In the early 1970s, United Front government of Sirimavo Bandaranaike introduced the policy of standardisation to rectify the low numbers of Sinhalese being accepted into university in Sri Lanka. A student named Satiyaseelan formed Tamil Manavar Peravai (Tamil Students League) to counter this. This group comprised Tamil youth who advocated the rights of students to have fair enrollment. Inspired by the failed 1971 insurrection of Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, it was the first Tamil insurgent group of its kind. It consisted of around 40 Tamil youth, including Ponnuthurai Sivakumaran (later, the leader of the Sivakumaran group), K. Pathmanaba (one of the founder members of EROS) and Velupillai Prabhakaran, an 18-year-old youth from single caste-oriented Valvettithurai (VVT). In 1972, Prabhakaran teamed up with Chetti Thanabalasingam, Jaffna to form the Tamil New Tigers (TNT), with Thanabalasingham as its leader. After he was killed, Prabhakaran took over. At the same time, Nadarajah Thangathurai and Selvarajah Yogachandran (better known by his nom de guerre Kuttimani) were also involved in discussions about an insurgency. They would later (in 1979) create a separate organisation named Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO) to campaign for the establishment of an independent Tamil Eelam. These groups, along with another prominent figure of the armed struggle, Ponnuthurai Sivakumaran, were involved in several hit-and-run operations against pro-government Tamil politicians, Sri Lanka Police and civil administration during the early 1970s. These attacks included throwing bombs at the residence and the car of SLFP Jaffna Mayor, Alfred Duraiyappah, placing a bomb at a carnival held in the stadium of Jaffna city (now "Duraiyappah stadium") and Neervely bank robbery. The 1974 Tamil conference incident also sparked the anger of these militant groups. Both Sivakumaran and Prabhakaran attempted to assassinate Duraiyappah in revenge for the incident. Sivakumaran committed suicide on 5 June 1974, to evade capture by Police. On 27 July 1975, Prabhakaran assassinated Duraiyappah, who was branded as a "traitor" by TULF and the insurgents alike. Prabhakaran shot and killed the Mayor when he was visiting the Krishnan temple at Ponnalai.
The LTTE was founded on 5 May 1976 as the successor to the Tamil New Tigers. Uma Maheswaran became its leader, and Prabhakaran its military commander. A five-member committee was also appointed. It has been stated that Prabhakaran sought to "refashion the old TNT/new LTTE into an elite, ruthlessly efficient, and highly professional fighting force", by the terrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna. Prabhakaran kept the numbers of the group small and maintained a high standard of training. The LTTE carried out low-key attacks against various government targets, including policemen and local politicians.
Tamil United Liberation Front leader Appapillai Amirthalingam, who was in 1977 elected as the Opposition leader of Sri Lanka Parliament, clandestinely supported the LTTE. Amirthalingam believed that if he could exercise control over the Tamil insurgent groups, it would enhance his political position and pressure the government to agree to grant political autonomy to Tamils. Thus, he provided letters of reference to the LTTE and to other Tamil insurgent groups to raise funds. Both Uma Maheswaran (a former surveyor) and Urmila Kandiah, first female member of the LTTE, were prominent members of the TULF youth wing. Maheswaran was the secretary of TULF Tamil Youth Forum, Colombo branch. Amirthalingam introduced Prabhakaran to N. S. Krishnan, who later became the first international representative of LTTE. It was Krishnan who introduced Prabhakaran to Anton Balasingham, who later became the chief political strategist and chief negotiator of LTTE, which split for the first time in 1979. Uma Maheswaran was found to be having a love affair with Urmila Kandiah, which was against the code of conduct of LTTE. Prabhakaran ordered him to leave the organisation. Uma Maheswaran left LTTE and formed People's Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) in 1980.
In 1980, Junius Richard Jayewardene's government agreed to devolve power by the means of District Development Councils upon the request of TULF. By this time, LTTE and other insurgent groups wanted a separate state. They had no faith in any sort of political solution. Thus the TULF and other Tamil political parties were steadily marginalised and insurgent groups emerged as the major force in the north. During this period of time several other insurgent groups came into the arena, such as EROS (1975), TELO (1979), PLOTE (1980), EPRLF (1980) and TELA (1982). LTTE ordered civilians to boycott the local government elections of 1983 in which TULF contested. Voter turnout became as low as 10%. Thereafter, Tamil political parties were largely unable to represent Tamil people as insurgent groups took over their position.
The LTTE carried out its first major attack on 23 July 1983, when they ambushed Sri Lanka Army patrol Four Four Bravo at Thirunelveli, Jaffna. Thirteen Sri Lankan servicemen were killed in the attack, leading to the Black July.
Some consider Black July to be a planned rampage against the Tamil community of Sri Lanka, in which the JVP movement and sections of the government were implicated.
Many outraged Tamil youths joined Tamil militant groups to fight the Sri Lankan government, in what is considered a major catalyst to the insurgency in Sri Lanka.
In reaction to various geo-political (see Indian intervention in the Sri Lankan Civil War) and economic factors, from August 1983 to May 1987, India, through its intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), provided arms, training and monetary support to six Sri Lankan Tamil insurgent groups including the LTTE. During that period, 32 camps were set up in India to train these 495 LTTE insurgents, including 90 women who were trained in 10 batches. The first batch of Tigers were trained in Establishment 22 based in Chakrata, Uttarakhand. The second batch, including LTTE intelligence chief Pottu Amman, trained in Himachal Pradesh. Prabakaran visited the first and the second batch of Tamil Tigers to see them training. Eight other batches of LTTE were trained in Tamil Nadu. Thenmozhi Rajaratnam alias Dhanu, who carried out the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi and Sivarasan—the key conspirator were among the militants trained by RAW, in Nainital, India.
In April 1984, the LTTE formally joined a common militant front, the Eelam National Liberation Front (ENLF), a union between LTTE, the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO), the Eelam Revolutionary Organisation of Students (EROS), the People's Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) and the Eelam People's Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF).
