Wed, Aug 23, 2006 - Page 1 News List

US charges supporters of Tamil Tigers over arms

AP , NEW YORK AND COLOMBO

Emissaries of the Tamil Tigers rebel group conspired to buy surface-to-air missiles from a black-market source in the US amid an escalating conflict with military forces in Sri Lanka, authorities said.

Newly unsealed criminal complaints also allege the defendants sought to have the group removed from a list of terrorist organizations and to obtain classified intelligence by bribing US officials.

The eight defendants, all men, were involved in "the procurement of military equipment, communications devices and other technology, fundraising and money laundering through charitable organizations and a myriad of other criminal activity, including conspiracy to bribe public officials," according to the court papers released on Monday.

At a hearing in federal court, six defendants, all 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. Two other defendants were held elsewhere.

A defense attorney confirmed Nachimuthu Socrates, described in court papers as a Tamil Tigers supporter based in North America, had been arrested in Connecticut.

"We plan to fully and vigorously contest the charges," said his lawyer, Gerald Del Piano.

Socrates, an engineer who was born in India and came to the US in 1976, was arrested early on Monday, a family member said.

Authorities said he made interim bribery payments connected to the schemes. They said he tried to buy a classified intelligence document that referred to a US investigation into a charity suspected of being a front for a Tigers fundraising organization.

The US Department of State added the Tamil Tigers, which began fighting in 1983 for a separate state in Sri Lanka's northeast, to its list of foreign terrorist organizations in 1997. The designation bars the group from raising money, obtaining weaponry or lobbying for support in the US.

In a police operation, undercover agents posing as Department of State officials were offered millions of dollars in a series of secret meetings in a New York apartment, one of the complaints said.

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