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TitleBeyond Al Qaeda, Part II, The Outer Rings of the Terrorist Universe
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Calhoun: The NPS Institutional Archive

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Non-Islamist Groups 69

was variously designed to silence pro-government Tamils,20 eliminate
informants, and disrupt police investigations into terrorist incidents
and related criminal activities perpetrated under the group’s auspices.
Velupillai Prabhakaran, the TNT’s second in command, assumed
leadership of the organization in 1976 when Thanabalasingham was
arrested. He renamed the group the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam
and set about to reconfigure it in a manner consonant with his own
ambitious intentions and ideological designs. Affirming the legitimacy
of the Tamil struggle for independence on the basis of the Thimpu
Principles21 and specifying that it was only through the LTTE that
these objectives could be achieved, Prabhakaran fashioned a uniquely
elite, ruthlessly efficient, and highly professional fighting force22 that
emphasized selective recruitment (a policy that continues to this day)
and an institutional ethos of unswerving dedication to the Eelam
cause.

Over the course of the intervening 28 years, the LTTE has gained
a reputation as one of the most sophisticated and deadly terrorist insur-
gencies in the world. At the time of writing, the Tigers had successfully
driven the Sri Lankan government to the negotiating table and effec-

20 Significantly, attention was drawn precisely to this LTTE policy in a 1998 analysis of
the group by the U.S. State Department. Included within a synopsis of the Tigers’ “political
objectives” was “eliminate moderate Tamils and other Tamil militant groups that compete
with the LTTE for influence within the Sri Lankan Tamil community.” See U.S. Department
of State (1998).
21 The Thimpu Principles affirm the following five nonnegotiable demands: (1) recognition
of Tamils as a nation; (2) recognition of the existence of an identified homeland for the Tamil
people; (3) recognition of the right of the Tamil people to self-determination; (4) recogni-
tion of the right of the Tamil people to a separate citizenship; and (5) recognition of the
fundamental right of all Tamils to look on the north and eastern provinces of Sri Lanka as
their country. See Kumar Ponnambala, “The Only Possible Solution to the Tamil National
Problem,” TamilCanadian.com (as of March 21, 2006).
22 “We fight while others merely talk” was how the LTTE both defined and distinguished
themselves from other Tamil militant organizations. Cited in Wijesekera (1993), p. 310.

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70 Beyond al-Qaeda: The Outer Rings of the Terrorist Universe

tively forced it to accept terms for a ceasefire that have since allowed
the group to set up a mini Eelam state covering roughly 15 percent of
the country’s entire geographic territory.23

Current estimates of the LTTE’s overall on-ground strength in
Sri Lanka vary between a low of 12,000 to a high in excess of 20,000.24
The true figure likely lies somewhere between these two approxima-
tions, although a recent split in Tiger ranks resulting from the defection
of the group’s special commander for the Eastern Batticaloa-Amparai
District, Vinayagamoorthi Muralitharan (alias Colonel Karuna), has
complicated the picture somewhat, reducing the number of cadres
available to Prabhakaran by an estimated 5,500.25 Although Karuna’s
departure represents a potentially serious blow to the LTTE, it prob-
ably will not significantly dent the group’s overall human resource and
operational capabilities, for three reasons. First, most Tamil forces are
concentrated in the Prabhakaran-loyal districts of northern Sri Lanka.
Second, virtually all the specialist units at the center of past militant

23 The ceasefire was brokered by Norway on February 22, 2002, and has since led to sev-
eral rounds of talks between the LTTE and Colombo over the last two years. At the time
of writing, the Tigers had put forth their own blueprint for home rule, which calls for the
establishment of a so-called Interim Self Governing Authority covering eight Tamil-majority
districts in the northeast and a subsequent plebiscite (five years later) on self-determination.
Prabhakaran has given explicit warning that if this proposal is not taken seriously, the LTTE
will once again take up arms against the central government. Many in Colombo believe that
the Tiger leader has no interest in peace and is merely using the current period of relative
stability to rearm, recruit additional cadres, and consolidate control over the north. Chalk
interviews with Sri Lankan intelligence and military officials, Colombo, May 2004.
24 RAND fieldwork and interviews, Sri Lankan Armed Forces (SLAF) and Internal
Intelligence Bureau (IIB), Colombo, May 2004. According to one source, the LTTE’s
strength breaks down as follows: military strength, 11,000–15,000 (depending on the num-
bers of Karuna supporters that have yet to be integrated back into the group); intelligence
cadres, 2,500; Black Tigers, 350; total strength including political and logistical support
cadres, 21,000.
25 RAND fieldwork and interviews, SLAF and Western diplomatic official, Colombo, May
2004. See also B. Rahman, “Split in LTTE: The Clash of the Tamil Warlords,” South Asia
Policy Institute Topical Paper No. 942, March 2004; “Rebel Commander Willing to Meet
LTTE Top Leadership,” Associated Press, March 11, 2004; IISS, “Sri Lanka’s Peace Process in
Jeopardy”; Chris Kamalendran, “Inside the Karuna Fortress,” The Sunday Times (Sri Lanka),
March 14, 2004; Bandula Jayasekera, “Prabhakaran Smuggled in 11 Arms Shiploads During
Truce—Karuna,” The Island (Sri Lanka), April 9, 2004.

Page 216

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