TELO usually held the Indian view of problems and pushed for India's view during peace talks with Sri Lanka and other groups. LTTE denounced the TELO view and claimed that India was only acting on its own interest. As a result, the LTTE broke from the ENLF in 1986. Soon fighting broke out between the TELO and the LTTE and clashes occurred over the next few months. As a result, almost the entire TELO leadership and at least 400 TELO militants were killed by the LTTE. The LTTE attacked training camps of the EPRLF a few months later, forcing it to withdraw from the Jaffna peninsula. Notices were issued to the effect that all remaining Tamil insurgents join the LTTE in Jaffna and in Madras, where the Tamil groups were headquartered. With the major groups including the TELO and EPRLF eliminated, the remaining twenty or so Tamil insurgent group were then absorbed into the LTTE, making Jaffna an LTTE-dominated city.
Another practice that increased support by Tamil people was LTTE's members taking an oath of loyalty which stated LTTE's goal of establishing a state for the Sri Lankan Tamils. In 1987 LTTE established the Black Tigers, a unit responsible for conducting suicide attacks against political, economic, and military targets, and launched its first suicide attack against a Sri Lankan Army camp, killing 40 soldiers. LTTE members were prohibited from smoking cigarettes and consuming alcohol in any form. LTTE members were required to avoid their family members and avoid communication with them. Initially LTTE members were prohibited from having love affairs or sexual relationships as it could deter their prime motive, but this policy changed after Prabhakaran married Mathivathani Erambu in October 1984.
In July 1987, faced with growing anger among its own Tamils and a flood of refugees, India intervened directly in the conflict for the first time by initially airdropping food parcels into Jaffna. After negotiations, India and Sri Lanka entered into the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord. Though the conflict was between the Tamil and Sinhalese people, India and Sri Lanka signed the peace accord instead of India influencing both parties to sign a peace accord among themselves. The peace accord assigned a certain degree of regional autonomy in the Tamil areas, with Eelam People's Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) controlling the regional council and called for the Tamil militant groups to surrender. India was to send a peacekeeping force, named the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF), part of the Indian Army, to Sri Lanka to enforce the disarmament and to watch over the regional council.
Although the Tamil militant organisations did not have a role in the Indo-Lanka agreement, most groups, including EPRLF, TELO, EROS, and PLOTE, accepted it. LTTE rejected the accord because they opposed EPRLF's Varadaraja Perumal as the chief ministerial candidate for the merged North Eastern Province. The LTTE named three alternate candidates for the position, who India rejected. The LTTE subsequently refused to hand over their weapons to the IPKF. After three months of tensions, LTTE declared war on IPKF on 7 October 1987.
Thus LTTE engaged in military conflict with the Indian Army, and launched its first attack on an Indian army rations truck on 8 October, killing five Indian para-commandos who were on board by strapping burning tires around their necks. The government of India stated that the IPKF should disarm the LTTE by force. The Indian Army launched assaults on the LTTE, including a month-long campaign, Operation Pawan to win control of the Jaffna Peninsula. The ruthlessness of this campaign, and the Indian army's subsequent anti-LTTE operations, made it extremely unpopular among many Tamils in Sri Lanka.
The Indian intervention was also unpopular among the Sinhalese majority. Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa pledged to withdraw IPKF as soon as he is elected president during his presidential election campaign in 1988. After being elected, in April 1989, he started negotiations with LTTE. President Premadasa ordered the Sri Lanka Army to clandestine handed over arms consignments to the LTTE to fight the IPKF and its proxy, the Tamil National Army (TNA). These consignments include RPG guns, mortars, self-loading rifles, T81 automatic rifles, T56 automatic rifles, pistols, hand grenades, ammunition, and communications sets. Moreover, millions of dollars was also passed on to the LTTE.
The last members of the IPKF, which was estimated to have had a strength of well over 100,000 at its peak, left the country in March 1990 upon the request of President Premadasa. Unstable peace initially held between the government and the LTTE, and peace talks progressed towards providing devolution for Tamils in the north and east of the country. A ceasefire held between LTTE and the government from June 1989 to June 1990, but broke down as LTTE massacred 600 police officers in the Eastern Province.
Fighting continued throughout the 1990s, and was marked by two key assassinations carried out by the LTTE: those of former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991, and Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa in 1993, using suicide bombers on both occasions. The fighting briefly halted in 1994 following the election of Chandrika Kumaratunga as President of Sri Lanka and the onset of peace talks, but fighting resumed after LTTE sank two Sri Lanka Navy boats in April 1995. In a series of military operations that followed, the Sri Lanka Army recaptured the Jaffna Peninsula. Further offensives followed over the next three years, and the military captured large areas in the north of the country from the LTTE, including areas in the Vanni region, the town of Kilinochchi, and many smaller towns. From 1998 onward, the LTTE regained control of these areas, which culminated in the capture in April 2000 of the strategically important Elephant Pass base complex, located at the entrance of the Jaffna Peninsula, after prolonged fighting against the Sri Lanka Army.
Mahattaya, a one-time deputy leader of LTTE, was accused of treason by the LTTE and killed in 1994. He is said to have collaborated with the Indian Research and Analysis Wing to remove Prabhakaran from the LTTE leadership.
In 2002, the LTTE dropped its demand for a separate state, instead demanding a form of regional autonomy. Following the landslide election defeat of Kumaratunga and Ranil Wickramasinghe coming to power in December 2001, the LTTE declared a unilateral ceasefire. The Sri Lankan Government agreed to the ceasefire, and in March 2002 the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) was signed. As part of the agreement, Norway and other Nordic countries agreed to jointly monitor the ceasefire through the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission.
