August 23rd, 2006 05:51 EST
FBI Sting Operation Nets Suspects in Sri Lanka Arms Trafficking By Lea Terhune
Washington – An investigation involving law enforcement agencies in three countries has landed alleged participants in a scheme to obtain arms for Sri Lanka’s rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in jail without bail.
Eight men were arrested in the course of two sting operations orchestrated by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The men were arraigned and charged with crimes “including conspiracy to provide material support and resources to a designated foreign terrorist organization,” according to an FBI statement.
In two complaints filed August 21 in the U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, New York, the suspects were charged with attempting to procure Russian-made SA-18 surface-to-air missiles, missile launchers, AK-47s and other weapons, equipment and “dual use technology” for the Tamil Tigers. The men also were charged with “fundraising and money laundering through ‘front’ charitable organizations and U.S. bank accounts.”
One complaint says the men attempted to obtain classified information and tried to bribe U.S. public officials to remove the LTTE from the State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations.
Four of the men were arrested in Long Island August 19 after traveling from Canada to New York for the purpose of purchasing arms “from an agent acting in an undercover capacity,” the FBI stated.
According to the complaint filed against them, Nadarasa Yogarasa (Yoga) and Sathajhan Sarachandran (Satha) met in Queens, New York, on July 31 and, in a recorded conversation, Satha “discussed the types of weapons he wanted to purchase on behalf of the LTTE, specifically, surface-to-air missiles to be used against ‘the Kfir,’ a reference to the Israeli-made Kfir fighter jet aircraft used by the Sri Lankan military against the LTTE.”
On August 19, another meeting was arranged with Yoga, Satha, Sahilal Sabratnam (Sahil) and Thiruthanikan Thanigasalam (Thani). They spoke with two undercover officers for several hours about their shopping list and financial arrangements, a conversation that also was recorded. Thani reportedly asked for weapons to destroy boats, among other items.
In a separate sting operation, which spanned more than a year, suspects Murugesu Vinayagamoorthy, Nachimutu Socrates and others met with undercover agents posing as U.S. State Department officials to negotiate a $1 million “up-front payment” in return for getting the LTTE off the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations.
The complaint states that in December 2005, Socrates paid a bribe of $1000 for a document purported to contain classified information, but “it was created by the FBI for purposes of the investigation.” The FBI says e-mail accounts were used to inquire about purchasing arms, unmanned aerial vehicles for jamming radio transmissions and radar and other sophisticated technology.
Arrests were also made in Buffalo, New York, Simsbury, Connecticut, San Jose, California, and Seattle, Washington. Three of the men arrested were American citizens. Others were from India, Canada and Sri Lanka. Several other suspects, whose names were redacted from the two formal complaints that were made public, still are being sought by law enforcement agencies. One of them is alleged to be a kingpin of the network, “a principal liaison” between the LTTE and its foreign supporters.
“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, adding, “We will use every tool in our power to disrupt the activities of those who seek to harm others, both here and abroad.”
The investigation, led by the Newark Division of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, drew on resources from 20 FBI field offices across the country, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the U.S. State Department. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police National Security Program and British law enforcement agencies also participated.
FBI Special Agent-in-Charge Leslie G. Wiser Jr., said, “This weekend’s operation has severely impaired the Tamil Tigers’ ability to acquire funding and weapons for their ongoing terror operations in Sri Lanka.”
Reuters said Tamil Tiger military spokesman Rasiah Ilanthiriyan denied a link with the suspects, saying, “We don’t have any connection with those people. It is not our way of operating.”
The LTTE has waged a bloody insurgency punctuated by trademark suicide bombings in Sri Lanka for two decades in a struggle for a separate homeland for the country’s Tamil minority. Numerous Sri Lankan politicians have died in suicide bomb assassinations, including President Ranasinghe Premadasa in 1993. The 1991 assassination of Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi is also attributed to the LTTE. More than 60,000 people are thought to have died in the conflict.
Although a cease-fire agreement was signed in 2002, it has unraveled since the LTTE unleashed a new wave of fighting on the northeastern Jaffna Peninsula in July. Sri Lankan armed forces retaliated by pounding the area with air strikes and artillery barrages. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees says more than 100,000 people have fled their homes and more than 1,000 have died in the recent violence.
Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksha told United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan on August 19 that “doors for negotiation are very much open,” but the fighting continues.
Since 1997 the LTTE has been on the U.S. list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations, which makes fundraising for them illegal in the United States.