Thiruvenkadam Velupillai Prabhakaran (26 November 1954 – 19 May 2009) was the founder and leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (the LTTE or the Tamil Tigers), a militant organization that sought to create an independent Tamil state in the north and east of Sri Lanka.
For over 25 years, the LTTE waged war in Sri Lanka to create an independent state for the Sri Lankan Tamil people. Founded in 1976, the LTTE rocketed to prominence in 1983 after they ambushed a patrol of the Sri Lanka Army outside Jaffna, resulting in the deaths of 13 soldiers. This ambush, along with the subsequent rioting which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Tamil civilians, is generally considered the start of the Sri Lankan Civil War. After years of fighting, including the intervention of the Indian Army (IPKF), the conflict was halted after international mediation in 2001. By then, the LTTE also known as the Tamil Tigers controlled large swathes of land in the north and east of the country, running a de facto state with Prabhakaran serving as its leader. Peace talks eventually broke down, and the Sri Lanka Army launched a military campaign to defeat the Tamil Tigers in 2006.
Prabhakaran and his son Charles Anthony were killed in fighting with the Sri Lankan Army in May 2009. His wife's and daughter's bodies were reportedly found by the Sri Lankan army but the report was later denied by the Sri Lankan government. It was alleged that his 12-year-old second son was executed a short time later. Prabhakaran's reported death and the announcement "We have decided to silence our guns. Our only regrets are for the lives lost and that we could not hold out for longer," by Selvarasa Pathmanathan, the Tigers' chief of international relations, brought an end to the armed conflict.
Prabhakaran's source of inspiration and direction was Sri Lankan Tamil nationalism. His stated and ultimate ideal was to get Tamil Eelam recognised as a nation as per the U.N. Charter that guarantees the right of a people to political independence. The LTTE also proposed the formation of an Interim Self Governing Authority during Peace Negotiations in 2003. Former Tamil guerrilla and politician Dharmalingam Sithadthan has remarked that Prabhakaran's "dedication to the cause of the Tamil Eelam was unquestionable, he was the only man in Sri Lanka who could decide if there should be war or peace." Prabhakaran was also called "Karikalan" for his bravery and his administration (in reference to Karikala Chola, a famous Chola king who ruled in Sangam Age.)
Prabhakaran explicitly stated that an armed struggle is the only way to resist asymmetric warfare, in which one side, that of the Sri Lankan government, is armed and the other comparatively unarmed. He argued that he chose military means only after observing that non–violent means have been ineffectual and obsolete, especially after the Thileepan incident. Thileepan, a colonel rank officer adopted Gandhian means to protest against the IPKF killings by staging a fast unto death from 15 September 1987, and by abstaining from food or water until 26 September, when he died in front of thousands of Tamils who had come there to fast along with him.
Tactically, Prabhakaran perfected the recruitment and use of suicide bomber units. His fighters usually took no prisoners and were notorious for assaults that often left every single enemy soldier dead. Interpol described him as someone who was "very alert, known to use disguise and capable of handling sophisticated weaponry and explosives."