Six rounds of peace talks between the Government of Sri Lanka and LTTE were held, but they were temporarily suspended after the LTTE pulled out of the talks in 2003 claiming "certain critical issues relating to the ongoing peace process". In 2003 the LTTE proposed an Interim Self Governing Authority (ISGA). This move was approved of by the international community but rejected by the Sri Lankan President. The LTTE boycotted the presidential election in December 2005. While LTTE claimed that the people under its control were free to vote, it is alleged that they used threats to prevent the population from voting. The United States condemned this.
The new government of Sri Lanka came into power in 2006 and demanded to abrogate the ceasefire agreement, stating that the ethnic conflict could only have a military solution, and that the only way to achieve this was by eliminating the LTTE. Further peace talks were scheduled in Oslo, Norway, on 8 and 9 June 2006, but cancelled when the LTTE refused to meet directly with the government delegation, stating its fighters were not being allowed safe passage to travel to the talks. Norwegian mediator Erik Solheim told journalists that the LTTE should take direct responsibility for the collapse of the talks. Rifts grew between the government and LTTE, and resulted in a number of ceasefire agreement violations by both sides during 2006. Suicide attacks, military skirmishes, and air raids took place during the latter part of 2006. Between February 2002 to May 2007, the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission documented 3,830 ceasefire violations by the LTTE, with respect to 351 by the security forces. Military confrontation continued into 2007 and 2008. In January 2008 the government officially pulled out of the Cease Fire Agreement.
In the most significant show of dissent from within the organisation, a senior LTTE commander named Colonel Karuna (nom de guerre of Vinayagamoorthi Muralitharan) broke away from the LTTE in March 2004 and formed the TamilEela Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (later Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal), amid allegations that the northern commanders were overlooking the needs of the eastern Tamils. The LTTE leadership accused him of mishandling funds and questioned him about his recent personal behaviour. He tried to take control of the eastern province from the LTTE, which caused clashes between the LTTE and TMVP. The LTTE has suggested that TMVP was backed by the government, and the Nordic SLMM monitors corroborated this. It was later revealed that UNP Member of Parliament Seyed Ali Zahir Moulana had played an important role in the defection of Colonel Karuna from the LTTE to the Government.
Mahinda Rajapaksa was elected as the President of Sri Lanka in 2005. After a brief period of negotiations, LTTE pulled out of peace talks indefinitely. Sporadic violence had continued and on 25 April 2006, LTTE tried to assassinate Sri Lankan Army Commander Lieutenant General Sarath Fonseka. Following the attack, the European Union proscribed the LTTE as a terrorist organisation. A new crisis leading to the first large-scale fighting since signing of the ceasefire occurred when the LTTE closed the sluice gates of the Mavil Oya (Mavil Aru) reservoir on 21 July 2006, and cut the water supply to 15,000 villages in government controlled areas. This dispute developed into a full-scale war by August 2006.
Eelam War IV had commenced in the East. Mavil Aru came under the control of the Sri Lanka Army by 15 August 2006. Systematically, Sampoor, Vakarai, Kanjikudichchi Aru and Batticaloa also came under military control. The military then captured Thoppigala, the Tiger stronghold in Eastern Province on 11 July 2007. IPKF had failed to capture it from LTTE during its offensive in 1988.
Sporadic fighting had been happening in the North for months, but the intensity of the clashes increased after September 2007. Gradually, the defence lines of the LTTE began to fall. The advancing military confined the LTTE into rapidly diminishing areas in the North. Prabhakaran was seriously injured during air strikes carried out by the Sri Lanka Air Force on a bunker complex in Jayanthinagar on 26 November 2007. Earlier, on 2 November 2007, S. P. Thamilselvan, who was the head of the rebels' political wing, was killed during another government air raid. On 2 January 2008, the Sri Lankan government officially abandoned the ceasefire agreement. By 2 August 2008, LTTE lost the Mannar District following the fall of Vellankulam town. Troops captured Pooneryn and Mankulam during the final months of 2008.
On 2 January 2009, the President of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapaksa, announced that the Sri Lankan troops had captured Kilinochchi, the city which the LTTE had used for over a decade as its de facto administrative capital. On the same day, President Rajapaksa called upon LTTE to surrender. It was stated that the loss of Kilinochchi had caused substantial damage to the LTTE's public image, and that the LTTE was likely to collapse under military pressure on multiple fronts. As of 8 January 2009, the LTTE abandoned its positions on the Jaffna peninsula to make a last stand in the jungles of Mullaitivu, their last main base. The Jaffna Peninsula was captured by the Sri Lankan Army by 14 January. On 25 January 2009, SLA troops "completely captured" Mullaitivu town, the last major LTTE stronghold.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa declared military victory over the Tamil Tigers on 16 May 2009, after 26 years of conflict. The rebels offered to lay down their weapons in return for a guarantee of safety. On 17 May 2009, LTTE's head of the Department of International Relations, Selvarasa Pathmanathan conceded defeat, saying in an email statement, "this battle has reached its bitter end".
With the end of the hostilities, 11,664 LTTE members, including 595 child soldiers surrendered to the Sri Lankan military. Approximately 150 hardcore LTTE cadres and 1,000 mid-level cadres escaped to India. The government took action to rehabilitate the surrendered cadres under a National Action Plan for the Re-integration of Ex-combatants while allegations of torture, rape, and murder were reported by international human rights bodies. They were divided into three categories; hardcore, non-combatants, and those who were forcibly recruited (including child soldiers). Twenty-four rehabilitation centres were set up in Jaffna, Batticaloa, and Vavuniya. Among the apprehended cadres, there had been about 700 hardcore members. Some of these cadres were integrated into State Intelligence Services to tackle the internal and external networks of LTTE. By August 2011, government had released more than 8,000 cadres, and 2,879 remained.
