January 31, 1996 | LTTE attack in Colombo

On this day in 1996, a truck loaded with explosives crashed into the central bank in the heart of Colombo’s financial district, killing at least 91.

Few terrorist groups last more than a few years: the ones that do can carry out spectacular attacks.

How long do you think the average terrorist group lives? By that I really mean how many years can a given group be active and effective? There are lots of groups that go on and on and achieve little to nothing. The classic Monty Python film Life of Brian gave us the People’s Front of Judea (PFJ) after all (not the Judean People’s Front naturally!) which was not a role model. It did zilch, aside from having meetings that is.

The PFJ having an in depth discussion

The eminent terrorism scholar David Rapoport (a personal hero of mine: I actually presented with him once!) famously said that 90 per cent of terrorist groups last no more than a year (others have taken issue with that ‘accepted wisdom‘). In an event, most groups indeed fade away with nary a whimper.

Then there are groups like the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
Image result for ltte
I know the LTTE was a terrorist group but you have to admit this is a really cool logo

The LTTE arose way back in 1975 and aimed to right historic ethnic wrongs in Sri Lanka, seeking an independent homeland for the country’s Tamils. It did not fold until 2009, even if there are undoubtedly some cadres still left. In its 44-year history it carried out probably hundreds of attacks that killed tens of thousands. The group was known as one of the first to perfect suicide attacks and use women terrorists.

One of the largest attacks attributed to this violent extremist organisation occurred in 1995 in Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka. A truck loaded with explosives crashed into the central bank in the heart of Colombo’s financial district, killing at least 91 and wounding 1,400. The real target may have been the neighbouring navy headquarters, and was thought to be in response to the army’s claim on the main LTTE guerrilla base in the northern Jaffna Peninsula.

The Sri Lankan Army declared victory over the LTTE in 2009 after their leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, was shot dead by Sri Lankan forces. The region of the nation most effected, the north and east, has been relatively quiet since (I traveled to Colombo in 2017 and felt no sense of panic or fear).

So while the LTTE may indeed be ‘defeated’ the Tamil grievances live on. Sri Lankan Muslims and Christians are also subject to abuse by the majority Sinhalese Buddhists: I described this in my latest book When Religion Kills.

It is rarely a good idea to declare a terrorist group ‘dead’. Just ask US President Trump about Islamic State (ISIS). As it was said in the classic Monty Python and the Holy Grail “I’m not dead yet!”.

When Religion Kills: How Extremists Justify Violence Through Faith (2019)

Christian fundamentalists. Hindu nationalists. Islamic jihadists. Buddhist militants. Jewish extremists. Members of these and other religious groups have committed horrific acts of terrorist violence in recent decades. Phil Gurski explores violent extremism across a broad range of the world’s major religions.

January 30, 1995 | Car bombing in Algiers

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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