Prabhakaran’s Death Revisited

Via the legacy of Che Guevara and Col. Gaddafi

That Prabhakaran committed suicide cannot be provable, but is certainly believable, considering the above-listed five strikes against the probability that he was killed by an army sniper. If the Sri Lankan army offers sustainable evidences to negate the five strikes that I list above, then I will buy their version of Prabhakaran’s death.

by Sachi Sri Kantha, September 2, 2012

The last time I wrote about V. Prabhakaran’s death was in June 2, 2010. It was entitled, ‘Dissecting Prabhakaran Death Story and Profiling the Liars’. After a span of 28 months, I revisit this issue, because three notable events have occurred during this period; (1) the killing of Libya’s long time ruler Col. Muammar Gaddafi in October 2011, (2) publication of The Cage: The Fight for Sri Lanka & the Last Days of the Tamil Tigers by Gordon Weiss, UN spokesman in Colombo during the final stages of the war,  in May 2011, and (3) publication of Gota’s War book by C.A.Chandraprema in May 2012, which could be taken as the ‘official’ version of the Sri Lankan (SL) army, of how it concluded its war with the LTTE.


Before proceeding further, I do note that a constituency among Tamils believes that Prabhakaran is still alive. I do not belong to this constituency.  As such, I write this analysis on the available evidence that the LTTE leader died in May 2009. If Prabhakaran turns up alive somewhere at some time, millions may be shocked, but I will not be one of them. Also, please make sure to understand that I’m not an oracle. I’m a scientist who evaluates the available data and arrives at certain inferences. If some important data are missing, then I’ll arrive at an alternate inference. If such important data is presented, I’ll change my inference accordingly.

Some (especially the LTTE defectors, like Kumaran Pathmanathan, and their henchmen) may question whether the issue of Prabhakaran’s cause of death necessary and relevant. I do think so. Even 190 years after Napoleon’s death, still the mode of his death is debated and analyzed. Was it a natural death, or was he killed? There is no doubt that Prabhakaran was the nearest item Tamils had to that of Napoleon. Thus, in my view, his death deserves repetitive scrutiny.

The ‘Official’ Version of the Sri Lankan Army on Prabhakaran’s Death

Chandraprema’s Gota’s War book can be taken as representing the ‘official’ version of the Sri Lankan army on Prabhakaran’s death. Reasons are crystal clear. It is a partisan book, published with the blessings of Presidential sibling Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and the Sri Lankan army he represents. In my critical review of this book (presented earlier in this site), I omitted this topic. I quote the two paragraphs which deal with Prabhakaran’s death from this book (pp. 488-489).

“On the afternoon of 18 May, troops of the 59th Division accosted a group of LTTE cadres led by Bhanu and Jeyam and killed them. At dawn on the morning of 19th May, the 4thVijayaba battalion under Task force 8, sent in their first SIOT team into the last uncleared patch of land, a belt of mangroves by the banks of the Nandikadal lagoon around 800 meters long and 20 meters wide. There was a confrontation here with a group of LTTE stragglers and Ravipriya was told that about 20-30 weapons were heard firing from inside the patch of mangroves. He then inducted two more SIOT teams into the mangrove belt where they captured three individuals who revealed that Prabhakaran was in the mangroves with around 30 men. Upon hearing this, troops had fired into the mangroves until there was no more returning fire. Thereafter, troops had been sent in to search the mangrove swamp, and Prabhakaran’s body was found by a SIOT team leader.

His body was still warm when found indicating that he had just been killed. He had not shaved that morning and the faintest white stubble was visible on his face. His corpse was borne aloft on the shoulders of 4thVijayaba soldiers and brought for the senior officers to inspect. Brigadiers Jagath Dias, Shavendra Silva, Chagi Gallage and Kamal Gunaratne were all there to inspect the corpse of the terrorist who had led the world’s deadliest terrorist organization. Hundreds of delirious soldiers had been clambering on top of one another to catch a glimpse of the corpse. Later in the day, the former LTTE spokesman Daya Master and Karuna Amman were flown from Colombo to identify the body.”

