(An analysis based on details as available on the morning of August 14,
For its previous terrorist strikes directed at important personalities, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) had used improvised explosive devices (IEDs) often carried and activated by a suicide bomber within killing range of the targeted personality. Suicide terrorism using IEDs had become its brand modus operandi. When one spoke of suicide terrorism, one thought of the LTTE and when one spoke of the LTTE, one thought of suicide terrorism.
It was well known in Sri Lanka that next to the President, Chandrika Kumaratunge, Laxman Kadirgamar, the Foreign Minister, occupied the second position on the hit list of the LTTE. The terrorist organisation wanted to eliminate him for various reasons.
Firstly, being a Tamil himself, he was perceived as a traitor to his community for co-operating with the Sinhalese President.
Secondly, he was perceived as close to London and Washington, who responded to his appeal to declare the LTTE as a terrorist organisation and stop the flow of funds to it. He was also viewed as responsible for making the US exclude the LTTE from the donors' conference held in Washington in the beginning of 2003.
Thirdly, he was seen as instrumental in helping President Chandrika in thwarting the attempts of the previous Sri Lankan government led by Ranil Wickremasinghe to reach an agreement with the LTTE on its demand for an Interim Self-Governing Authority in the Tamil-speaking Northern and Eastern Provinces under the LTTE's leadership, with the other Tamil and Muslim parties excluded from it.
Fourthly, he was seen as close to New Delhi and the LTTE had reasons to be angry with him for his active role in educating public opinion in India and the international community regarding the attempts of the LTTE to extend its control over the Trincomallee area in violation of the cease-fire agreement and with the silent complicity of the Norwegian monitoring mission.
And fifthly, he was seen as instrumental in persuading the US to keep itself out of the Tsunami Reconstruction Assistance monitoring mechanism because of the LTTE's association with it.
The LTTE knew that Kadirgamar was held in very high esteem by the international community in general and by India, the US and the UK in particular and that its action in killing him would earn it the condemnation of the world. It is, therefore, doubtful whether the above-mentioned reasons alone would have driven it to assassinate him at this point of time. There was a more compelling reason for the LTTE's decision to kill Kadirgamar--its failure to put down the revolt of the Eastern Tamils led by Col. Karuna even more than a year after the revolt had broken out.
The continuing revolt has badly dented Prabhakaran's pretensions of being the widely-acclaimed leader of the entire Sri Lankan Tamil community. Despite launching a wave of successful assassinations and other terrorist strikes against the followers of Karuna in the Eastern Province and against his suspected benefactors in Colombo, the LTTE has not been able to retrieve the lost ground in the Eastern Province. While the Northern Tamils constituted the best suicide terrorists, the Eastern Tamils constituted the best conventional fighters, who had repeatedly proved themselves more than a match for the Sri Lankan Army.
Without retrieving the lost ground in the Eastern Province, Prabhakaran could not have been certain of winning a conventional war against the Sri Lankan Army if he decided to denounce the cease-fire and resume hostilities. He had convinced himself that the revolt of Karuna and his men could not have lasted as long as it has without the secret backing of the Sri Lankan Army and intelligence. If he decided to resume hostilities, a combination of the Sri Lankan Army and Karuna's force could have posed a difficult challenge to him.
The LTTE, which looked upon Kadirgamar as a cunning person, had convinced itself that he was the man behind the idea of using Karuna and his Eastern Tamils to weaken the LTTE's conventional fighting capability. The LTTE's assassination of Kadirgamar at this time was apparently meant partly to eliminate the perceived brain behind the idea of using the Eastern Tamils against Prabhakaran's leadership and partly to convey a warning to President Chandrika that if she did not stop the alleged collusion between the Army and Karuna, she could be the next target.
