U.S. Alleges 8 Tried to Aid Sri Lankan Rebels
Emissaries of the Tamil Tigers rebel group conspired to buy surface-to-air missiles in the United States amid an escalating conflict with military forces in Sri Lanka, authorities said Monday.
The eight men also tried to get the Tamil Tigers removed from a list of terrorist organizations and sought to bribe U.S. officials for classified information, newly unsealed criminal complaints allege.
At a hearing in federal court in Brooklyn, six men of Sri Lankan descent were ordered held without bail on charges of conspiring to provide material support to a terrorist organization. If convicted, each could face up to 15 years in prison. The other two defendants were in custody outside New York.
A defense attorney confirmed Nachimuthu Socrates, described in court papers as a Tamil Tigers supporter, had been arrested at his Simsbury, Conn., home.
“We plan to fully and vigorously contest the charges,” said attorney Gerald Del Piano.
Authorities said Socrates paid bribes and tried to buy a classified intelligence document. The document referred to a U.S. investigation into a charity suspected of being a front for a Tigers fundraising organization.
The rebel group, which began fighting in 1983 for a separate state in the Indian Ocean island, was added to the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations in 1997. The designation bars the group from raising money, obtaining weaponry or lobbying for support in the U.S.
In a sting operation, undercover agents posing as State Department officials were offered millions of dollars during a series of meetings in a New York City apartment, one complaint said.
At a meeting in July 2005, Socrates asked undercover agents whether they “could stop the United States government from sending arms to the Sri Lankan government” and “provide intelligence about this issue,” the papers said. Another defendant “made it clear that he had traveled to the United States on behalf of [the Tamil Tigers’] senior leadership in Sri Lanka,” the complaint said.
Other defendants were recorded in a separate sting last month in Queens negotiating the purchase of 10 Russian-made missiles and 500 AK-47 assault rifles, prosecutors said.
The Tamil Tigers fought for almost two decades for a separate homeland for Sri Lanka’s 3.2-million ethnic Tamil minority.