Now, let me analyze the descriptions provided by Chandraprema. The last two sentences in the quoted first paragraph do indicate,

(1)  There was no eyewitness to record that Prabhakaran had been fatally shot and he died because of that one fatal wound to his forehead.

(2)  Even the “unnamed sniper” was not sure that he had targeted Prabhakaran specifically.

(3)  What was revealed in the last sentence of the first paragraph was that Prabhakaran’s body “was found” by a SIOT team leader.

(4)  No mention is made about the DNA testing and evidence (which was reported by the Colombo press) to prove that the body identified was that of Prabhakaran. Mention was made only that Daya Master and Karuna“identified the body”. It should not be forgotten that these two were LTTE defectors. To keep their necks save, they had to parrot-mouth the view of the Sri Lankan army and officials.

There are only four modes of human death. These are natural death, accident, homicide and suicide. There is no doubt that the first two modes (natural death and accident) can be eliminated as the cause for Prabhakaran’s death. Of the other two modes, the Sri Lankan army presented a case of homicide. In my view (considering all the evidence presented), the cause of Prabhakaran’s death had to be suicide.

October 9th marks the 45th death anniversary of Che Guevara (1928-1967), the Argentine-born physician, author and guerrilla leader. October 20th also marks the first death anniversary of Col. Muammar Gaddafi (1942-20111), the long-term ruler of Libya. Both were captured and killed. The exposed upper-body photos of their corpses, showing the wounds and blood did impress me to revisit the cause of Prabhakaran’s death in May 2009. After the posting of my previous commentary in 2010, via email, I conducted a discussion with a knowledgeable correspondent (who wishes to remain anonymous) whose erudition I respect much.  The following is the accurate transcript of our discussion.

Transcript of an E-mail discussion with a knowledgeable Correspondent

Sachi: May I ask your opinion? This relates to the death of Prabhakaran. You may have read the New Yorker commentary posted early this year by Jon Lee Anderson, and my rejoinder to that piece. He had mentioned that the photos of Prabha shown to him, had exit wounds – gaping hole in the skull. I’m puzzledby that note. From what had appeared in the internet, I noticed that both hands had shrinkage, as if soaked in water for many hours. In normal death, this type of tissue shrinkage cannot be noticed, I guess. I presume that he had committed suicide by taking KCN and what they had done was to show that he was killed, they had shot at his skull,after death. Though this is now an academic issue (as we don’t have access to his corpse), what I like to know from you is that, whether is it possible to check from the corpse, whether the gun-shot wound was while the person was alive or after death? I think that forensic specialists like Prof. Keith Simpson should have noted this topic. I gather that there is circumstantial evidence for my hypothesis.

(1) If Prabha was shot while alive, the Sinhala marksman would have become the hero, by bragging about it. As of now, no one had claimed this feat.
(2) Karuna, after inspecting the body, had deliberately stated that there was no cyanide vial on his body. This was to please his current sponsors. I would take the opposite of what Karuna had stated.

Correspondent: Soon after death (from what I can remember on Forensic Medicine by Keith Simpson) the skin shrinks due to dehydration. If the body had been in water as a result of drowning the skin may appear swollen/edematous. It is possible to distinguish gun-shot (head) injury inflicted when alive and after death. During life there will be bruising of the skin and subcutaneous tissues of the scalp and along the passage through the brain and at entry and exit areas for there will be blood flow in the vessels.  Soon after the death the vessels will be depleted of blood and most of it will track down to the dependent parts if the individual is lying on his back. Furthermore the blood would have clotted and there will not be any extravasation of blood into the surrounding tissues. Well as you said there is no way of proving it now.

Sachi: As a follow up to my previous response, herewith I attach the two photos of corpse of Prabhakaran, provided by SL military to the media. May I know, how you would interpret the whiteness in the hands and legs?