After the death of LTTE leader Prabhakaran and the most powerful members of the organisation, Selvarasa Pathmanathan (alias KP) was its sole first generation leader left alive. He assumed duty as the new leader of LTTE on 21 July 2009. A statement was issued, allegedly from the Executive Committee of the LTTE, stating that Pathmanathan had been appointed leader of the LTTE. 15 days after the announcement, on 5 August 2009, a Sri Lankan military intelligence unit, with the collaboration of local authorities, captured Pathmanathan in the Tune Hotel, Downtown Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Sri Lanka Ministry of Defence alleges that Perinpanayagam Sivaparan alias Nediyavan of the Tamil Eelam People's Alliance (TEPA) in Norway, Suren Surendiran of British Tamils Forum (BTF), Father S. J. Emmanuel of Global Tamil Forum (GTF), Visvanathan Rudrakumaran of Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE) and Sekarapillai Vinayagamoorthy alias Kathirgamathamby Arivazhagan alias Vinayagam, a former senior intelligence leader are trying to revive the organisation among the Tamil diaspora. Subsequently, in May 2011, Nediyavan, who advocates an armed struggle against the Sri Lankan state, was arrested and released on bail in Norway, pending further investigation.
The LTTE was viewed as a disciplined and militarised group with a leader of significant military and organisational skills. Three major divisions of the LTTE were the military,intelligence and political wings.
The military wing consisted of at least 11 separate divisions including the conventional fighting forces, Charles Anthony Brigade and Jeyanthan Brigade; the suicide wing called the Black Tigers; naval wing Sea Tigers, air-wing Air Tigers, LTTE leader Prabhakaran's personal security divisions, Imran Pandian regiment and Ratha regiment; auxiliary military units such as Kittu artillery brigade, Kutti Sri mortar brigade, Ponnamman mining unit and hit-and-run squads like pistol gang. Charles Anthony brigade was the first conventional fighting formation created by LTTE. Sea Tiger division was founded in 1984, under the leadership of Thillaiyampalam Sivanesan alias Soosai. LTTE acquired its first light aircraft in the late 1990s. Vaithilingam Sornalingam alias Shankar was instrumental in creating the Air Tigers. It carried out 9 air attacks since 2007, including a suicide air raid targeting Sri Lanka Air Force headquarters, Colombo in February 2009. LTTE is the only terrorist-proscribed organisation to acquire aircraft. LTTE intelligence wing consisted of Tiger Organisation Security Intelligence Service aka TOSIS, run by Pottu Amman, and a separate military intelligence division. It was forbidden for the LTTE members to consume tobacco and alcohol. Illicit sex was also prohibited. Each member carried a cyanide capsule with orders to use if captured.
Politically the LTTE was never serious about a political solution, it operated a systematic and powerful political wing, which functioned like a separate state in the LTTE controlled area. In 1989, it established a political party named People's Front of Liberation Tigers, under Gopalaswamy Mahendraraja alias Mahattaya. It was abandoned soon after. Later, S. P. Thamilselvan was appointed the head of the political wing. He was also a member of the LTTE delegation for Norwegian brokered peace talks. After the death of Thamilselvan in November 2007, Balasingham Nadesan was appointed as its leader. Major sections within the political wing include International peace secretariat, led by Pulidevan, LTTE Police, LTTE court, Bank of Tamil Eelam, Sports division and the "Voice of Tigers" Radio broadcasting station of LTTE.
LTTE used female cadres for military engagements. Its women's' wing consisted of Malathi and Sothiya Brigades.
The LTTE also controlled a powerful international wing called the "KP branch", controlled by Selvarasa Pathmanathan, "Castro branch", controlled by Veerakathy Manivannam alias Castro, and "Aiyannah group" led by Ponniah Anandaraja alias Aiyannah.
During its active years, the LTTE had established and administered a de facto state under its control, named Tamil Eelam with Kilinochchi as its administrative capital, and had managed a government in its territory, providing state functions such as courts, a police force, a human rights organization, and a humanitarian assistance board. a health board, and an education board. It ran a bank (Bank of Tamil Eelam), a radio station (Voice of Tigers) and a television station (National Television of Tamil Eelam). In the LTTE-controlled areas, women reported lower levels of domestic violence because "the Tigers had a de facto justice system to deal with domestic violence."
In 2003, the LTTE issued a proposal to establish an Interim Self Governing Authority in the 8 districts of the North and East which it controlled. The ISGA was to be entrusted with powers such as the right to impose law, collect taxes and oversee the rehabilitation process until a favorable solution was reached after which elections would be held. The ISGA would consist of members representing the LTTE, GoSL and the Muslim community. According to the proposal, this LTTE administration intended to be a secular one with principal emphasis on prohibition of discrimination and protection of all communities.
The LTTE was a self-styled national liberation organization with the primary goal of establishing an independent Tamil state. Tamil Nationalism was the primary basis of its ideology. The LTTE was influenced by Indian freedom fighters such as Subhas Chandra Bose. The organization denied being a separatist movement and saw itself as fighting for self-determination and restoration of sovereignty in what it recognized as its homeland. Although most Tigers were Hindus, the LTTE was an avowedly secular organization; religion did not play any significant part in its ideology. Leader Velupillai Prabhakaran criticized what he saw as the oppressive features of traditional Hindu Tamil society, such as the caste system and gender inequality. The LTTE presented itself as a revolutionary movement seeking widespread change within Tamil society, not just independence from the Sri Lankan state. Therefore, its ideology called for the removal of caste discrimination and support for women's liberation. Prabhakaran described his political philosophy as "revolutionary socialism", with the goal of creating an "egalitarian society". When asked about the LTTE's economic policy, Velupillai Pirabaharan said an "open market economy." But he pointed out that: "We can only think about a proper economic structure when the ethnic problem is resolved. ... What form and what structure this economic system is to be instituted in can only be worked when we have a permanent settlement or independent state."
