Rohan Gunaratna

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Rohan Gunaratna

Rohan Gunaratna is a Singapore-based "terrorism expert" at The Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies (IDSS) where is currently an Associate Professor. Previously he was a research assistant at St. Andrews' University (Scotland)'s Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence (CSTPV) where he was listed as an "acknowledged expert on terrorism in South Asia". He is the "former principal investigator of the UN's Terrorism Prevention Branch, Gunaratna has been called the world's top expert on Al Qaeda". As a Sri Lankan, his area of expertise is in the Tamil Tigers, a militant Tamil separatist group. Of the publications listed at the CSTPV, Gunaratna has authored four - all of which relate specifically to Sri Lanka's Tamil insurrection. However, since September 11, he has been a prolific commentator on global terrorism and often appearing as a terrorologist pundit. He recently visited Australia, where he made a number of widely reported, ill-substantiated, and unchallenged, claims that there were several "child-killing terrorist groups" operating in Australia, hiding behind community and humanitarian fronts, whilst manipulating the Australian government through powerful lobbying of politicians.


  • 2004-: Associate Professor, The Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies (IDSS), Singapore. Where his Research Interests are listed as follows: Terrorist organisations; terrorist operational and support networks; maritime terrorist tactics, technologies and techniques; suicide terrorism; and terrorism in the Asia-Pacific.
  • 1996-2003: Masters degree at Notre Dame University, went on to complete his doctorate at Scotland’s St. Andrews University, and was appointed research fellow at the university’s Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence.[1]
  • 1984-1994: Office of the Science Adviser to the Sri Lankan President; also doing research and consultancy work for the World Bank and the US Agency for International Development.

Critical assessment

Amir Butler writes about Gunaratna:[2]

Dr Rohan Gunaratna has emerged as the go-to guy for media outlets wanting to get an academic spin on terrorism. Feted as an expert on terror, he has traveled the world, speaking to governments, think tanks and appearing on television from the BBC to O'Reilly. CNN described him on August 19, 2002 as, "Rohan Gunaratna, an expert on al Qaeda who was called on to address Congress, the United Nations and the Australian Parliament following the September 11 attacks". He even recently appeared in the middle of the John Walker Lindh trial as an expert for the defence. He then went on a tour of the world's media making claims based on his private "interviews" with Lindh. Gunaratna's work was also used to smear the Islamic party in Malaysia (PAS) as being linked to the al-Qaeda organisation. Given this relatively high profile and status as an authority on Islamic terror, it is surprising to know that this man who was, until recently, listed as a Research Assistant from St Andrew's University in Scotland had never produced a single publication dealing with Arab or Muslim terrorism prior to September 11. On the contrary, Gunaratna's experience and prior work has been entirely in Sri Lankan separatism, particularly the Tamil Tigers.

On September 27, 2001, the Sydney Morning Herald reports Gunaratna's declaration that he had "evidence" of numerous terrorist groups active in Australia, including Hamas, and that Australia must establish an "anti-terrorist unit" to root them out. The article reports that, as has become characteristic, Gunaratna declines to mention his source or any evidence to support these accusations. Interestingly, Gunaratna warned that liberal laws are to blame - a theme that remains consistent in his Quixotic adventure. Despite Gunaratna's claims of compelling evidence, neither the Australian government nor its law enforcement apparatus, have admitted any such presence or taken steps to eradicate it. On the same day, the UK's Financial Times reported that Gunaratna had labeled Germany the base for al-Qaeda in Europe. Again, he blamed the "tight limits on how intelligence and police officials can gather evidence against suspects, a strong civil liberties tradition and easy access to education and welfare provision".

It is impossible to know whether Gunaratna is an exaggerator, a liar, absent minded, careless, or simply ignorant of the facts. The answer is, however, irrelevant. Regardless of the reason, these inconsistencies, lack of proof and outrageous, unsupported claims should make Gunaratna a completely incredulous source for information on terrorism. That Gunaratna has, till now, been able to peddle his tabloid-style sensationalism to an accepting and largely unquestioning audience is a sad indictment on some sections of the media and also a reflection of the blanket of hysteria that has covered much of society since September 11.


Publications by Gunaratna

External Resources


Phone: 6790 4491 (Singapore)
Web Site:

Resources and articles

Related Sourcewatch


  1. Advisory Council, Centre for Conflict and Peace Studies Afghanistan, accessed December 12, 2010.
  2. Editorial Board, Terrorism and Political Violence, accessed January 13, 2011.