PhD Research Report – Introduction to Terrorism

By Prof. Dr. Mahinda Balasuriya


This is the introductory chapter. In this chapter introduction to terrorism and national security of a state has been discussed. As a case study Liberation tigers of tamil eelam (LTTE) terrorism in Sri Lanka has been discussed at length.

The main factors in relation to national security are (i).Political independence or national sovereignty (ii).Territorial integrity, and (iii).Physical existence. National security involves many measures which can be cited as (i).Using diplomacy to rally allies and isolate threats (ii).Maintaining effective armed forces (iii).Implementing civil defence and emergency preparedness measures including anti-terrorist legislation (iv).Ensuring the resilience and redundancy of critical infrastructure (v).Using intelligence services to detect and defeat or avoid threats and espionage, and to protect classified information (vi).Using counterintelligence services or secret police to protect the nation from internal threats. National security of a country may be endangered or threatened either by external or internal factors. In this regard Sri Lanka provides a good example. The national security of Sri Lanka has been severely affected by the terrorist activities posed by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) which has been fighting for a separate state for the Tamil people living in the Northern and Eastern parts of the country. The LTTE has been widely accepted as one of the most dangerous and well organized terrorist organizations in the present world.


The political use of terror contains many violent acts of which the most important are as follows: (i).The systematic use of murder, injury, or threats to realize the political objective, (ii).The creation of an atmosphere of fear, coercion, and intimidation, (iii).The indiscriminate attacks on soft targets or non-combatants so that no one in particular is the target; no one is safe, (iv).The unpredictable nature of acts of violence, (v).The denial of all rules and conventions of war, (vi).The user of savage methods of destruction such as suicide bombers, car bombs, mail bombs, double bombs, claymore bombs, land mines and mass murder etc., (vii).The use of illegal means to raise funds such as robbery, theft, ransom, drug selling etc. All these means of terrorism have been used by the LTTE over past three decades to win over its main political objective – a separate independent, sovereign state for the Tami people.


As elaborated in the foregoing discussion, a study on the terrorism and its impact on the national security is not an easy task as it appears to be a complex issue involving a number of different dimensions. These dimensions, on a broad basis, can be divided in to two groups as national and international. The national dimensions include how terrorist activities of the LTTE and the counter measures adopted by the government of Sri Lanka have affected the political system, economy, social values, and human rights. The international dimension involve with the internationalization of the terrorist problem and involvement of foreign elements in the internal affairs of the country. All these have singularly and jointly accounted to weaken the national security of the country. Thus, under the proposed research study, it is expected to investigate the following problems and their impact on the national security: (i).Nature of terrorist activities of the LTTE; (ii).The responses of the government – various measures; (iii).The combined affect of the 1 & 2 to the economy, political system, social values and human rights; (iv).International dimension and its effects on the national sovereignty.


Sri Lankan state has suffered for 03 decades of war due to LTTE activities. The north/east was completely liberated by May 2009 only. Peace talks were held with the LTTE by respective regimes without any success till the end of the war. It has to be ascertained as to why the war between the GoSL and the LTTE prolonged for 03 decades. It will be necessary to establish proper reasons for, failures of GoSL. in order to prevent terrorism raising the head in the future.

The destruction caused by the LTTE is tremendous. The cost of the war, impact to the economy and impact to the Sri Lankan society will have to be properly examined. The extent of deaths occurred due to the war situation and the injuries caused to both parties including innocent civilians will have to be properly assessed.

The proposed study I consider as a sine qua none in the present security context of the country as there has no such an academic study on the subject has been done either by the defence circle in the country or by an academic to my knowledge. This study will directly benefit the defence establishments of the country and the police department with regard to their policy formulation towards the national security.


The objectives of the study are as follows. (i).To investigate the nature of the terrorist activities of the LTTE. (ii).To investigate the impact of terrorist activities on the national security. (iii).To investigate the counter responses of the state and its impact on the economy and the civil society. (iv).To investigate the success and failures of the counter responses of the state.


Since the study is involved with a number of disciplines such as political science, conflict management and resolution, sociology, economic and history, a multi-disciplinary approach will be adopted in consultation with the supervisor/s collect data and to analyze them. The study will be based on secondary data and information to be obtained from the following sources: (i).Authoritative texts and articles written on the subject. (ii).Information and statistics – from the Armed Forces, Police Department, State Intelligence Services, Special Task Force, Website Data and Central Bank of Sri Lanka Data. (iii).Publications on the UNO, INGO’s and NGO’s on the subject matter. (iv).Media publications.