Correspondent: With death the heart stops pumping and the flow of blood in the vessels ceases. The blood will collect in the dependent parts of the body before the blood clots. If the body is lying on its back, the pooling will be evident in the flanks. You will note in the first photograph the little area that shows between the shirt and the pants is somewhat purplish blue. This discoloration is more so in the head- the lower part of the side including the ears.  This could be more than an artifact. The areas depleted of blood will be the non-dependent areas especially the extremities – the hands and feet and hence the ‘whiteness’ or’ pallor’. This will be the normal appearance after death. If the head wound had been inflicted when alive, death would have been instantaneous and there would have not been much bleeding and loss of blood externally. If the wound was inflicted after death the appearance as described above holds, that is the normal changes with death. In either case the appearances will be the same. If the wounds are such that could have caused a lot of bleeding so that the body is exsanguinated, the entire body may show a generalized pallor.

Sachi:I understood what you have described up to the penultimate sentence. But the last sentence, I cannot follow. Can you elaborate it a little? You mention ‘entire body may show a generalized pallor’, if what was supposed to be the fatal wound was inflicted after death. May I know, from the released photos, can one infer that the fatal wound was caused while the person was alive?  Another question: Can we also note that ‘the purplish blue’ you mention might have been due to cyanide poisoning? I don’t know how the body of cyanide poisoning victims looks like.

Correspondent: What I meant was that there is no difference in the autopsy findings in the appearance of the skin in the dependent parts following (i) normal death(ii) following the gun-shot injury to the head when alive and( iii) gun-shot injury after death. The color due the pooling of blood in the dependent parts is described as of a purplish -red or bluish-red. Probably this discoloration is largely due to the deoxygenated blood.  In potassium cyanide poisoning the color will be dark pink or brick red due to excess of oxyhaemoglobin and to the presence of cyanomethemoglobin in the dependent parts and can be confused with carbon monoxide poisoning where  it is cherry red due to carboxyhaemoglobin.

Re: the other point you raised, if there is extensive blood loss to be completely exsanguinated body will show a generalized pallor in that there will not be enough blood in the dependent parts to cause significant discoloration. You are more an expert in this than I am. My explanations may not be all that accurate.

Sachi: Thanks for the explanation. I get it now. It’s unfortunate we have no means of checking these details now!”

Comparison between the deaths of Che Guevara, Col. Gaddafi and Prabhakaran

Though 44 years separate the deaths of Che Guevara and Col. Gaddafi, one can deduce a similar pattern. From the videos that were released in the electronic media, we could note that Col. Gaddafi (while being alive) was ill-treated by his tormentors during his final moments. Then, after his death, his tormentors made sure that his upper body was made naked to be photographed. This was the same pattern we see in the released photo of Che Guevara too. We have not been shown such a treatment meted out to Prabhakaran, either when he was alive or for his corpse. The Reuter photo of Prabhakaran’s corpse, taken amidst the Sinhalese military men, shows a different pattern. There was no unruliness and his corpse was not ill-treated like the one we saw for that of Col. Gaddafi. Even though, Chandraprema had described that “hundreds of delirious soldiers had been clambering on top of one another to catch a glimpse of the corpse”, it appears that they did respect Prabhakaran’s stature in the battle field. Though Chandraprema had described it, as “corpse of the terrorist who had led the world’s deadliest terrorist organization”, the Sinhalese military men failed to defile his corpse instantly to the camera, by ripping open his upper garments. Why? One can call it, Buddhist norms in treating the dead with respect or that they were simply mesmerized by the legend of Prabhakaran who offered them a purpose in life, and bread and butter for their survival.

While the average Sinhalese foot soldier treated Prabhakaran’s corpse with respect, it was the higher-ups (Mahinda Rajapaka’s immediate circle), who defiled Prabhakaran’s corpse to boost their political prestige and they made the decision to dispose the remains in the sea, without offering the Tamils an opportunity to pay respect for the fallen leader. It has been the custom of Muslims to arrange for burial of the dead within 24 hours. But Col. Gaddafi’s defiled corpse was kept frozen for days. Why did the Rajapaksa clique opt for immediate disposal of Prabhakaran’s corpse? The simple reason was to hide their lies on the cause of death.

