Though the photograph of Osama Bin Laden’s blood-smattered, dead face repeatedly flashed on Indian television turned out to be a fake, it did bring back the gory memory of a similar picture, a real one, published two years ago this month.
The Tamil Tiger chief V Prabhakaran’s face was surprisingly clean; in a macabre similarity a single shot to the forehead seemed to have killed him as well.
Though the defence ministry talked about Prabhakaran’s ``bullet-ridden’’ body, the disturbing photos released by the ministry didn’t reveal other injury marks. Questions were raised about how Prabhakaran was killed: was he shot dead in custody? Did he bite the cyanide pill? Or did he die fighting?
Then army chief Sarath Fonseka had initially told me that Prabhakaran and few of his remaining lieutenants were shot dead in an ambulance while they were trying to crash through a Sri Lankan army deployment. The official version changed a day later: Prabhakaran was killed inside a mangrove forest near the bank of a lagoon in a last burst of gunfight. His body was then burnt and the ashes scattered across the sea.
A month later the defence ministry said it was after the chance discovery of the body of Prabhakaran’s bodyguard that the army realised that the LTTE chief was possibly dead. And unlike the last attack on Bin Laden, in which four-five others were killed, hundreds of LTTE cadres died in attempting to save Prabhakaran; no stealthy helicopter strike, it was a bloody fight.
Unlike in al-Qaeda’s case, Prabhakaran’s death meant the end of LTTE, at least within Sri Lanka. (There are three factions known to be active abroad among the Tamil diaspora.) Militarily, the group was wiped out and the government regained the control of the entire country after decades.
Sporadic articles had been written about the so-called operational links between the two organisations. Unlikely, especially because the LTTE had overnight banished about 90000 Muslims from the four northern districts in 1990.
However, it was entirely possible that the paths of group members could have crossed in the shadowy worlds of gun-running and international smuggling. Unsubstantiated reports also claimed that the LTTE trained Islamic militants in south-east Asia. It is widely believed that al-Qaeda picked up suicide attacks from the LTTE, its pioneer.