The main focus of the research project is to understand the ‘national problem of Sri Lank’. The crisis in the Sri Lankan polity has arisen because, although the country is multi ethnic and multi religious groups have not had their due share of state power which in their opinion, would have facilitated greater integration. (S.L.Gunasekara 2006, p9). This has resulted in the minorities being sidelined and becoming alienated from the Sri Lankan state, as initial efforts to redeem this situation, by a power sharing mechanism failed: (S.L.Gunasekara 2006, p3).

That which is formed the ‘national problem’ is without doubt the separatist terrorism of the LTTE. (earlier of other separatist groups such as TELO, EPRLF etc., which the LTTE decimated because of its unwillingness to share power even with other tamils). The LTTE is equally without doubt a terrorist gang that is wholly tamil which seeks not integration or “power sharing’ among the different races and/or ethnic groups that comprise the Sri Lankan nation, but segregation and a total monopoly of all legislative, executive and judicial power in the northern and eastern provinces. This is confirmed beyond doubt by the demand made by the LTTE for a so called ‘Interim self governing authority’. (S.L.Gunasekara 2006, p.03).

Sri Lankan crisis is not purely an ethnic problem, but it’s a terrorist problem. LTTE terrorism in Sri Lanka created a huge adverse impact to national security, economy, development and normal civilian life for three decades.

Objectives: There are four main objectives in this research project. The first objective is to study the emergence and growth of the LTTE organization during the period year 1977 to year 2009. The LTTE emerged in year 1975 and was militarily crushed totally by the GoSL by May 2009. The second objective is to analyze the LTTE terrorist activities and the ethnic conflict during this period. The third objective is to examine the impact of LTTE terrorist activities on national security of Sri Lanka. When the national security of the country is hampered by the terrorist activities it has a direct impact in governance. The fourth objective is to examine the state response to ‘LTTE terrorism’. The state response was two fold. The GoSL reacted with a ‘military response’ and a ‘non military response’. Finally the military response was successful and the LTTE organization was militarily defeated by May 2009.


Terrorism has become the biggest challenge to the modern world in the 21st century. Terrorist organization trying to capture political power by resorting to acts of violence is a new modus operandi experienced by the modern world specially after the cold war. According to the department of defence in USA, terrorism is defined as ‘The unlawful use of or threatened use of force or violence against individuals or property to coerce or intimidate governments or societies often used to achieve political, religious or ideological objectives’. (Christopher Kozlo, 2000 p.18). Terrorism is a technique for inducing fear by intimidation. Terrorist violence is neither spontaneous nor random, but carefully planned and executed. There is no clearly defined single definition for terrorism. (Christopher Kozlo, 2000 p.18). There are three causes of terrorism at three different levels. Firstly individual level, secondly national level and thirdly international level. (Noemi Gal-Or, 1987 p.14). ‘Terrorists’ can be divided mainly into three groups. (i).Rural terrorist (ii).Urban terrorist (iii).International terrorist. The morale of the society, security forces and police are badly affected by terrorist attacks. Suicide terrorism is a serious challenge to global security in the modern world without a proper solution to handle this challenge. The LTTE was very well equipped with suicide cadres. These suicide cadres including women posed a very serious challenge to national security of Sri Lanka and the regional security. (Edgar O’Balance 1989, p. 10)


Though there are several theories with regard to terrorism, few important theories are discussed in this thesis. Terrorism is devastating. But, even for that purpose there are theories to be adopted. Few important theories are (i).Psychological theories (Alex P. Schmid 1984.  p. 191, 192) (ii).Terrorism and political violence theory (Alex P. Schmid 1984. P.161). (iii).Theory of power deflation (Paul Wilkinson and Alasdair M. Stewart 1987. p. 296, 297, 298). (iv).Theory of failed repression of moderates  (v).Theory of massive intimidation (vi).Communication theory of terrorism (vii).Conspiracy theory of terrorism. (Alex P. Schmid 1984. P. 221, 222).

The LTTE organization has followed some of these theories for terrorist activities. The war in Sri Lanka was dragged on for three decades because the LTTE adopted theories of terrorism and launched successful and drastic terrorist attacks.


