Four people, three of whom were Toronto based Sri Lankan Tamils, have pleaded guilty in a New York court to charges that include conspiring to acquire anti-aircraft missiles and provide material support to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a designated terrorist organisation.
The four were caught in a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) undercover sting operation while attempting to purchase surface-to-air missiles, missile launchers, and hundreds of AK 47 automatic rifles, the Department of Justice said. The FBI and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police had launched Project O-Needle to unearth the plot.
The defendants - Sathajhan Sarachandran, 29, aka Satha, Sahilal Sabaratnam, 29, aka Sahil, Thiruthanikan Thanigasalam, 40, aka Thani and Nadarasa Yogarasa, 54, aka Yoga - pleaded guilty to the charges before Chief US District Judge Raymond J. Dearie Monday and Tuesday.
When sentenced, Thanigasalam, Sabaratnam and Sarachandran face a statutory sentence of 25 years to life imprisonment. Nadarasa faces a statutory sentence of up to 30 years of imprisonment.
The four defendants were arrested on Long Island on Aug 19, 2006 after three of them engaged in negotiations with an undercover FBI agent to purchase and export 10 SA-18 heat-seeking anti-aircraft missiles and launchers, 500 AK 47s, and other military equipment for the LTTE. The deal was struck at a cost of $900,000.
The defendants were allegedly acting at the direction of senior LTTE leadership in Sri Lanka, including Pottu Amman, the LTTE's chief of intelligence and procurement and the right-hand man of LTTE leader Velupillai Prabakharan.
The weapons were to be used by the LTTE to shoot down Kfir aircraft used by the Sri Lankan military, the FBI said.
In 1997, the LTTE was designated by the US State Department as a foreign terrorist organisation that cannot legally raise money or procure equipment or materials in the US.
"For nearly two decades the LTTE has waged its war of terror at home and abroad, making suicide bombings its trademark," stated US Attorney Campbell.
"With these convictions we have sent a clear message that the LTTE and its supporters cannot use the US as a source of supply for deadly weapons and technology, and that all terrorists who attempt to do so will be met with the full resources of law enforcement."
Three other Sri Lankan Canadians, who were arrested at that time for their alleged role in arms procurement and extortion from Toronto's Tamil community, are also undergoing trial in Canada for extradition to the US to face the American court.