Sri Lanka’s tragedy is a les­son for us all

The Tribune (SLO) - - Opinion - BY MARTIN SCHRAM

Sadly, sui­cide bomb­ings have long been part of the his­tory and cul­ture of life – that is, terrorism’s hor­rific end­ing of life – in the small is­land na­tion of Sri Lanka, just off the eastern coast of In­dia.

It was a gen­er­a­tion ago when a youth I’ve called Kittu got caught up in the life spi­ral that led him in 2001 to fol­low his lead­ers’ or­ders, strap on his deadly ex­plo­sive jacket and set out on his as­sign­ment to as­sas­si­nate a high-level in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cial. And this past Easter Sun­day, when co­or­di­nated sui­cide bomb­ings killed more than 300 peo­ple in Sri Lanka, I found my­self think­ing about Kittu and the stun­ning twists of his life story.

I had re­counted Kittu’s tale in my 2003 book, “Avoid­ing Ar­maged­don,” about the dan­ger that ter­ror­ists might some­day ac­quire poorly se­cured weapons of mass de­struc­tion. For­tu­nately, Sun­day’s tragic ex­plo­sions in Sri Lanka didn’t in­volve nu­clear, chem­i­cal or bi­o­log­i­cal weapons. But it re­minds us of the lessons we must re­mem­ber about the human tur­moil that pro­pels youths around the world to choose paths of sui­ci­dal terrorism. And the other lessons we still over­look about what can hap­pen when lead­ers ig­nore ur­gent warnings.

Kittu was just 13 when a bat­tle be­tween Army troops and the then-Tamil Tiger rebels sud­denly sur­rounded his fam­ily’s small farm in 1990. He saw his mother and fa­ther run to­ward the army, wav­ing their hands, seek­ing pro­tec­tion for the fam­ily. He saw the sol­diers’ gun­fire, saw his par­ents fall dead. Kittu fled and joined the Tamil Tigers so he could some­day pay back the army that killed his par­ents.

The Tamil Tigers had pi­o­neered sui­cide bomb­ing, led the world in those deadly mis­sions ac­com­plished. At first Kittu didn’t re­al­ize he was be­ing trained to be a sui­cide bomber. Then he was is­sued his spe­cially de­signed ex­plo­sive train­ing jacket.

“We train on that jacket over and over again,” says Kittu. “We would set off the det­o­na­tor sev­eral times un­til we lose the fear of do­ing it.”

Finally, he got his as­sign­ment: as­sas­si­nate the high-level in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cial. “Per­sonal de­tails, whether he has par­ents, chil­dren, we have never been told,” Kittu ex­plained. “What we are told is that this man has done this dam­age to us and there­fore he must be ze­roed.”

Kittu headed out on the as­sign­ment he knew would be the last day of his life. But some­how the gov­ern­ment found out and he was cap­tured be­fore he reached his tar­get. So he did what he’d sworn to do – popped two cyanide cap­sules into his mouth. But be­fore he bit the cap­sules, he re­al­ized he didn’t want to die. So when a soldier grabbed his jaw, Kittu spit out the cap­sules. That’s why he lived and could tell us his story, a year after his cap­ture.

“I am leading a good life,” he said. “Now my life is much bet­ter. … I am a civilian now.” But Kittu was not yet an en­tirely free man. He lived in a half­way house, where he was be­ing re­ha­bil­i­tated and ed­u­cated by his of­fi­cial gov­ern­ment min­der. Kittu’s min­der was the Sri Lankan in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer who, on that twist-of-fate day he was cap­tured in 2001, had been his as­signed tar­get.

Kittu’s tale re­minds to­day’s griev­ing Sri Lankans, and all the world, of a time when Sri Lanka’s gov­ern­ment acted quickly – and pos­i­tively – to pre­vent a sui­ci­dal as­sas­si­na­tion but also save and re­deem the as­sas­sin.

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