Sun, Oct 01, 2006 - Page 5 News List

US arrests six in arms-related sting operation


Three people suspected as arms brokers for the Tamil Tigers were arrested as they thought they were closing a deal to send missiles, grenade launchers and other weapons to Sri Lanka, US prosecutors said.

The suspects, along with two people accused of trying to illegally buy military equipment for Indonesia's army and a suspected international arms dealer connected to both groups, were arrested on Thursday and Friday in Guam, where they had expected to finalize deals made with Maryland-based undercover agents, officials said.

Shopping for tigers

Those accused of buying weapons for Sri Lanka had arranged to buy Stinger missiles, grenade launchers, submachine guns, sniper rifles and night-vision devices, said Mark Bastan of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office in Baltimore.

"They had a plan to ship these weapons from Guam to members of the Tamil Tigers in the Indian Ocean, where they would then be used for their terrorist purposes," US Attorney Rod Rosenstein said.

Under the operation initiated by ICE, investigators posed as arms dealers, wining and dining one of those charged, Haniffa bin Osman, when he came to Baltimore in July to work out the deal.

Investigators even took him to a police firing range to test some of the guns, after removing any identifying signs, Bastan said.

Osman, 55, Erick Wotulo, 60, and Haji Subandi, 69, were charged in a three-count indictment unsealed on Friday with conspiracy to export arms and munitions, conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization and money laundering.

Thirunavukarasu Varatharasa, 36, of Sri Lanka, is also charged with being part of the conspiracy.

... and for Indonesia

Subandi, who federal authorities allege is an international arms dealer, is also charged with conspiracy to violate the arms export control act, along with fellow Indonesians Reinhard Rusli, 34, and Helmi Soedirdja, 33.

They are accused of seeking night-vision goggles and a holographic weapons sight for the Indonesian army without the proper licenses, Bastan said.

The Tamil Tigers are a rebel group that began fighting in 1983 for a separate state on the Indian Ocean island of Sri Lanka.

The group was added to the US 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 US.

Last month, U.S. officials in New York announced that eight emissaries of the terrorist organization had conspired to buy surface-to-air missiles in the US amid an escalating conflict with military forces in Sri Lanka.

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