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 Post subject: "Tamil Tigers raise about a million dollars a day"
 Post Posted: Thu Aug 24, 2006 3:50 am 
"Tamil Tigers raise about a million dollars a day"
Analysis: Tamil terror bust 'shows threat'

Counter-terrorism specialists said that the Tamil Tigers had a highly sophisticated fund-raising machine. Mia Bloom, a former counter-terrorism consultant to the New Jersey state Department of Law and Public Safety, who now lectures at the University of Georgia said that through the tithing or taxation system known as nandavanan, the group was able to raise about a million dollars a day from diaspora Tamils. She said the figure was an estimate she had heard from both non-profits working in Sri Lanka and Western intelligence services.

By SHAUN WATERMAN
UPI Homeland and National Security Editor
© Copyright 2006 United Press International


WASHINGTON, Aug. 23 (UPI) -- The alleged efforts by U.S. and Canada-based supporters of the Tamil Tigers to buy weapons in New York represents an alarming departure from their traditional activities, which have been restricted to raising funds and political support.

Counter-terrorism specialists said that the Tigers, armed separatists fighting the government of Sri Lanka for an ethnic homeland, had a highly sophisticated fund-raising machine in Canada, but had never attempted to procure weapons in North America before.

Two U.S. federal criminal complaints unsealed Monday charge eight named men and seven others with a series of offences including attempting to buy shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles and AK47 assault rifles for the group, and plotting to bribe State Department officials to remove it from a list of terrorist organizations.

According to the complaints, those accused in the sting operations include "senior ... supporters" of the group, formally known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam, or LTTE, who "have direct and frequent contact with LTEE leadership in Sri Lanka and are often dispatched by the LTTE to countries around the world, including the United States, to facilitate LTTE projects."

The complaints say that the group's supporters in the United States have been under investigation since 1999.

"This was a long-term intelligence gathering operation," Steven Siegel, spokesman for the FBI's Newark field office told United Press International.

"Recently, the individuals concerned became more and more determined in their efforts" to acquire advanced weapons and sophisticated dual-use technology like night-vision goggles, GPS equipment and software programs to assist in the design of submarines, said Siegel.

He said 14 people were in custody in various locations in the United States and Canada. The first arrests took place Friday following a meeting in Long Island, N.Y., with undercover FBI agents during which four LTTE supporters agreed to buy 500 assault rifles, 10 Russian-made SA-18 shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles and training for the missiles for $900,000.

According to the complaints, the chain of events that ended with the meeting about the missiles was initiated with a phone call on July 30. But some of the other activities charged date back much further. They include the bribery of a purported U.S. immigration official to issue fraudulent travel documents to several aliens to allow them to enter the United States, which dates back to October 2001.

Siegel said that hundreds of federal agents from 20 FBI field offices in the United States and law enforcement agencies in 10 countries abroad had taken part in the investigation.

Other arrests followed this week in San Jose, Calif., Seattle, Wash., Buffalo, N.Y., Connecticut and Canada. More were expected, he said.

Peter Chalk, a senior analyst with the defense think tank the RAND Corp., told United Press International the development was "worrying."

He said Canada and to a lesser extent the United States were "very important hubs for fundraising and propaganda work," for the group, which was designated a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. government in 1997.

He said that while the Tigers were famous for their sophisticated arms procurement capability, they had previously restricted themselves to Southern Africa, Southeast Asia, and to a lesser extent Eastern Europe.

"They have always gone out of their way to present as clean an image as possible" in North America, he said.

"It's a real change in tactics," agreed Mia Bloom, a former counter-terrorism consultant to the New Jersey state Department of Law and Public Safety, who now lectures at the University of Georgia.

She said that through the tithing or taxation system known as nandavanan, the group was able to raise about a million dollars a day from diaspora Tamils. She said the figure was an estimate she had heard from both non-profits working in Sri Lanka and Western intelligence services.

The complaints include charges of laundering and illegally raising funds for the group, and quote one of the defendants as saying "we have sent millions" to the Tigers through fake charities.

The defendant, Vijayshantar Patpanathan, went on to explain that, in the words of one complaint, "in total more money is raised in Canada, but that the LTTE relies more heavily on donors in the United States for more time sensitive financing needs."

Both Bloom and Chalk said they were concerned that the apparent change might presage a more operational stance by the group's supporters.

Chalk said the group had restricted its activities in North America to avoid attracting law enforcement attention and to shore up political support in the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora.

"If they're starting to abandon that restraint," said Chalk, "the issue is where the line is now."

Bloom said the change in stance meant "The question is, will they start attacking Sri Lankan targets" in North America.

Aaron Mannes, a researcher at the University of Maryland, agreed that "there is little question that they have the ability" to launch terrorist attacks in the United States and Canada. "The issue," he said, "is what would push them into that kind of action."

Mannes said he personally considered any terrorist attacks by the Tigers in North America "highly unlikely. But you can't rule it out."

Siegel would not comment on any possible threats posed by the group in North America, beyond saying "That's why (the FBI and other federal agencies) are out there -- to stop terrorist attacks."


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