National security means the safeguarding of the territorial and sovereign independence and identity of a state from invasion, occupation and acquisition by a foreign power. It may be a regional power or otherwise. It also means the protection of the government in power against internal subversion and insurrection, seeking to overthrow it by unlawful means. An insurrection is a serious threat to national security in a state. If it is engineered by a foreign power in order to destabilize the state and to gain a foothold, it is still more dangerous. A sovereign state is therefore obliged to protect the state and it’s people. (L.B.Mendis 1992, p 43). In the third world, many threats are internal rather than external. Example: Myanmar, Liberia, Sri Lanka, India, Sudan, Ethiopia. (Brian L.Job, 1992, p. 43). The state must possess the elements of (1).Population (2).Territory (3).Government (4).Sovereignty. The LTTE posed a serious challenge and a threat to the territory and sovereignty of Sri Lanka since 1978.

(A.C. Kapoor 1996 p 78, 79). There are few main measures to ensure the national security of a state: (i).Maintaining effective armed forces. (ii).Using intelligence services to detect and defeat or avoid threats and espionage, and to protect classified information. (iii).Using counter intelligence services or secret police to protect the nation from internal threats. (iv).Implementing civil defense and emergency preparedness measures (including anti-terrorism legislation). (Wikipedia the free encyclopedia).

National Security can be most fruitfully defined as the ability of a nation to protect its internal values from external threats. There are two schools of thought over the highly sensitive question of the permissibility and the impermissibility of one state’s intervention in the internal affairs of another state and the use of force, coercion, mediation and self-help in the vague context of self-defence against states in international relations. (Mahinda Werake and P.V.J.Jayasekara,1995,  p. 10). Small states are more vulnerable to interventions. No state or group of states has the right to interfere in any form or for any reason whatsoever in the internal affairs of other states. (Mahinda Werake and P.V.J.Jayasekara,1995,  p. 16, 17). In chapter 1, security of small ethnic states regional threats, the super powers in the third world security also have been discussed.


In the modern world no political society is immune from social conflict. Ethnic means a linkage among a community of people who share one or more characteristics even here: (i).A common language, (ii).Religion, (iii).Culture or heritage, (iv).A common race or colour and (v).A common historical origin or existence. (Navaratna-Bandara 1995, p.1-2) Ethnic violence is justified when: (i).it is a counter-violence; (ii).it is imposed as part of liberation ideology; (iii).One has undergone the experience of self-imposed violence and thereby acquired the right to demand austerity or suffering from others. Ethnic violence is generally justified on ideological basis specially by the ‘freedom fighters’, ‘liberators of the motherland’, ‘martyrs’, and so on. The terrorists also justify their ethnic violence very smartly. (Manoharan, 2008, p. 16 - 20)


The meaning of Secession is that ‘….an action of seceding or formal withdrawing from an alliance, a federation, a political or religious organization’. Also Ethnic secessionism means seeking by an ethno-regional movement with its own territorial homeland of formal withdrawal from a sovereign state to form its own nation state or to join with another already established state. (Navaratna-Bandara 1995, p.2)

Most of the scholars believe that ‘separatism’ is the correct term for this process. political separation and especially separatism are the more vague and encompassing terms covering all instances of political alienation. Separatism implies movements of separateness within a broader political or social system. Ethnic movements for autonomy and self-rule are clear examples of such separatist movements. But for secessionist movements its applicability is confusing. Another definition of separatism is ‘separatism; meaning a movement seeking to resist future incorporation, subordination within the larger political authority of which it is already a member, and secession, meaning a movement seeking to break away decisively from the existing principal political authority’. The Kurdish homeland movement in Iraq, Iran and Turkey is a classic example of an ethnic movement which is potent in producing irredentism because of the distribution of its people over several states; Iraq, Turkey, Iran and Syria. The second type is associated with autonomy or home rule demands. This is ‘autonomism’. The goal of these homeland movements is to obtain greater or complete control over their homeland for matters relating to economic, political and cultural affairs, but remaining within the national boundary of the present state. In many cases these movements aim at constitutional reforms and governmental restructuring to establish regional autonomy. The third type is where ethno-regional movements aim at complete breakaway of their homeland from an existing state to establish a new state. This is secessionism. These groups try to identify themselves as distinct nations, capable of assuming sovereignty over their homeland. This is not seeking an internal separateness but a complete withdrawal from the state. (Navaratna-Bandara 1995, p.3 - 4)


