Six indicted in arms brokering for Tamil Tigers and Indonesia
Associated Press Writer
BALTIMORE (AP) _ Arms brokers for the Tamil Tiger terrorist group are charged with trying to buy missiles and other weapons through undercover agents in Maryland, along with arms dealers who tried to get military equipment for the Indonesian Army, federal officials said Friday.
Haji Subandi, a suspected international arms dealer from Indonesia, was at the center of two conspiracies to buy weapons and other military equipment, said U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein.
``The common tie between the two conspiracies is that members of both conspiracies dealt with a suspected international arms dealer named Haji Subandi, who acted as a broker and arranged for military equipment to be purchased,'' Rosenstein said at a news conference in Baltimore.
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 U.S. 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 United States.
In one conspiracy, Subandi made numerous requests to the undercover agents between March 2004 and April 2006 on behalf of Tamil Tigers to acquire night-vision goggles, special forces weaponry, communication devices, sonar technology and unmanned aerial vehicles, according to a federal indictment.
Subandi, 69, has been charged with Haniffa Bin Osman, 55, and Erick Wotulo, 60, in a three-count indictment unsealed Friday. They are charged 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, also is charged with being part of the conspiracy.
Wotulo, who identified himself to undercover agents as a retired Indonesian Marine Corps general, submitted a purchase order in June to a dummy business set up by U.S. investigators for weapons totaling about $3 million, authorities said. Osman told undercover agents that if the first order was successful, a second order could be worth as much as $15 million.
In another conspiracy, Subandi is charged with conspiracy to violate the arms export control act, along with Reinhard Rusli, 34, and Helmi Soedirdja, 33. The three are Indonesian citizens. They allegedly conspired to ship night-vision goggles and a holographic weapons sight to customers in Indonesia, according to the indictment.
All the men were arrested Thursday and Friday in Guam, where they met to examine the weapons, which weighed 3.5 tons and filled up 14 pallets in a truck, said Mark Bastan, acting special agent in charge of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Baltimore.
``They had a plan to ship these weapons from Guam to members to the Tamil Tigers in the Indian Ocean, where they would then be used for their terrorist purposes,'' Rosenstein said.
The weapons waiting for them included grenade launchers, submachine guns, sniper rifles and night-vision devices, Bastan said.
Bastan said the weapons were intended to be used against the Sri Lankan government, but it was unclear whether they were to be used for a specific attack.
Authorities said that among the weapons Osman sought to purchase were surface-to-air missiles.
``The indictment quotes one defendant as saying that the Stinger missiles were for the Tamil Tigers to use in downing Israeli aircraft flown by Israeli pilots in Sri Lanka for the Sri Lankan Air Force,'' Bastan said.
Under the operation initiated by ICE, investigators posed as arms dealers, wining and dining Osman when he came to Baltimore in July to work out the deal. Investigators even took him to the Havre de Grace police department's firing range near the Susquehanna River to test some of the guns.
``We just took the police signs off'' the range, Bastan said, describing the set up.
Last month, U.S. officials in New York announced that eight emissaries of the rebel group had conspired to buy surface-to-air missiles in the United States amid an escalating conflict with military forces in Sri Lanka. The men charged in that case also tried to get the Tamil Tigers removed from a list of terrorist organizations and sought to bribe U.S. officials for classified information, according to a criminal complaint.
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Published: Fri Sep 29 15:35:13 EDT 2006