her impending death they were psychologically and physically geared up to full fill the task.  

The LTTE carried out their first suicide operation on July 5, 1987. Vasanthan alias Millar crashed the truck filled with explosives into Nelliaddy Army camp. In the attack, 40 servicemen were killed. From that day, the LTTE had launched a numerous suicide bombing against military and civil targets killing hundreds. These attacks generated mass fear psychosis and confusion among the public. Between 1984 and 2006, the LTTE carried out 346 suicide bombing attacks (killing 3,262 civilians and wounding another 3,494).

The ICT Researcher Clara Beyler who published the article “Messengers of Death: female suicide bombers” explains that that the terrorist organizations legitimize the use of women as suicide bombers in two ways: by reference to prevalent social norms, and by religious ideology. A LTTE woman suicide bomber, Dhanu, assassinated former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, at an election rally in Sriperambadur, southern India, on May 21, 1991.

Dr. Rajini Thiranagama – co writer of the Broken Palmyra described the widespread rapes of the IPKF in 1988 – 1989 in the North. According to unconfirmed sources, Dhanu was raped by the IPKF (Indian Peace Keeping Force). She may have suffered from RTS or Rape Trauma Syndrome. RTS which is a form of interpersonal violence generates a wider range of conflicting emotions. The victims often have a loss of faith about their sense of safety in society and may feel powerless. Depression and anger after the rape are common features in RTS. Hence, Dhanu’s anger and frustration was projected to the former premier Rajiv Gandhi.

The LTTE suicide bombers choices were often voluntary, but typically under conditions of group pressure and the cult leadership. Consequently, their status as individuals has been nullified by the organization. Suicide behavior is arguably loyalty to intimate cohorts of peers. The suicide bombers see the world subjectively, and are biased and misconstrue the events take place around them. They have stereotyped thinking pattern, extremism and introversion. They justify the murders by a misinterpreted and manipulated faith.

The veneration of death is a form of cult adopted by Jim Jones of the People’s Temple. Jim Jones held a mass ritual of suicides in Guyana in mid seventies. Jim Jones’s followers believed that he was as messiah or a liberator. The black tigers too believed in the cult of Prabhakaran. Therefore, the LTTE suicide bombers did not act entirely under their own authority and responsibility. After a suicide mission their photographs were  displayed in public, and stories of their actions were told to the other members. Thus, a strong desire was developed among the carders to follow the example of their predecessors and undertake attacks themselves.

According to Michael Bond who is an expert in analyzing the psychological factors of suicide bombers reveals that the bomber is always recruited and guided by a group with specific political or ideological aims, and the bombers tend to adopt a brotherhood mentality towards each other, encouraged by their common cause, their loyalty to the group and the secrecy of their mission. These factors were common among the LTTE suicide bombers.

The Suicide attackers did not operate in a vacuum. There were large surroundings behind them. The families of suicide martyrs benefited from a financial compensation funded by the LTTE sympathizers. (One of the investigators of the   Gamini Dissanayaka’s assassination pointed out that the family of the suicide bomber who killed Gamini Dissanayaka had received a large amount of money from the LTTE sympathizers living in the Western Countries)  The LTTE actively promoted suicide bombers, which along with a general climate of martyrdom glorification, served to reinforce a culture of suicide. Among the LTTE there was an adoration of and reverence for suicide attacks.

These martyrs were like human robots. Most of them are traumatized people suffering from depression, PTSD and various other forms of psychological ailments. Their logical reasoning was impaired. They saw people outside their organization as objects or enemies. They were operated by simple ground rules such as “ether you are my friend or you are my enemy”. There was nothing in between. Therefore, they could commit an extreme form of violence without any remorse.

The social conditions nurturing the rise of terrorism are complex and include demographic, economic, political, and educational factors. Poverty, hopelessness, lack of education, and lack of opportunities help to breed terrorism. The Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu once stated, “at the bottom of terrorism is poverty”.  

The rehabilitation of the North after the War plays a crucial role. Human rights violations, negligence of psychosocial developments can re traumatize the people and it will create fertile grounds for terrorism and subsequent suicide bombings. Therefore, successful rehabilitation programs must be implemented in war-wreaked areas of the North uplifting the socio economic conditions and promoting human rights. 


  1. Thanks Dr Ruwan
    Is it only the poverty as Desmond Tutu said or the frustration due to various other issues, may be frustration in any field ?


Appreciate your constructive and meaningful comments

Find Us On Facebook