The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) had staged 49 suicide attacks against targets in Sri Lanka, both on land and sea, since July 5, 2006.
On Thursday, the Tamil daily Sudar Oli quoted the LTTE as saying that 322 "Black Tigers" (suicide cadres) had sacrificed their lives since the first suicide attack by "Capt" Miller at Nelliyadi, in Jaffna district, on July 5, 1987.
According to a report dated July 5, 2006 in the pro-LTTE website www.tamilnet.com, the LTTE had lost 273 Black Tigers since July 1987. This means that there had been 49 suicide attacks in just one year between July 5, 2006 and July 5, 2007.
Most attacks on sea
Statistics show that most of the suicide attacks were staged at sea in naval engagements. An overwhelming majority of suicide cadres who had lost their lives were Black Sea Tigers. This has been so ever since the Sea Tigers came into existence in the early 1990s after the departure of the IPKF and the loss of India as a secure base for getting supplies easily over sea.
Overall, out of the 322 deaths by suicide to date, 241 were accounted for by the Black Sea Tigers. In 2006, the Black Sea Tigers accounted for 194 out of the total of 273.
There are women among them too. In 2006, out of the 79 Land Black Tigers commemorated, 18 were women. Women are sent on delicate missions such as the assassination of well guarded politicos like Rajiv Gandhi. The suicide cadres who tried to kill the Sri Lankan Army chief Lt.Gen.Sarath Fonseka in 2006 and Tamil cabinet minister Douglas Devananda earlier, were women.
The Black Tigers are undoubtedly the elite unit of the LTTE's military since they are the only ones to have a ceremonial supper with the Supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran before setting off on their deadly mission. They also receive a shield as a memento.
But above the Black Tigers are the "Champion Black Tigers" about whom very little is known.
For years, the Black Tigers were a secret group. But for some years now, they have been taking part in LTTE parades with their heads covered by a black hood with only a thin slit to see. Their uniforms are such that no part of the body is seen.
Justifying the use of suicide bombers, the LTTE's ideologue, V Balakumar, said at Nelliyadi in 2004, that this weapon was essential
for a group which was completely outnumbered and outgunned. "Prabhakaran was very keen that we should adopt a strike capability which would inflict the greatest damage at minimum cost," Balakumar said.
One of the most striking exploits of the Black Tigers was the July 24, 2001 attack on the Sri Lankan Air Force's main base at Katunayake, north of Colombo, in which a small squad destroyed eight military aircraft and damaged a number of civilian jets. The attack virtually destroyed the Sri Lankan economy and forced it to go for a ceasefire in February 2002.