GordonWeiss’s book ‘The Cage’ (2011)

The back cover blurb of the book introduces Gordon Weiss as, “has lived in New York and worked in numerous conflict and natural disaster zones including Bosnia, Afghanistan, Darfur, and Haiti. Employed by the United Nations for over twelve years, he is now a visiting scholar at Sydney University and a correspondent for Australia’s The Global Mail, where he continues his investigative reporting on Sri Lanka.”

Well, I’m not so enamored by the descriptions provided by Gordon Weiss, because he has relied too much on SL military sources and anti-LTTE scribes (Tamils such as Rajan Hoole and D.B.S. Jeyaraj). While scanning his book, I’m reminded of a Douglas Catley limerick on a London prostitute. It is as follows:

A prostitute living in London
went pantless, with zippers all undone;
she’d explain: ‘Well, you see
I can do two or three,
While Ruby next door’s getting one done.’

Like this London prostitute, Weiss has done a job, covering three bases in one book; (1) covering the derriere of emaciated, inept UN officials (his employer Ban Ki-Moon, Vijay Nambiar and himself), (2) placing the blame for the tragedy on LTTE’s leadership, and (3) offering knuckle-tap punishment to the SL government.

The role of two LTTE defectors

The role of the two prominent LTTE defectors in 2009 (Daya Master and Selvarasa Pathmanathan) also deserves scrutiny. It appears to me that Selvarasa [aka Kumaran] Pathmanathan, who promoted himself as the LTTE leader after Prabhakaran’s death did not defect after his capture in Malaysia in August 2009. For whatever reasons known to him, he had defected before Prabhakaran’s death and prostituted his services to the LTTE’s adversaries. This I had suspected earlier (and had pointed out in my previous commentary published in this website on June 2, 2010), because the announcement of Prabhakaran’s death released simultaneously in Tamil and English, under the signature of Selvarasa Pathmanathan, differed noticeably in specific details. The final two sentences in the Tamil announcement mention, “We salute the all military leaders, maaveerars and the public who attained heroic death with our national leader. The details of the maaveerars who died in the war will be released so soon.” But no such closing sentences appear in the English announcement. In his media interviews after capture, Pathmananthan had been strangely silent on the specific date of his defection and the details of the maaveerars who attained heroic death. If he had defected earlier (i.e., before May 2009), Pathmanathan’s role in identifying Prabhakaran’s specific location in Mullaitivu to LTTE’s adversaries deserves condemnation.

Akin to Pathmanathan’s role, even the role of Velauytham Dayanithi (aka Daya Master) elicits suspicion. He was one of the prominent LTTE cadres (as media spokesman) who received medical attention for a heart ailment in Colombo, when the ceasefire agreement prevailed in 2006. It is an inevitable inference that he had been roped in by LTTE’s adversaries during this medical treatment period and returned to LTTE’s area with a work-order to provide vital details then needed by LTTE’s adversaries.  Daya Master did his job ‘perfectly’ and surrendered to the SL army in late April 2009, less than three weeks before LTTE’s military defeat.

One should also note the health complications dished out by the media folks for these two defectors. Daya Master suffered from heart ailment in 2006. Pathmanathan was a victim of diabetes around 2009. Now, we hardly hear about these health complications of these defectors. One syndrome they seems to be suffering from (then and now) is ‘Save-your-own-neck syndrome’.

My Inferences on the Available Evidence (as of now)

I list five strikes against the propagated version that a SL army sniper killed Prabhkaran. Probability of this version should increase if the following five strikes can be answered convincingly.

(1)  Repetitively ‘shifting’ stories released to the media by the SL army on the cause of death during May 17 (Sunday) to 19 (Tuesday), 2009.

