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  Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (1)


Other LTTE Symbols: Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (2)
  Description: The yellow roaring tiger emerges from a white circle set against a red background. Two crossed rifles and a ring of bullets surround the tiger.

Explanation: The red background denotes revolution. The yellow tiger is an emblem deeply rooted in Tamil culture that represents heroism, militancy and patriotism and signifies the group’s goal of self-determination. The black rifle and bullets underscore the group’s commitment to violence.

| Name Variations | Overview | Focus of Operations | Major Attacks | Leaders | Ideology | Goals | Methods | Sponsors | U.S.- Related Activities |

Name Variations
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, Tamil Tigers, Ellalan Force

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) is a secessionist group in Sri Lanka that seeks to seize control of the country from the ethnic Sinhalese majority. Founded in 1976 by Velupillai Prabhakaran, the group aims to establish an independent state in the island’s north and east for the Tamils, an ethnic group that makes up approximately one-fifth of the Sri Lankan population. The LTTE began conducting extensive and deadly terrorist attacks against the Sri Lankan government and civilians in 1983; a conflict that has taken the lives of nearly 70,000 people. The LTTE, which pioneered the use of suicide bombings, has also recruited women and teenagers for suicide missions.

Although the LTTE entered a cease-fire agreement with the Sri Lankan government in 2002, the group continued attacking government leaders until fighting escalated into a civil war four years later. The LTTE’s 26-year rebellion was defeated by the Sri Lankan army in May 2009, the same month Prabhakaran, the group’s leader, was killed. Selvaras Pathmanathan, who took over as the leader of the LTTE, declared that the group would abandon its armed struggle and employ non-violent means to seek an independent state for the Tamil minority. He was arrested and taken into custody in Colombo in August 2009.

In 2008, the U.S. State Department estimated the LTTE’s membership was between 8,000 and 10,000 armed combatants. The group also enjoys fundraising support, weapons procurement and propaganda activities from Tamil communities overseas.

Focus of Operations
Sri Lanka

Major Attacks
  • June 6, 2008: A claymore mine is detonated on a crowded bus near Colombo: 22 killed, more than 50 wounded.
  • October 16, 2006: Truck laden with explosives rams a convoy of Sri Lankan navy sailors near Habarana: 100 killed, more than 150 injured.
  • July 24, 1996: Train bombing in Dehiwala: 64 killed, 400 wounded
  • January 31, 1996: Truck bombing at the central bank in Colombo: 90 killed, approximately 1,400 wounded.
  • October 24, 1994: Bomb blast at an election rally in Colombo: 59 killed, including presidential candidate Gamini Dissanayake.
  • May 1, 1993: Suicide bombing in Colombo: 24 killed, including then-Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa.
  • May 21, 1991: Suicide bombing at a campaign rally in Madras, India: former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi killed.
  • March 2, 1991: Suicide bombing in Colombo: 19 killed, including Sri Lanka Defense Minister Ranjan Wijeratne.
  • April 21, 1987: Car bombing at central bus station in Colombo: 113 killed, approximately 300 injured.
  • Founder: Velupillai Prabhakaran (killed in battle against Sri Lankan troops in May 2009)
  • Chief Negotiator and Spokesman: Anton Balasingham (died December 2006 of cancer)
  • Leader, Political Wing: S.P. Tamilselvan (killed November 2007 in government airstrike)
  • Leader, Naval Wing (Sea Tigers): Thillaiyampalam Sivanesan (killed by Sri Lankan troops in May 2009)
  • Chief of Intelligence: Pottu Amman (reportedly killed in May 2009)
  • Leader: Selvaras Pathmanathan (arrested in August 2009)
Tamil nationalism

The LTTE seeks to seize control of Sri Lanka from the Sinhalese majority and create an independent Tamil state in the island’s north and east.

The LTTE has conducted suicide bombings and paramilitary operations against civilian and military targets and has assassinated politicians and taken civilian hostages. Over the years, the LTTE’s methods evolved from guerilla tactics to conventional warfare.

The LTTE was reportedly trained and armed by the Indian government until the group’s terrorist activities grew in the mid 1980s. Communities of Tamil expatriates in North America, Europe and Asia procure weapons for and launder money to the LTTE and provide the group with explosives, equipment and technology. The LTTE also utilizes charity-fronts to collect funds for its activities, according to the U.S. State Department.

U.S.-Related Activities
  • According to the FBI, the LTTE has established “branches” in at least 12 countries, including the United States. The American branch, which was headed by Karunakaran Kandasamy until his arrest in April 2007, raised millions of dollars for the LTTE, which were laundered to the terrorist group through charitable front organizations such as the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization (TRO). The U.S. Treasury Department declared the TRO a Specially Designated Global Terrorist in November 2007.

  • In June 2009, four supporters of the LTTE pleaded guilty in a New York federal court to terrorism charges, including funneling money and weapons to the LTTE and trying to bribe U.S. officials to remove the group from the terrorism list. Among those who pleaded guilty was Karunakaran Kandasamy, director of the LTTE’s American branch.

  • Four men pleaded guilty in New York in January 2009 to terrorism violations in connection with their efforts to acquire surface-to-air missiles, missile launchers and hundreds of assault rifles for the LTTE.

  • Two Indonesian nationals, a Singapore citizen and a Sri Lankan were arrested in September 2006 for conspiring to export firearms, ammunition, surface-to-air missiles and other military equipment to the LTTE and for attempting to launder money to the terrorist group. They were each convicted in Baltimore, Maryland and handed down sentences in 2007 and 2008 ranging from two and a half years to nearly five years in prison.

  • The LTTE was designated by the U.S. as a Foreign Terrorist Organization in October 1997.

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