Sri Lanka, a multi-ethnic, multi-linguistic and multi-religious country, became independent in 1948. At this time the predominately Sinhala Buddhist community, who comprise 74% of the population, felt that they had long been deprived of their rights during the 150 year period of colonial rule by the British. Provoking speeches by few Sri Lankan politicians further divided the two communities, thus contributing to ethnic clashes and riots in 1956, 1958, 1961, 1974, 1977, 1979, 1981, and 1983. Violence by sections of the ruling majority against a weak minority provided sufficient fuel for the Tamil political leaders to racially unite their people and campaign on a communal note; The communalization of the political process, and the accompanying cooption of the state apparatus on the behalf of the majority community, were thus the primary political factors behind the alienation of the Tamil community. Various socioeconomic and cultural factors were also responsible for the failure. (Rohan Gunaratna 1998, p.103-104).



The ethno-political conflict between the Sinhalese and the Tamils in Sri Lanka, the island nation in South Asia, is one of the well studied cases in the world. Population of Sri Lanka is about 20 million. This population is divided into four major ethnic groups: (i).Sinhalese, (ii).Sri Lankan Tamils, (iii).Muslims, and (iv).Tamils of Recent Indian Origin or the Up-country Tamils. While the Sinhalese who are mostly Buddhist, form more than seventy percent of the total population, the Sri Lankan Tamils are about thirteen percent and these two groups are in conflict over territorial claims. (Keethaponcalan – 2009, p.1)

The Sri Lankan Tamil demands for regional autonomy and then separation turned out to be the core of the contest between the Sinhalese and the Tamils, because the Sinhalese believe that Sri Lanka fundamentally belongs to the Sinhala Buddhist people. This is one of the main reason for the ethnic conflict. Core issues in this conflict are defined in terms of ethnicity and ethnic interest. Hence, the problem between the Sinhalese and the Tamils in Sri Lanka is identified as an ethnic conflict. Main elements of terrorism are also present in the conflict, but to call the conflict nothing but terrorism is to over-simplify an essentially a complex situation. Hence, one can safely assume, despite the fact that class element and ethno-terrorism are involved, that what exists in Sri Lanka is fundamentally an ethnic conflict. When analyzing the ideology and acts of terrorism of LTTE it is clearly observed that the Sri Lankan conflict is an ethnic conflict, which ended up with very high magnitude of terrorism. (Keethaponcalan – 2009, p.1)


The conflict was mainly caused by the introduction of the Sinhala Only Act by the GoSL. The Sri Lankan conflict can be mainly categorized into two categories. (i).Fear of extinction, and (ii).Claims of discrimination. Fear of extinction and claims of discrimination are common in most of the social conflicts, especially the ones that are defined by ethnic factors. In Sri Lanka not only the minority communities, but also the majority Sinhala people have fears of extinction. The Sinhala community and the Tamil community were suspicious of each other in their actions. This was one main reason for the conflict. The GoSL always consisted of predominantly sinhala politicians. Therefore, the minority tamil politicians and the tamil community largely suspected the actions of government of Sri Lanka. (Keethaponcalan – 2009, p.7)


In 1976 by adopting what is popularly called the Vaddukoddai Resolution the demand for a separate state was firmly put in place in the Tamil political agenda, which was endorsed by the tamils in the North-East in the 1977 general election. It was exactly in this period, the tamil political leadership was transferred to the radical Tamil youth, who preferred to face the Sri Lankan state and its armed forces with violence. The Sri Lankan government adopted a combined strategy of counter-insurgency violence, anti-terror laws and schemes of limited devolution of powers to address the issues generated by the tamil struggle. The war between the government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE really gathered momentum following the July 1983 ethnic riots against the Tamils. After July 1983 violence more than 30 tamil armed groups started fighting against the armed forces of the state, where the LTTE was the leading militant group. This followed with (Eelam war I, Eelam war II, Eelam war III and Eelam war IV) against the security forces and the police, which lasted for nearly three decades. Finally the government of Sri Lanka militarily defeated the LTTE in May, 2009. The war was ended up at this stage. (Keethaponcalan – 2009, p.10)


The political theoreticians are of the view that; ‘the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka is the outcome of fundamental demographic, socio-cultural, religious, linguistic, economic and political issues that have foundations in the island’s history’. In the Sri Lankan conflict there are two major issues: (i).The issues of ideological connotation and the issues of material significance. (ii).The issues of ideological connotation of the conflict encompass the ethnic identity, history, religion, tradition and language whereas the material issues include the elements of economic and political significance, such as education, employment, land tenure, demography, voting and citizenship rights, etc. (Sisira Edirippulige, 2004, p. 30)

The cause of the conflict in Sri Lanka lies in the historical formation of the identities in two communities. The ethnic crisis in Sri Lanka is not a product of modernity but only an outcome of longstanding ethnic rivalry between the two groups.