(2)  Immediate destruction of forensic evidences by the SL army that can lead to a positive result on the cause of death. In case of Che Guevara and Col. Muammar Gaddafi, the corpses were preserved for external verification.

(3)  As of now, no ‘bragging’ evidence (such as ‘I’m the one who shot Prabhakaran’) has surfaced.

(4)  Lack of un-touched photographic evidence to prove that Prabhakaran was caught alive. If he had been caught alive like Che Guevara and Col. Muammar Gaddafi, his upper body would have been bared to the camera as a trophy item.

(5)  Even after 3 years, the ‘official’ government version (as presented in Gota’s War book) is bland and lacks specific details.

That Prabhakaran committed suicide cannot be provable, but is certainly believable, considering the above-listed five strikes against the probability that he was killed by an army sniper. If the SL army offers sustainable evidences to negate the five strikes that I list above, then I will buy their version of Prabhakaran’s death.



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No Responses to “Prabhakaran’s Death Revisited”

  1. Nakushta

    Very good article. Some prominent men and women wanted to propagate the myth of ‘Praba is alive’ propaganda for their own gain. He not only gave his life for the cause but also of his family in the battle field. Praba is will have a honorable place in history.

  2. Arun

    Our great thalaivar may be still alive somewhere in the world, waiting to lead us to glory.

  3. Dr Arun Vincent

    VP is neither killed nor committed suicide. He is living fine at Kampuchea!
    Satchi, stop writing nonsense.

  4. Keeran

    “If Prabhakaran turns up alive somewhere at some time, millions may be shocked, but I will not be one of them.”

    Although accepting his death, there is some hope remaining that he will return one day. I won’t be shocked either – I would be in seventh heaven ….

    Thanks for this great article Sachi!

  5. Arul

    This is the most scientific analysis on the final hours of the leader of Tamil Eelam. Hope sense prevails and the Tamil community around the world accepts this reality and start paying tributes to greatest leader who never compromised on his goals and attained martyrdom along with this family and comrades. It hurts me a lot that in the belief that he will return one day, we fail in our basic duty to pay our tributes to our greatest freedom fighter.

  6. Arul

    Reposting to fix a spelling error:

    This is the most scientific analysis on the final hours of the leader of Tamil Eelam. Hope sense prevails and the Tamil community around the world accepts this reality and start paying tributes to greatest leader who never compromised on his goals and attained martyrdom along with his family and comrades. It hurts me a lot that in the belief that he will return one day, we fail in our basic duty to pay our tributes to our greatest freedom fighter.

  7. Siva

    Good article with many perspectives and analysis. Just let me know one thing, why was LTTE launching suicide attacks on innocent tamil people during initial period of 2009? Just because that they tried to surrender/flee?? That makes the struggles that happened all the years long to go meaningless and making less difference between SL army and LTTE. I may not know the complete scenario as our Tamilians faced live in SL, but let me know your answers please.

  8. Jagannath

    I am neither Tamil nor Srilankan. I am Telugu from Andhra Pradesh. Prabhakaran is a cold blooded murderer. He is not great. He even eliminated the other groups who fought for the justice of Tamilians in SriLanka. I understand that Tamilians were and are being discriminated in SriLanka. That does not mean you support his approach to achieve the justice. He ruined the Island for more than 2 decades and deserved to be killed. More than anything else he killed our Prime Minister for no reason.

  9. N

    There are some stories circulating that the wound to the head was due to an axe blow. Any Comments

  10. Krishna

    Sachi Sir

    My Guess is Prabharan would have met his death in the following way :
    1) A stray bullet would have hit his head without the person firing knowing that he has hit Prabhakaran
    2) Prabhakaran would have asked one of his own Body Guard to shoot him in the head .
    3) Prabhakarn could have consumed Cyanide and died and the SL army would have just chopped his skull to show he was hit by a bullet .

