August 21, 2006

US arrests over a dozen for Tamil Tiger support

By Christine Kearney

NEW YORK (Reuters) - More than a dozen people have been
arrested in the United States on suspicion of trying to provide
money and weapons including surface-to-air missiles to Sri
Lanka's Tamil Tiger rebels, U.S. officials said on Monday.

The arrests were made across the nation -- including New
York, New Jersey and Seattle, Washington -- in the past several
days following an undercover operation spanning more than 10
countries that probed support of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil
Eelam (LTTE). More arrests were expected.

The rebel group, which has fought for two decades for an
ethnic Tamil homeland, was designated by the United States in
1997 as a foreign terrorist organization.

The suspects shuttled between Canada, the United States and
Britain and are accused of agreeing to buy military equipment,
including shoulder-held surface-to-air missiles to shoot down
Sri Lankan military jets, according to a complaint unsealed on

The complaint also accuses the suspects of raising money
through "front charitable organizations," money laundering and
conspiring to help the rebel group "bribe its way off the
Foreign Terrorist Organization list."

"These defendants allegedly sought to obtain, through a
variety of means, weapons and materials to carry out a deadly
campaign of violence," U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales
said in statement.

The charities investigated included the Tamil
Rehabilitation Organization, which has transferred large sums
of money from London to Sri Lanka, and the World Tamil
Coordinating Committee, said Newark FBI spokesman Steve Siegel.


In one New York sting operation, authorities arrested
several suspects who had agreed to pay more than $900,000 for
hundreds of AK-47 rifles and 50 to 100 Russian-made
surface-to-air missiles to shoot down the "Kfir," an
Israeli-made fighter jet used by the Sri Lankan military,
according to the complaint unsealed in Brooklyn federal court.

The suspects drove from Canada to meet with a confidential
informant and two undercover agents posing as a black market
arms dealer and a military expert. In New York they were shown
samples of the weapons and "laughed" at the number of deaths
they would cause, the complaint said.

They discussed using bank accounts in Switzerland and other
offshore locations to transfer the funds before they were
arrested at the end of the meeting, the complaint said.

In another sting operation, suspects closely connected to
the rebels' leadership in 2004 and 2005 promised more than $1
million to law enforcement officers posing as State Department
officials to remove the group from the foreign terrorist
organization list, a separate complaint said.

The suspects also offered money to view classified
documents involving investigations of one of the charities, and
one of them traveled to London to communicate to Tiger
leadership in Sri Lanka, the complaint said.

Prosecutors say being on the foreign terrorist list
prevented the rebel group from legally raising money or buying
equipment in the United States and hampered efforts to portray
itself as a legitimate "liberation" movement.

Analysts say a 2002 cease-fire reached between the Tiger
rebels and the Sri Lankan government appears dead and that a
civil war that has already killed 65,000 has resumed.