Sri Lanka’s Black Tigers

What drives women suicide bombers to die for their cause?

sri lanka tamil tiger suicide bombers

A portrait of Black Tiger suicide bomber ‘Major Sassy’ takes pride of
place in her mother’s home [Photo: Tony Birtley]

Her eyes are brown and piercing. Her moods change from a broad smile to anger in an instance. But one thing remained constant: her motivation for becoming a suicide bomber.


Rajeswary is 27-years-old and she is a Black Tiger, the feared arm of the Tamil Tigers which has wreaked havoc throughout Sri Lanka.


“Look at the injustice,” she told me. “They bomb and shell the Tamils, innocent people are killed. That’s why we do what we do.”


Failed Black Tiger Rajeswary is awaiting trial
after her truck bomb attack was foiled

More correctly, Rajeswary is a failed Black Tiger. She was apprehended before her explosives-packed truck could be driven to its target.


Speaking at the Boossa Detention Centre where she is being held awaiting trial, she seemed disappointed that her mission failed.


Shown a photo of another suicide bomber killed by Sri Lankan forces she became emotional and upset. But her mood changed quickly to happiness when she caught sight of a different photo showing a Sri Lankan naval boat being sunk by the Tigers.


It has been 20 years since the first the Black Tiger, one Captain Millar, struck with deadly effect.


Today he is revered as the founder of the movement.


Since then more than 300 Black Tigers have killed themselves destroying targets, mostly military, but sometimes political.


The Black Tigers, for example, are accused of carrying out the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, the former Indian prime minister, although they have never admitted it.




A 1996 Black Tiger attack on Colombo’s Central
Bank caused massive casualties

But sometimes civilians are killed. One of the biggest suicide attacks was on the Central Bank building in Colombo in 1996. Fifty people were killed and 1,500 were injured, most of them civilians.


In the Tamil Tiger stronghold of Kilinochchi in the north of the country, there is a different perception of the Black Tigers.


Here they are called heroes and martyrs – people who sacrificed their lives for the Tamil people and the pursuit of their own independent state of Tamil Eelam.


The region of 400,000 Tamils has just celebrated Black Tiger Day which commemorates the suicide bombers.


In a region dominated by the Tigers where there is no freedom of speech or information, there are few people who speak against the Black Tigers.




Black Tigers are portrayed as heroes in
LTTE propaganda videos 

If they could, Mary would not be one of them. Her daughter was a Black Tiger who died trying to blow up a military target. Her nom de guerre was Major Sassy.


She was 21-years-old and, according to her mother, she gave her life willingly.


“I am very happy and proud,” said Mary. “She gave her life for what she believed in. She sent me a letter and told me not to be sad. She did this because of what was happening to the Tamil people.”


Her photos adorn the walls of her basic one-room home. One dressed in military fatigues, another in the black uniform of the Black Tigers and one with the leader of the Tamil Tigers, Villipulai Prabakaran.


It is a far cry from the family home in Jaffna which they had to flee 10 years ago from what she says was oppression by the Sri Lankan army.


Major Sassy is one of 70 female Black Tigers who have died.


Hall of fame


Dozens of women have joined the
ranks of the Black Tigers

She appears in a Black Tigers special video, a somewhat macabre hall of fame in which they are shown in training intertwined with slow motion images of smiling youngsters.


It is difficult to imagine what motivates them to dispense with the smiles, pack their bodies with explosives and sacrifice their lives.


Mary is a Catholic Tamil, but she sees no moral conflict in the path her daughter chose.


“She was a good girl,” she told me. “Everyone said so, so happy, so kind. You would like her.”


And also, so committed. Mary has three other daughters and one son. All of them, she said, wanted to become Black Tigers.


“My daughter said in her last letter to me that no one else from the family should go. One is enough. I think that is right. One is enough for any family.” And she smiled one more time that smile a proud parent can smile.




Sinnathamby Sasisda John lost her daughter
and granddaughter in a Black Tiger attack

In the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo, there are no smiles for the Tamil Tiger bombers. Certainly not from Sinnathamby Sasisda John.


Her daughter, Rasia, and two-and-a-half year old granddaughter, Ashvini, were killed last year in a blast when the Tigers assassinated a Tamil politician.


She is overcome with grief as she remembers. Sobbing and distraught she asks the simple question: “Why?”


Prabakaran, the Tamil Tigers leader, knows why. He sanctions the bombings and is sometimes involved in the planning.


Before embarking on their final mission Black Tigers generally have their last meal with him and pose for a photo with their beloved leader.


It is an important weapon in the arsenal of the Tigers, and with losses of territory in the east and facing growing pressure from the Sri Lankan military, it is one that is probably going to be used more.


That will produce more smiles from one side and more tears for the other.

Source: Al Jazeera