    But we have no way of knowing it for sure what happened in the final moments because his Body was never subject to scrutiny by people from Outside .
    As regards KP betraying Prabahakaran in the end by providing his co-ordinates to SL forces , my guess is he need not have done it but his phones could have been tapped as the communication system between KP and LTTE Top Brasses could not have been fool proof in the last stages of war and the enemy could have tapped their conversations . We must take in to account that KP was not just in touch with LTTE top brass during the war but also with other key people world over in trying to find a way out and hence KP’s Phones would have been monitored .As regards Daya Master he definitely defected to save his skin but I doubt whether he had any access to the co-ordinates of where Prabharan was in the end .

  11. Sachi Sri Kantha

    I thank the readers for appreciative and critical comments. I also noted the cynicism in Siva’s (Oct. 11, 2012) comments. His question to me is misdirected. As I mentioned in my commentary, I’m not an oracle, and I was not in touch with any of the LTTE leaders in 2009. At the sametime, I refrain from pontificating on half-baked, incomplete and inaccurate news leaks spread by LTTE’s adversaries (Indian tribes and some Tamils in Eelam included) for nefarious ends. Siva’s question should be directed to KP, as he was in touch with LTTE leadership. Krishna (Oct.15, 2012) should clarify and identify, who were these “other key people world over” with whom KP was in contact. Could one of them be Gotabhaya Rajapaksa? After his capture, other than Gotabhaya, KP had hardly mentioned any specific names.

  12. Krishna

    Sachi Sir

    I would not be surprised if KP was also in touch with Gotabhaya Rajapaksa as u need to keep your channels of communication with the top brass of the enemy for any truce ,surrender , etc .
    When I was referring to “other key people world over” ,I was basically referring to Norway and other countries including UN who were working towards a resolution of this problem and KP as the official communicator for the LTTE had to be in touch with them .
    A few days back this is what Eric Solheim of Norway said about his involvement with the LTTE in last stages of war to avoid excess bloodshed and I quote some basic inputs of him here :

    “Countries such as Japan, United States, European Union and the Norwegian government steps forward to establish peace in SriLankan and they also submitted special proposal this regard in year 2009. UN was also supported us.
    Except LTTE leader Prabhakarana and Pottu Amman all these others would be released under general pardon, this was our plan.
    LTTE international wing leader Kumaran Pathmanathan schedule to visit Oslo to hold final decision this regard.
    However at the last moment Prabhakarana stooped him. Our security officials visited Kollampur to provide security for Pathmanadhan. Later on it was informed it was unable to accept the proposal at last we couldn’t do anything. ”

    So from this it is very clear who KP was in touch with the end and it is also very clear that KP was in Kaula Lampur during this period . Now how far Eric Solheim is revealing the real truth of the last stage negotiations I do not know . Apart from KP there is no one from the LTTE side to verify the LTTE side of the last stage negotiations .
    So all I am trying to say is that KP was in touch with LTTE Top Brass as well as the enemy top Brass as well as the important people world over who were interested in putting the war to an end .

  13. Sachi Sri Kantha

    Thanks for your second comment. You had identified Eric Solheim as one person with whom KP might have been in touch. But, you also answered the question neatly, ‘how far Eric Solheim is revealing the real truth of the last stage negotiations I do not know.’ In hindsight, it is revealing that Solheim merely played the bucket carrier role to Uncle Sam. You also agree with my proposition that KP was in touch with Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. Now, considering how KP had switched sides (after a ‘merely 100 day-run’ as post-Prabhakaran LTTE leader), can you seriously rely on how much credibility KP’s words carry now? Negotiating for his team is one task. But, negotiating to save his own neck and give up the ideals for which he stood for many years, is a treason what KP had done to Eelam Tamils. This will be my last word in this interaction board.


    trans national Govt of Tamilellam ==TGTE–is not accepted by any Country .
    Not registered in any place..
    please get one country recognise first
    Please tell me why??
    this is very important

  15. Gounda

    MR Sachi, Have you met in person any of the LTTE top brass at any stage of your career?