Jaffna, Peace and Conflict

The psychopathology of the LTTE suicide bombers

Dr Ruwan M Jayatunge M.D.

There’s a hole in the world tonight.
There’s a Cloud of fear and sorrow.
There’s a hole in the world tonight.
Don’t let there be a hole in the world tomorrow.



The LTTE suicide killing is one of the most bizarre forms of political action adopted by its authority via glorification of death and violence. For the LTTE this action is not cleanly a military tactic or reprisal. It is a mass ritual as well as an action beyond death. The LTTE suicide carders better known as Black Tigers (or in Tamil: Karum Puligal ) are psychologically motivated to kill and get killed.

The selection of a member for a suicide mission is a complex process. They are handled and trained by experienced personnel. There are number of issues that have to be taken in to consideration before the selection. The selected member’s loyalty to the organization, psychological makeup, group identity, suicidal ideation etc needs to be analyzed. Then the human bombs undergo institutionalized indoctrination and systematic injection of odium with adoration of death as well as scrupulous physical training. The intense indoctrination leads to blind obedience. Although the human bomb is aware of his/her impending death they are psychologically and physically geared up to full fill the task. After vigorous psychological and physical training the suicide bombers have last supper with the LTTE chief Prabhakaran before setting out on the mission.

The LTTE carried out their first suicide operation on July 5, 1987. Vasanthan alias Millar crashed the truck filled with explosives into Nelliaddym army camp. In the attack 40 servicemen were killed. From that day the LTTE has launched a numerous suicide bombing against military and civil targets killing hundreds. These attacks generated mass fear psychosis and confusion among the public.

The ICT Researcher Clara Beyler who published the article “Messengers of Death: female suicide bombers” explains that that the terrorist organizations legitimize the use of women as suicide bombers in two ways: by reference to prevalent social norms, and by religious ideology. A LTTE woman suicide bomber, Dhanu, assassinated former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, at an election rally in Sriperambadur, southern India, on May 21, 1991. According to unconfirmed sources Dhanu was raped by the IPKF (Indian Peace Keeping Force). She may have suffered from RTS or Rape Trauma Syndrome. RTS which is a form of interpersonal violence generates a wider range of conflicting emotions. The victims often have a loss of faith about their sense of safety in society and may feel powerless.  Depression and anger after the rape are common features in RTS. Hence Dhanu’s anger and frustration was projected to the former premier Rajiv Gandhi.

Suicide attack is an ancient practice with a modern history. The Mahabharata an ancient epic describes suicide warfare. Islamic Order of Assassins (hashashin) during the early Crusader times are well-known examples. The concept of “terror” as systematic use of violence to attain political ends was first codified by Maximilien Robespierre during the French Revolution. Vladimir Illich Ulyanov (Lenin) used terror against classes which was later developed by Stalin in a ruthless form.

During the World War 2 the Japanese kamikaze pilots launched suicide attack against the US forces. In Guerrilla Warfare authored by Ernesto Che Guevara described suicide attacks as a path to victory which naturally boosts the morale of other rebels. In the early years of struggle Che and Fidel Castro used deadly suicide attacks against Batista’s regime.

The LTTE suicide bombers choices are often voluntary, but typically under conditions of group pressure and the cult leadership. Hence their status as individuals has been nullified by the organization. Suicide behavior is arguably loyalty to intimate cohorts of peers. The suicide bombers see the world subjectively, and are biased and misconstrue the events take place around them. They have stereotyped thinking pattern, extremism and introversion. They justify the murders by a misinterpreted and manipulated faith.

The social conditions nurturing the rise of terrorism are complex and include demographic, economic, political, and educational factors. Poverty and hopelessness and lack of education and lack of opportunities help to breed terrorism. The Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu once stated “at the bottom of terrorism is poverty”. Similarly the LTTE suicide bombers are left no option under the totalitarian leadership. They gain social recognition after becoming a black tiger and hailed after the death.

The veneration of death is a form of cult adopted by Jim Jones of the People’s Temple. Jim Jones held a mass ritual of suicides in Guyana in mid seventies. Jim Jones’s followers believed that he was as messiah or a liberator. The black tigers too believe in the cult of Prabhakaran. Therefore the LTTE suicide bombers do not act entirely under their own authority and responsibility. After a suicide mission their photographs are displayed in public, and stories of their actions are told to the other members. Thus a strong desire is developed among the carders to follow the example of their predecessors and undertake attacks themselves.

According to Michael Bond who is an expert in analyzing the psychological factors of suicide bombers reveals that the bomber is always recruited and guided by a group with specific political or ideological aims, and the bombers tend to adopt a brotherhood mentality towards each other, encouraged by their common cause, their loyalty to the group and the secrecy of their mission. These factors are common among the LTTE suicide bombers.

The Suicide attackers do not operate in a vacuum. There is a large surroundings behind them. The families of suicide martyrs benefit from a financial compensation funded by the LTTE sympathizers. The LTTE actively promotes suicide bombers which along with a general climate of martyrdom glorification, serves to reinforce a culture of suicide. Among the LTTE there is an adoration of and reverence for suicide attacks.

These martyrs are like human robots. Most of them are traumatized people suffering from depression, PTSD and various other forms of psychological ailments. Their logical reasoning is impaired. They see people outside their organization as objects or enemies. They are operated by simple ground rules such as “ether you are my friend or you are my enemy”. There is nothing in between. Therefore they can commit an extreme form of violence without any remorse.