Two Sri Lanka-born Tamils – Sathajhan Sarachandran and Nadarasa Yogarasa – have been sentenced to 26 and 14 years in prison, respectively. by a United States federal court in connection with the attempted purchase of US$1 million worth of weaponry for the separatist Tamil Tigers (LTTE). The sentences were handed down on Friday by Chief US District Judge, Raymond J. Dearie.
According to a communiqué from the American embassy in Colombo, Sarachandran, Yogarasa and two co-defendants were arrested on Long Island on August 19, 2006 in an FBI sting operation. They had been negotiating with an undercover FBI agent to purchase and export 20 SA-18 heat-seeking missiles, 10 missile launchers, 500 AK-47s, and other military equipment for the LTTE.
In January 2009, Sarachandran pleaded guilty to providing, conspiring to provide, and attempting to provide material support to the LTTE, and conspiring and attempting to acquire guided surface-to-air missiles and missile launchers. Yogarasa pleaded guilty to attempting to provide material support to the LTTE and conspiring to do so, the US Embassy said.
“The defendants attempted to use this district as a terrorist arms depot,” said United States attorney in Brooklyn, Benton J. Campbell. “The sentences handed down today send a clear message that we will use the full force of the law to stop terrorist organisations and their supporters in their tracks,” he said. The defendants had been 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 to LTTE leader Velupillai Prabakharan. The LTTE intended to use the SA-18 missiles to shoot down Kfir aircraft used by the Sri Lankan military.
The prosecution was the result of a coordinated international effort by law enforcement officials led by the Newark Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, with assistance provided by more than 20 of the FBI’s Field Offices, including New York City, New Haven, Buffalo, Seattle, Baltimore, Chicago, and San Jose; the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Connecticut; the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE); the US Department of State; the Royal Canadian Mounted Police National Security Program; and British law enforcement authorities.
In 1997, the US State Department declared the LTTE a Foreign Terrorist Organisation, and therefore prohibited from legally raising money or procuring equipment or materials in the United States.
Over the past 17 years, the LTTE had conducted approximately 200 suicide bombings, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of victims, and carried out numerous political assassinations. These include the May 1991 assassination of the Indian Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi; the 1993 assassination of Sri Lanka President Ranasinghe Premadasa; the July 1999 assassination of Neelan Thiruchelvam, a member of the Sri Lanka parliament; the June 2000 assassination of C. V. Goonaratne, the Sri Lanka Industry Minister; the August 2006 assassination of Ketheeswaran Loganathan, deputy secretary general of the government’s peace secretariat; the January 2008 assassination of the Minister for Nation Building, D. M. Dassanayake, and the April 2008 assassination of Highways Minister, Jeyaraj Fernandopulle.