LTTE had developed a large international network since the days of N. S. Krishnan, who served as its first international representative. In the late 1970s, TULF parliamentarian and opposition leader A. Amirthalingam provided letters of reference for fundraising, and V. N. Navaratnam, who was an executive committee member of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), introduced many influential and wealthy Tamils living overseas to Tamil insurgent leaders. Navaratnam also introduced LTTE members to the members of Polisario Front, a national liberation movement in Morocco, at a meeting held in Oslo, Norway. In 1978, during the world tour of Amirthalingam (with London-based Eelam activist S. K. Vaikundavasan), he formed the World Tamil Coordinating Committee (WTCC), which was later found to be an LTTE front organisation. The global contacts of LTTE grew steadily since then. At the height of its power, LTTE had 42 offices worldwide. The international network of LTTE engages in propaganda, fundraising, arms procurement, and shipping.
There were three types of organisations that engage in propaganda and fund raising—Front, Cover, and Sympathetic. Prior to the ethnic riots of 1983, attempts to raise funds for a sustaining military campaign were not realised. It was the mass exodus of Tamil civilians to India and western countries following the Black July ethnic riots, which made this possible. As the armed conflict evolved and voluntary donations lessened, LTTE used force and threats to collect money. LTTE was worth US$200–300 million at its peak. The group's global network owned numerous business ventures in various countries. These include investment in real estate, shipping, grocery stores, gold and jewellery stores, gas stations, restaurants, production of films, mass media organisations (TV, radio, print), and industries. It was also in control of numerous charitable organisations including Tamils Rehabilitation Organisation, which was banned and had its funds frozen by the United States Treasury in 2007 for covertly financing terrorism.
Arms Procurement and shipping activities of LTTE were largely clandestine. Prior to 1983, it procured weapons mainly from Afghanistan via the Indo-Pakistani border. Explosives were purchased from commercial markets in India. From 1983 to 1987, LTTE acquired a substantial amount of weapons from RAW and from Lebanon, Cyprus, Singapore, and Malaysia-based arms dealers. LTTE received its first consignment of arms from Singapore in 1984 on board the MV Cholan, the first ship owned by the organisation. Funds were received and cargo cleared at Chennai Port with the assistance of M. G. Ramachandran, the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. In November 1994, the LTTE was able to purchase 60 tonnes of explosives (50 tonnes of TNT and 10 tonnes of RDX) from Rubezone Chemical plant in Ukraine, providing a forged Bangladeshi Ministry of Defense end-user certificate. Payments for the explosives were made from a Citibank account in Singapore held by Selvarasa Pathmanathan. Consignment was transported on board MV Sewne. The same explosives were used for the Central Bank bombing in 1996. Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia and Indonesia remained the most trusted outposts of LTTE, after India alienated it after the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi.
Since late 1997, North Korea became the principal country to provide arms, ammunition, and explosives to the LTTE. The deal with North Korean government was carried out by Ponniah Anandaraja alias Aiyannah, a member of World Tamil Coordinating Committee of the United States and later, the accountant of LTTE. He worked at the North Korean embassy in Bangkok since late 1997. LTTE had nearly 20 second-hand ships, which were purchased in Japan, and registered in Panama and other Latin American countries. These ships mostly transported general cargo, including paddy, sugar, timber, glass, and fertiliser. But when an arms deal was finalised, they travelled to North Korea, loaded the cargo and brought it to the equator, where the ships were based. Then on board merchant tankers, weapons were transferred to the sea of Alampil, just outside the territorial waters in Sri Lanka's exclusive economic zone. After that, small teams of Sea Tigers brought the cargo ashore. The Sri Lanka Navy, during 2005–08 destroyed at least 11 of these cargo ships belonged to LTTE in the international waters.
LTTE's last shipment of weapons came in March 2009, towards the end of the war. Merchant vessel Princess Iswari went from Indonesia to North Korea under captain Kamalraj Kandasamy alias Vinod, loaded the weapons and came back to international waters beyond Sri Lanka. But due to the heavy naval blockades set up by Sri Lankan Navy, it could not deliver the arms consignment. Thus it dumped the weapons in the sea. The same ship, after changing its name to MV Ocean Lady, arrived in Vancouver with 76 migrants, in October 2009. In December 2009, Sri Lanka Navy apprehended a merchant vessel belonged to LTTE, "Princess Chrisanta" in Indonesia and brought it back to Sri Lanka.
The United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations (USSFRC) and Ethiopian based Jimma Times claimed that the Eritrean government had provided direct military assistance, including light aircraft to LTTE, during the 2002–03 period when the LTTE was negotiating with the Sri Lankan government via the Norwegian mediators. It was also alleged that Erik Solheim, the chief Norwegian facilitator, helped LTTE to establish this relationship. None of these claims have since been verified. These allegations and a suspicion from within the Sri Lankan armed forces, that LTTE had considerable connections and assets in Eritrea and that its leader Prabhakaran may try to flee to Eritrea in the final stages of war, prompted the Sri Lankan government to establish diplomatic relations with Eritrea in 2009. None of the allegations have since been verified.
32 countries have listed the LTTE as a terrorist organisation. As of January 2009, these include: India (since 1992) United States (designated as Foreign Terrorist Organizations by the Department of State since 8 October 1997. Named as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) since 2 November 2001) United Kingdom (designated a Proscribed Terrorist Group under the Terrorism Act 2000 by the Home Secretary since 2000) European Union (since 2006; 27 countries) Canada (since 2006) Canada does not grant residency to LTTE members on the grounds that they have participated in crimes against humanity. Sri Lanka (from January 1998 to 4 September 2002, and again from 7 January 2009)
The first country to ban the LTTE was its brief one-time ally, India. The Indian change of policy came gradually, starting with the IPKF-LTTE conflict, and culminating with the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. India opposes the new state Tamil Eelam that LTTE wants to establish, saying that it would lead to Tamil Nadu's separation from India, despite the leaders and common populace of Tamil Nadu considering themselves Indian. Sri Lanka itself lifted the ban on the LTTE before signing the ceasefire agreement in 2002. This was a prerequisite set by the LTTE for the signing of the agreement. The Indian Government extended the ban on LTTE considering their strong anti-India posture and threat to the security of Indian nationals.