Kadirgamar was given the highest level of security after her, with about 130 highly trained security personnel guarding him in turn. The authorities responsible for his protection had assessed that the threat to him would most probably come in the form of a suicide bomber carrying an IED. They did not anticipate a threat to him from a hand-held weapon fired from a distance. The emphasis in planning his security was, therefore, on anti-explosives checking and access control, whether inside his house or in a public place.
The LTTE had concluded that it had little chance of killing him through a suicide bomber or through a car bomb because of the effective anti-explosive measures taken by the authorities responsible for his protection. The one way of killing him was through a hand-held weapon, which could be fired from a distance ( a sniper rifle). The successful use of a sniper rifle would have been possible only if he was in the habit of exposing himself in the open to enable the shooter to take aim and fire.
Kadirgamar was in the habit of walking to a swimming pool located inside the compound wall of his house for a swim. He used to walk from the house to the swimming pool and back, thus exposing himself for a sufficiently long time for the shooter to take aim and fire. All that the LTTE required was a well-concealed vantage point where its shooter can conceal himself, have a good view of the swimming pool and the approach from the house to the pool, take aim and fire undetected by Mr.Kadirgamar's body-guards.
The LTTE, through its local enquiries, found such a vantage point in an unoccupied house near Mr.Kadirgamar's house. The house reportedly belonged to a Tamil of Colombo, who was not living there. If the physical security authorities had been vigilant, they would have periodically made enquiries about the background of those living near the house of Mr.Kadirgamar and taken under their control any unoccupied building. They did not.
Two men of the LTTE, taking advantage of this negligence, moved into the house with a sniper rifle and a rocket-propelled-grenade (RPG) launcher undetected by the security guards outside Mr.Kadirgamar's house and took up position inside a bathroom which gave a good view of the approach to the swimming pool from Mr.Kadirgamar's house.
If the sniper had taken up position by the window while waiting for Mr.Kadirgamar to emerge from the house, he might have been noticed by the security guards. They, therefore, bore a hole through a wall, inserted the barrel of the rifle into the hole and waited behind it inside the bathroom. While doing so, they kept eating cheese and chocolates which they had brought with them.
On the night of August 12, Kadirgamar emerged from the house and started walking towards the swimming pool. The shooter took aim and fired five times. Three bullets hit the target--- two reportedly on the head and one on the chest. Two missed him. But three were more than sufficient to kill him.
The job done, the killers took advantage of the resulting confusion among the security guards and managed to escape along with the rifle. They abandoned the RPG launcher in the bathroom. Why and how they managed to bring the launcher in undetected by the security guards? It is not clear.
Does this exploit remind you of a similar happening? Did you see the famous film about the unsuccessful attempt of the Jackal (not Carlos) to kill Gen.Charles de Gaulle when he was President of France? On July 14 every year, being the French National Day, de Gaulle used to go to the L'Arc de Triomphe in Paris to place flowers at the memorial to the Unknown French Soldier. The would-be killer dressed himself as a physically handicapped person with an artificial leg, concealed the sniper rifle inside the hollow of the artificial limb, managed to go through the physical security undetected and took up position in the bed room of an unoccupied flat and waited for de Gaulle. The General came, got out of his car and stood erect in front of the memorial. The shooter aimed at his head and fired. Just then de Gaulle bent down to place the flowers. The bullets passed over him and hit some other persons around him. There was confusion. The security was alerted and managed to take de Gaulle away unharmed. The attempt failed.
The LTTE is a good learner and emulator. It planned and carried out the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi after having been inspired by a similar scene in a movie. One should not be surprised if it turns out that this old film of the Jackal's unsuccessful attempt to kill de Gaulle had inspired it in planning the assassination of Kadirgamar.
Behind most successful terrorist strikes are inadequate physical security measures. This is true in the case of the assassination of Kadirgamar too.
PS: " A subsequent report indicates that Kadirgamar was shot at as he was coming out of the swimming pool."
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute for Topical Studies, Chennai, and Distinguished Fellow and Convenor, Observer Research Foundation (ORF), Chennai Chapter