External factors have been an important element in Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict and its unsuccessful peace process. International dimension of the conflict has grown over the years, with the escalation of the dispute between the island’s two ethnic groups. As a result, the conflict and the attempts to solve the conflict have been noticeably internationalized. The international actors played a key role to bring a negotiated settlement to the ethnic conflict. But, some of them were not genuine in their actions. Therefore, the international actors failed to bring peace to Sri Lanka. The internationalization of the conflict further complicated the Sri Lankan crisis. (Sisira Edirippulige, 2004, p. 204)


Rationale behind the Indian policy towards the regional members has often been the affirmation of its dominating position within South Asia and dictating its rules to the neighbours. Over the past few decades India has acted on numerous occasions with this objective in mind. India’s attitude towards Sri Lanka has shaped as a part of its overall policy objectives towards neighbours. As long as Sri Lanka is friendly or neutral, India has nothing to worry about but if there were any danger of the island falling under the domination of a power hostile to India, India would not tolerate such a situation endangering her territorial integrity and national security.

The government of India had to play a role to please the tamil nadu politicians and the tamil nadu population. India had to consider three aspects when dealing with Sri Lankan affairs. (i).Interest of the central government and the role of the “big brother” in dealing with the Sri Lankan conflict. (ii).Finding a permanent solution for the Sri Lankan conflict as it had a direct impact on national security of India due to the close proximity of Sri Lanka. (iii).Pleasing the GoSL and Tamil politicians and Tamil community in Sri Lanka. (Sisira Edirippulige, 2004, p.209, 210)


Authoritarianism is a key aspect of the crisis in Sri Lanka. The state had no option but to follow this path. The rise of an authoritarian trend that evolved in Sri Lanka appears to be a belated “product of a conjuncture of world capitalism and peripheral capitalist development. Its imposition is the ruling class response to the crisis confronting society.” When dealing with a threat to national security this situation was justifiable.

Hypothetically following aspects of the Sri Lankan crisis are very important. (i).LTTE terrorism transformed the existing concepts of national security in Sri Lanka. (ii).LTTE terrorism caused to change the tactics of the GoSL with regard to national security to face the challenges of LTTE terrorism. (iii).Strengthening of security forces, police, special task force occurred due to the war against the LTTE as national priorities. (iv).Training of security forces, police, special task force and the intelligence services had to be revamped to suit the terrorist problem. (v).Civilian police force was transformed into a fighting force to assist the security forces of the GoSL to fight the war against the LTTE. (vi).Militarization was a prominent factor (vii).Rise of authoritarianism was a key issue in fighting the war against the LTTE. (viii).Prior to year 1977 before the demand for a separate state by the LTTE, building the economy of the country was the key issue. But after the LTTE terrorism commenced in Sri Lanka defeating LTTE terrorism was the key issue. (ix).If national security of Sri Lanka and LTTE terrorism are considered as two variables, the core issues are different. But if both are considered as interrelated variables. The impact of terrorism on national security is a key issue. (Mahinda Werake, 1995, p. 86)




1.            The Reports of The “Eleven Pundits” (?) by S.L.Gunasekara “A recipe for disaster”, Published 2006


2.            Jane’s Counter Terrorism by Christopher Kozlow. Publisher Jane’s Information Group. Fifth Printing July 2000


3.            International Cooperation to Suppress Terrorism by Noemi Gal-Or. Publisher Croom Helm


4.            Terrorism in the 1980’s by Edgar O’ Balance. Publisher Sterling Publisher Co.


5.            Political Terrorism (A research guide to concepts, theories, data bases and literature) by Alex P. Schmid. First Printing January, 1984 Publisher North-Holland Publishing Company, Amsterdam.


6.            Contemporary Research on Terrorism by Paul Wilkinson and Alasdair M. Stewart (in association with George D.Smith, Andre YaDeau and Thomas Schiller) First Published 1987. Publisher Aberdeen University Press.


7.            National Security Concepts of States: Sri Lanka by Vernon L.B.Mendis. Publisher United Nations – New York, 1992.


8.            The Insecurity Dilemma – National Security of Third World States edited by Brian L. Job Publisher Lynne Rienner – Boulder & London.