Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Radicalized Violence: The LTTE

In the aftermath of September 11 2001, the “Global War on Terror” had a significant impact on countries that experienced terrorism over several decades. The “War on Terror” influenced counterterrorism lexicon, methodologies and policies of countering the threat of terrorism. Post 9/11 counterterrorism policies are producing mixed results. Scholars argue the “Global War on Terror” is irrelevant to many countries while others see the new approach as apologetic in addressing the root causes of conflict and terrorism (1). Debates take place as to what should be addressed: the root causes of the problem, the symptoms or the conducive and fertile settings which breed terrorism. Sadly, in most cases counterterrorism has been unable to develop a better understanding of the environing social factors that influence individuals and groups to engage in acts of terrorism. Hence, identifying factors that contribute to the growth, sustainability, and spread of terrorist activity is key in allowing policy makers to better understand this global phenomenon. The best way to do this is to better understand the process of radicalization among individuals and groups, and the role that ideology plays in the moral justification and maintenance of these violent activities.

Generalized theories do not capture the pressing and important issues that are contextual and profoundly influence individuals and groups to engage in terrorism. Research shows that individual-level factors, from demographics (i.e., education and income) (2) to experience (i.e., exposure to repression or conflict casualties) (3) to personality (i.e., degree of introversion or extroversion, depression, or sociopathy)(4) do not sufficiently explain suicide terrorism. Often, poverty is cited as one of the main causes of terrorism but is a poor explanation for recent events of suicide terrorism.(5) The theory that suicide terrorism is primarily nationalistic and is aimed at coercing a foreign state to withdraw forces in what the perpetrators see as their homeland does not reflect the individual logic of suicide terrorism in most cases.(6) While the nationalistic argument of terrorism is valid in certain situations, it lacks currency in explaining the motivation of secular groups such as the LTTE in carrying out acts of violence and suicide terrorism in internal conflicts.

Most scholars agree that there is no “profile” for the individual terrorist. Indeed, experts who have interviewed terrorists and psychiatrists who have tested would-be terrorists claim they are “normal, competent” human beings who have radicalized, and genuinely believe in their cause.(7)

The real question, then, is: How do “normal, competent” human beings and groups radicalize? In secular groups such as the LTTE, the radicalization process takes place within the social, political, historical and cultural spheres. However, before convictions like suicide bombing can take hold, they have to be nurtured. The radicalization process of the LTTE therefore incorporates two distinct phases. The first phase of radicalization is the de-construction of traditional social, political, historical and cultural norms. The second phase focuses on violent radicalization and re-constructing new social, political and cultural norms and conditions to sustain and justify violence and suicide terrorism. Hence, this new ideology provides the moral justification for maintaining these violent activities.

Therefore, to better understand the LTTE and its violent radicalization the traditional social environments, cultural practices, customs, myths and native languages that has a profound influence in sustaining terrorism within the LTTE must be studied. Especially female suicide terrorism of LTTE, cultural history, caste, oppression and the status of women in traditional Tamil societies in the Northern and Eastern provinces of Sri Lanka reveal interesting insights. The afore-mentioned conditions contribute to violent radicalization and its influence on female suicide cadre of the LTTE is more profoundly evident.(8)

-By SDS-


1. Bjorgo, Tore. ed. Root causes of Terrorism Myths, realities and ways forwardNew York, Routledge, 2006) p.1 (

2. See Alan Krueger and Jitka Maleckova, “Education, Poverty, Violence and Terrorism: Is There a Causal Connection?” Working Paper 9074, National Bureau of Economic Research, July 2002. Available at .

3. See Scott Atran, “The Genesis of Suicide Terrorism,” Science Magazine No. 299 (March 2003): 1534-1539.

4. Ariel Merari was the first to show this. See a review of his work and others in Marc Sageman, Understanding Terror Networks (Philadelphia: Pennsylvania University Press, 2004): Chapter 3.

5. Pape, Robert. Dying to Win, The strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism (New York, Random House, 2005) p.18

6. Robert Pape is the proponent of the theory that suicide terrorism is aimed at foreign occupation forces. Dying to Win, The strategic Logic of Suicide TerrorismNew York, Random House, 2005) p. 21 (

7. This is the prevailing view of the experts cited above. Bruce Hoffman originally claimed this, and that terrorists saw themselves acting out of “defense,” in Inside Terror, 1995. More recently, regarding Muslim terrorists in Europe, Farhad Khosrokhavar argues the same. See Les Nouveaux Martyrs d’Allah (Paris: Flammarion, 2004).

8. The term female/s is used in this article. The LTTE recruits child soldiers some of whom are girls. There are no records of LTTE using children as suicide cadre. In the absence of any credible records to differentiate between women from the broader category of females, the author will be using the term female/s in the paper. In Sri Lanka a child is considered to be a person below the age of 18 as per international law http://www.unicef.org/crc/. However, for labor purposes, any person above the age of 16 is considered an adult.


Sarinda Perera said...

"There are no records of LTTE using children as suicide cadre."

In 'Island of Blood,' Anita Pratap relates an account given by Gen. Vijaya Wimalaratne (then a Brigadier) on the Elephant Pass battle. The account is of a young female LTTE Black Tiger driving a bulldozer into the garrison, completely disregarding the heavy fire.

Excerpt: "The autopilot turned out to be a Tigress. She was a bloodied mess. Both her arms had been blown away, bullets had ripped off her cheeks. Her shoulders were red pulp....... According to Wimalaratne, she could not have been more than fifteen years old."

defenceAnalyst said...

Thanks Castedeus,
I will let SDS answer this.

SDS said...

Hi Castedeus,

Appreciate your observation. The article that was published is part of a longer research and dealt specifically on suicide terrorism and radicalization that takes place off the conventional battle theater. Our research for objectivity purposes refrained from using any information that we could not reliably verify. However, that does not rule out the possibility of LTTE using children who are underage for suicide missions in the conventional battle theaters.
The more challenging task for such a study is not the legal classification of an adult or a child but how environing circumstances make these children enter a process of radicalization as mature and rational adults that justify violence as a legitimate force to achieve their goals. In such instances, legal age is not a good indicator to research on motivation. This is a disturbing phenomenon in protracted ethno political conflicts. That is why researchers now tend to focus more on individual motivations to better understand the process of violent radicalization.

About Us

We are a Non-Political Group of Defence Experts Sharing Our Knowledge For the Good Of Our Country. This is a Voluntary Effort. We Report to No-one But You.

Contact US

You can contact us by e-mail on defencewire@gmail.com and on defence_wire@yahoo.com.


DefenceWire or its editors are not responsible for the opinions expressed by the contributors to this website.