The European Union banned LTTE as a terrorist organisation on 17 May 2006. In a statement, the European Parliament said that the LTTE did not represent all Tamils and called on it to "allow for political pluralism and alternate democratic voices in the northern and eastern parts of Sri Lanka".
In October 2014, the European Court of Justice annulled the anti-terrorism sanctions and several other restrictions placed on the LTTE in 2006. The court noted that the basis of proscribing the LTTE had been based on "imputations derived from the press and the Internet" rather than on direct investigation of the group's actions, as required by law. Later, in March 2015, the EU reimposed the sanctions and restrictions.
The LTTE leader Prabhakaran contested the terrorist designation of his organization, asserting that the international community had been influenced by the "false propaganda" of the Sri Lankan state and said that there was no coherent definition of the concept of terrorism. He also maintained that the LTTE was a national liberation organization fighting against "state terrorism" and "racist oppression". Following 9/11, in an effort to distance his organization from the "real terrorists", the LTTE leader expressed sympathy to the Western powers engaged in a war against international terrorism and urged them to provide "a clear and comprehensive definition of the concept of terrorism that would distinguish between freedom struggles based on the right to self-determination and blind terrorist acts based on fanaticism." He also expressed concern over states with human rights abuses like Sri Lanka joining the alliance in the war against terrorism as "posing a threat to the legitimate political struggles of the oppressed humanity subjected to state terror."
Karen Parker, an attorney specializing in human rights and humanitarian law, argued that the LTTE was not a terrorist organization but "an armed force in a war against the government of Sri Lanka." She characterized the war waged by the LTTE as "a war of national liberation in the exercise of the right of self-determination."
The LTTE has been condemned by various groups for assassinating political and military opponents. The victims include Tamil moderates who coordinated with the Sri Lanka Government and Tamil paramilitary groups assisting the Sri Lankan Army. The assassination of the Sri Lankan president Ranasinghe Premadasa is attributed to LTTE. The seventh Prime Minister of the Republic of India, Rajiv Gandhi, was assassinated by an LTTE suicide bomber Thenmozhi Rajaratnam on 21 May 1991. On 24 October 1994, LTTE detonated a bomb during a political rally in Thotalanga-Grandpass, which killed most of the prominent politicians of the United National Party, including presidential candidate Gamini Dissanayake MP, Cabinet ministers Weerasinghe Mallimarachchi and G. M. Premachandra, Ossie Abeygunasekara MP and Gamini Wijesekara MP.
LTTE sympathisers justify some of the assassinations by arguing that the people attacked were combatants or persons closely associated with Sri Lankan military intelligence. Specifically in relation to the TELO, the LTTE has said that it had to perform preemptive self-defence because the TELO was in effect functioning as a proxy for India.
One of the main divisions of LTTE included the Black Tigers, an elite fighting wing of the movement, whose mission included carrying out suicide attacks against enemy targets. From ancient times, the Tamil civilization saw War as an honorable sacrifice and fallen heroes and kings were worshiped in the form of a Hero stone. Heroic martyrdom was glorified in ancient Tamil literature. The Tamil kings and warriors followed an honour code similar to that of Japanese Samurais and committed suicide to save the honor. The Black Tigers wing of the LTTE is said to reflect some of these elements of Tamil martial traditions including the practice of the worship of fallen heroes (Maaveerar Naal) and martial martyrdom. All soldiers of LTTE carried a suicide pill (Cyanide Kuppi) around their necks to escape captivity and torture by enemy forces.
According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, LTTE was the first insurgent organisation to use concealed Explosive belts and vests. The specialised unit that carried out suicide attacks was named the Black Tigers. According to the information published by the LTTE, the Black Tigers carried out 378 suicide attacks between 5 July 1987, and 20 November 2008. Out of the deceased, 274 were male and 104 were female.
Many of these attacks have involved military objectives in the north and east of the country, although civilians have been targeted on numerous occasions, including during a high-profile attack on Colombo International Airport in 2001 that caused damage to several commercial airliners and military jets, killing 16 people. The LTTE was responsible for a 1998 attack on the Buddhist shrine and UNESCO world heritage site Sri Dalada Maligawa in Kandy that killed eight worshipers. The attack was symbolic in that the shrine, which houses a tooth of the Buddha, is the holiest Buddhist shrine in Sri Lanka. Other Buddhist shrines have been attacked, notably the Sambuddhaloka Temple in Colombo, in which nine worshippers were killed.
Black Tiger wing had carried out attacks on various high-profile leaders both inside and outside Sri Lanka. It had successfully targeted three world leaders, the only insurgent group to do so. That includes the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, the former Prime Minister of India on 21 May 1991, the assassination of Ranasinghe Premadasa, the President of Sri Lanka on 1 May 1993, and the failed assassination attempt of Chandrika Kumaratunga, the Sri Lankan President on 18 December 1999, which resulted in the loss of her right eye.
The killed Black Tiger cadres were highly glorified and their families were given the "Maha Viru family" status. Those cadres were given a chance to have his/her last supper with the LTTE leader Prabhakaran, which was a rare honour one would get in the LTTE controlled area. This, in turn motivated LTTE cadres to join the Black Tiger wing.
On 28 November 2007, an LTTE suicide bomber named Sujatha Vagawanam detonated a bomb hidden inside her brassiere in an attempt to kill Sri Lankan minister Douglas Devananda. This was recorded in the security cameras inside Devananda's office. It is one of the few unsuspected detonations of an explosive by a suicide bomber recorded by a camera.
The United States Department of State states that its reason for banning LTTE as a proscribed terrorist group is based on allegations that LTTE does not respect human rights and that it does not adhere to the standards of conduct expected of a resistance movement or what might be called "freedom fighters". The FBI has described the LTTE as "amongst the most dangerous and deadly extremist outfits in the world". Other countries have also proscribed LTTE under the same rationale. Numerous countries and international organisations have accused the LTTE of attacking civilians and recruiting children. Despite the allegations of human rights abuses, LTTE has been noted for its lack of use of sexualized violence or rape as a tactic.
