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January 16, 2008

When the Suicide Bomber Is a Woman

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After the hour-long dinner, Amman was all business. “He said, ‘We expect you to do a good job. Don’t change your mind. Don’t mess up. We’re watching you,’” Menake recalls. The following day, she headed to the capital, where she planned to buy the sequined shalwar kameez.

I imagine this small, stocky woman, who barely had enough money to buy basic clothing, splurging on a festive top that Sri Lankans wear to weddings — the sequins glittering in the sunlight as she headed off to die. I ask her if she considered changing her mind at any point.

“If I felt sad, it was because I would never have the opportunity to have a family and children, to hold my own baby in my arms. That was my biggest sorrow,” she says. “The difference between Black Tigers and normal Tamil Tigers is that normal Tigers don’t know when they will be killed. Black Tigers know only their ultimate achievement.”

At the beginning of September, Menake checked out of the Appolli Inn, a low-cost lodge on the edge of Colombo, and caught a bus into town for a final reconnaissance of the prime minister’s home. As she approached the building, three police officers stepped from their security booth and stopped her in the street. Menake’s suicide mission was over.

Later, after Menake has left the interrogation room, officials carry in a crumpled-up piece of clothing. When they stretch it out on the table in front of me, I see the vest. As I stare at it, all I can think is, Who made this? Did they ever stop to think about the young woman who would wear it?

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