/ 17 October 2006

Black Tigers: The deadliest suicide bombers

The Tamil Tigers’ latest suicide bomb attack, the deadliest in the island’s history, has illustrated that the rebel army still ranks as a master of the tactic.

The elite band of “Black Tigers” is regarded by guerrilla supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran as a “protective armour” and one of the most effective weapons in his battle for an independent homeland for ethnic Tamils.

On Monday, suspected Black Tigers drove a truck packed with explosives into an open area where 24 buses were parked in a circle with 350 sailors waiting for transport. At least 103 of them were killed and 150 wounded.

Tiger suicide squads are driven by loyalty, and not religion, unlike their Islamic counterparts in the al-Qaeda network. Tigers are secular Hindus driven by single-minded allegiance to elusive Prabhakaran.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have so far commemorated over 261 suicide bombers, including 69 women, since they launched their first suicide mission in July 1987 when a cadre named Captain Miller rammed a truck into an army camp, killing 40 soldiers.

Monday’s truck bombing, similar to Miller’s mission, also surpassed the fatalities in the January 1996 truck bomb attack against the Central bank building here where 91 people were killed and 1 400 wounded.

Although not credited with starting the lethal method, the Black Tigers have staged some of the world’s most spectacular bombings and are described as the most effective unit of its type anywhere in the world.

The guerrillas also boast that there is a scramble to go on suicide attacks, given that the chosen few are entertained to a last supper with the supremo — a high point in a rebel’s short but effective career.

“They can reverse military setbacks by using just one suicide bombing,” said Namal Perera, the defence analyst for the Ravaya weekly newspaper.

“The security forces still don’t have an effective counter against suicide bombings.”

Sympathisers say Prabhakaran is a charismatic leader who motivates his cadres to lay down their lives for his cause.

Even those who are not in the Black Tiger squads carry a cyanide capsule to commit suicide in case they are captured.

The Black Tigers have been blamed for a series of savage attacks including the 1991 assassination of Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi and the 1993 killing of Sri Lankan president Ranasinghe Premadasa.

Until the 2001 September 11 attacks in the United States, the Tigers held the record for the worst suicide attack against civil aviation, destroying six passenger jets parked at the island’s only international airport on July 24 2001.

Former Sri Lankan president Chadrika Kumaratunga, who narrowly escaped a Black Tiger attack in December 1999, asked the Tigers to disband suicide bombers as a sign of their commitment to peace, but the rebels refused.

The naval unit of the suicide bombers known as “Black Sea Tigers” have also boasted that the al-Qaeda militants who bombed the USS Cole in October 2000 off Yemen may have been inspired by them.

Long before the USS Cole attack, the Tigers were ramming explosives-packed boats, each manned by two Black Sea Tigers, into Sri Lankan naval gunboats and merchant vessels with deadly results. – AFP