The LTTE has launched attacks on civilian targets several times. Notable attacks include the Aranthalawa Massacre, Anuradhapura massacre, Kattankudy mosque massacre, the Kebithigollewa massacre, and the Dehiwala train bombing. Civilians have also been killed in attacks on economic targets, such as the Central Bank bombing. The LTTE leader Prabhakaran denied allegations of killing civilians, claiming to condemn such acts of violence; and claimed that LTTE had instead attacked armed home guards who were "death-squads let loose on Tamil civilians" and Sinhalese settlers who were "brought to the Tamil areas to forcibly occupy the land." The state-sponsored settlements of Sinhalese in the northern and eastern parts of the island which the LTTE considered to be the traditional homeland of Tamils became "the sites of some of the worst violence." According to the International Crisis Group, the Sri Lankan government implemented the military-led settlements of Sinhalese community in Tamil areas in order to create "a buffer to the expansion of LTTE control" and to "undermine Tamil nationalist claims on a contiguous north-eastern Tamil homeland." The continuous inflow of Sinhalese settlers in Tamil areas since the 1950s had become a source of inter-ethnic violence and had been one of the major grievances expressed by the LTTE. As armed Sinhalese villages were established in Tamil areas, many Tamil families were forcibly displaced by the army from their traditional villages and the LTTE retaliated by attacking the settlers.
The LTTE has been accused of recruiting and using child soldiers to fight against Sri Lankan government forces. The LTTE was accused of having up to 5,794 child soldiers in its ranks since 2001. Amid international pressure, the LTTE announced in July 2003 that it would stop conscripting child soldiers, but UNICEF and Human Rights Watch have accused it of reneging on its promises, and of conscripting Tamil children orphaned by the tsunami. On 18 June 2007, the LTTE released 135 children under 18 years of age. UNICEF, along with the United States, states that there has been a significant drop in LTTE recruitment of children, but claimed in 2007 that 506 child recruits remain under the LTTE. A report released by the LTTE's Child Protection Authority (CPA) in 2008 stated that less than 40 soldiers under age 18 remained in its forces. In 2009 a Special Representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations said the Tamil Tigers "continue to recruit children to fight on the frontlines", and "use force to keep many civilians, including children, in harm's way". Although some children were forcefully recruited, many voluntarily joined the LTTE after witnessing or experiencing abuses by Sri Lankan security forces, seeking to "protect their families or to avenge real or perceived abuses."
The LTTE argues that instances of child recruitment occurred mostly in the east, under the purview of former LTTE regional commander Colonel Karuna. After leaving the LTTE and forming the TMVP, it is alleged that Karuna continued to forcibly kidnap and induct child soldiers.
The LTTE is responsible for forcibly removing, or ethnic cleansing, of Sinhalese and Muslim inhabitants from areas under its control. The eviction of Muslim residents happened in the north in 1990, and the east in 1992. The expulsion of Muslims had more to do with disagreements over ethnic identity and politics than with religion as the Sri Lankan Muslims did not support the LTTE or the creation of an independent Tamil state and they do not identify with the ethnic Tamils despite being a Tamil-speaking people. The LTTE also saw Muslims as a threat to 'national security' as they alleged their Muslim cadres had defected from their movement to join the Sri Lankan military and paramilitary forces who were allegedly responsible for attacks on Tamil civilians.
Initially young Muslims joined the Tamil militant groups in the early years of Tamil militancy. Muslim ironmongers in Mannar fashioned weapons for the LTTE. In its 1976 Vaddukoddai Resolution, LTTE condemned the Sri Lankan government for "unleashing successive bouts of communal violence on both the Tamils and Muslims". LTTE later undertook its anti-Muslim campaigns as it began to view Muslims as outsiders, rather than a part of the Tamil nation. Local Tamil leaders were disturbed by the LTTE's call for the eviction of Muslims in 1970. In 2005, the International Federation of Tamils claimed that the Sri Lankan military purposefully stoked tensions between Tamils and Muslims, in an attempt to undermine Tamil security. As Tamils turned to the LTTE for support, the Muslims were left with the Sri Lankan state as their sole defender, and so to the LTTE, the Muslims had legitimised the role of the state, and were thus viewed as Sri Lankans.
LTTE had executed prisoners of war on a number of occasions, in spite of the declaration in 1988, that it would abide by the Geneva Conventions. One such incident was the mass murder of 600 unarmed Sri Lankan Police officers in 1990, in Eastern Province, after they surrendered to the LTTE on the request of President Ranasinghe Premadasa. Police officers were promised safe conduct and subsequent release; they were instead taken to the jungle, blindfolded, and had their hands tied behind their backs, before being made to lie down on the ground to be subsequently shot. In 1993, LTTE killed 200 Sri Lanka Army soldiers, captured in the naval base at Pooneryn, during the Battle of Pooneryn.
There are allegations that War crimes were committed by the Sri Lankan military and the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam during the Sri Lankan Civil War, particularly during the final months of the conflict in 2009. The alleged war crimes include attacks on civilians and civilian buildings by both sides; executions of combatants and prisoners by both sides; enforced disappearances by the Sri Lankan military and paramilitary groups backed by them; acute shortages of food, medicine, and clean water for civilians trapped in the war zone; and recruitment of child soldiers by the Tamil Tigers.
A panel of experts appointed by UN Secretary-General (UNSG) Ban Ki-moon to advise him on the issue of accountability with regard to any alleged violations of international human rights and humanitarian law during the final stages of the civil war found "credible allegations" which, if proven, indicated that war crimes and crimes against humanity were committed by the Sri Lankan military and the Tamil Tigers. The panel has called on the UNSG to conduct an independent international inquiry into the alleged violations of international law.
