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January 16, 2008

When the Suicide Bomber Is a Woman

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This automaton-like reaction is not unusual. “I knew I was going toward death and just kept walking,” says Menake. “You’re told this is part of your duty. I didn’t think about fear. I was shown what to do, and I never questioned it. We knew there would be a time when we would see today and not see tomorrow. I saw other girls go off who never came back. Then, in the next batch, they took me.”

In 2006, after a four-year cease-fire, fighting broke out again in northern Sri Lanka. On August 6, Menake was informed that her target had been chosen — she was being sent to Colombo. Like all suicide bombers, she was given a last supper with an LTTE leader — in this case, Pottu Amman, the LTTE’s second in command and head of intelligence. She was offered her choice of meal and selected chicken, fried rice, vegetable curry, and vanilla ice cream. Wanted by Interpol and the Sri Lankan government, Amman seemed like a movie star to Menake.

“He was tall and handsome,” she says, her voice lighting up for the first time. “We had a last photograph taken together” — the idea being, once she was dead, the photo, decorated with flowers, would go on display at the local clock tower, as happened with the images of other suicide bombers before her. Amman told her she would be known as a mahaveera, or “great warrior,” and venerated in a way she’d never been in life. Only then would she be given a military rank, based on the importance of her target.

The LTTE financially rewards the families of suicide bombers by paying for a surviving brother to go to college, for instance, or helping a family build a home. “When you die, your relatives get the honor. But my aunt and uncle betrayed me,” Menake says angrily, “so I said no to any money for them. It would have been different if my mother were still alive.”

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