One factor that has greatly benefited the LTTE has been its sophisticated international support network. While some of the funding obtained by the LTTE is from legitimate fundraising, a significant portion is obtained through criminal activities, extortion among Tamil Diaspora, involving sea piracy, human trafficking, drug trafficking and gunrunning.
The LTTE has been accused of hijacking several vessels and ships in waters outside Sri Lanka, including Ocean Trader (in October 1994), Irish Mona (in August 1995), Princess Wave (in August 1996), Athena (in May 1997), Misen (in July 1997), Morong Bong (in July 1997), MV Cordiality (in September 1997), Princess Kash (in August 1998), Newko (in July 1999), Uhana (in June 2000), Fuyuan Ya 225 (Chinese trawler, in March 2003), MV Farah III (in December 2006) and City of Liverpool (in January 2007). The MV Sik Yang, a 2,818-ton Malaysian-flag cargo ship which sailed from Tuticorin, India on 25 May 1999, went missing in waters near Sri Lanka. The fate of the ship's crew of 15 is unknown. It was suspected that the vessel was hijacked by the LTTE to be used as a phantom vessel. Later, in 1999 it was confirmed that the vessel had been hijacked by the LTTE.
Likewise, the crew of a Jordanian ship, MV Farah III, that ran aground near LTTE-controlled territory off the island's coast, accused the Tamil Tigers of risking their lives and forcing them to abandon the vessel which was carrying 14,000 tonnes of Indian rice.
The LTTE members operated a cargo company called "Otharad Cargo" in the United Arab Emirates. There are reports that the LTTE met Taliban members and discussed the "Sharjah network", which existed in the Sharjah emirate of the United Arab Emirates. The Sharjah network was used by Victor Bout, an arms-smuggling Russian intelligence agent, to provide the Taliban with weapons deliveries and other flights between Sharjah and Kandahar. Otharad Cargo reportedly received several consignments of military hardware from the Sharjah network.
The Mackenzie Institute claimed that LTTE's secretive international operations of the smuggling of weapons, explosives, and "dual use" technologies is attributed to the "KP Branch", headed by Selvarasa Pathmanathan prior to 2002. It also claims that the most expertly executed operation of the KP Branch was the theft of 32,400 rounds of 81 mm mortar ammunition purchased from Tanzania destined for the Sri Lanka Army. Being aware of the purchase of 35,000 mortar bombs, the LTTE made a bid to the manufacturer through a numbered company and arranged a vessel of their own to pick up the load. Once the bombs were loaded into the ship, the LTTE changed the name and registration of their ship. The vessel was taken to Tiger-held territory in Sri Lanka's north instead of transporting it to its intended destination. In 2002, Prabhakaran appointed Castro as the international chief of LTTE. He overtook the responsibilities of arms smuggling and related activities from Pathmanathan.
Most of the smuggling of Tamil people to western countries was carried out by LTTE. It had largely benefited from this. The prices charged by LTTE to go to countries such as Canada was significantly higher than the normal cost to travel. In addition, money had to be paid to obtain "exit visas" to leave LTTE controlled areas. After the war, LTTE's main business has been people smuggling. A cost of LKR 4 million per immigrant was "enforced" by LTTE operatives. LTTE's people smuggling ships included MV Ocean Lady, which appeared in October 2009 off Canada's British Columbia coast with 76 Tamil asylum seekers; MV Sun Sea, arrived in August 2010 off British Columbia, with 492 asylum seekers and MV Alicia, carrying 80 illegal immigrants, but was intercepted by Indonesian authorities in July 2011, allegedly heading towards Canada or New Zealand.
LTTE had coerced Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora and Tamil civilians in Sri Lanka to give it money, by threatening the safety of their relatives or property in areas under its control.
In 2008 - 2009, a report on ″Money laundering and the financing of terrorism″ to the European Union Committee stated a case study related to the LTTE which evidenced the implantation of this terrorist group in number of EU member states. In January 2011, Swiss authorities arrested several LTTE members on money laundering. They were all later released.
In the early 1990s, Canadian authorities uncovered a passport forgery scheme run by Canadian Tamils with links to the LTTE, including one of its founding members. In December 2010, Spanish and Thai police uncovered another passport forgery scheme attributed to LTTE.
A number of intelligence agencies have accused LTTE of involvement in drug trafficking. In 2010, citing Royal Canadian Mounted Police sources, Jane's Intelligence Review said the LTTE controls a portion of the one billion dollar drug market in Montreal. It also states narcotics smuggling using its merchant ships, is one of the main ways of earning money out of its $300 million annual income. The U.S. Department of Justice states that LTTE has historically served as the drug couriers moving narcotics into Europe. Indian authorities accused LTTE operatives of previously bringing narcotics to Mumbai from Mandsaur District of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Punjab border. The drugs were then transported to coastal towns in Tamil Nadu such as Tuticorin, Rameswaram, Ramanathapuram, Nagapattinam and Kochi, in Kerala State.
LTTE was also involved in credit card fraud, in the United Kingdom. In 2010, STF arrested the mastermind behind this fraud, Neshanadan Muruganandan alias Anandan. LTTE had cloned credit cards using PIN and card numbers obtained from unsuspecting card holders in the United Kingdom, and funds were later transferred out of their accounts. In 2007, Norwegian authorities sentenced six LTTE members for skimming more than 5.3 million Norwegian kroner in a similar credit card scam.
In August 1997, an organisation calling themselves the Internet Black Tigers claimed responsibility for the E-mail harassment of various Sri Lankan networks around the world. The group sent mass Emails which contained the text "We are the Internet Black Tigers and we're doing this to disrupt your communications". They were also responsible for repeated attacks on official sites of numerous other governments. The LTTE is also accused of having pioneered online fund raising through solicitation and various cyber crimes including identity theft and credit card fraud.
LTTE is also known to use the internet for criminal profit. In such an attack on Sheffield University's computer system they were able to capture legitimate user IDs and passwords of well respected academics and to use them for propaganda and fund raising in a covert manner.