Defendants Were Caught in an FBI Undercover Sting Operation Attempting to Purchase Surface-to-Air Missiles, Missile Launchers, and Hundreds of AK-47 Automatic Rifles
NEW YORK, Jan. 25 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Earlier today, at the federal courthouse in Brooklyn, defendants Thiruthanikan Thanigasalam and Sahilal Sabaratnam were sentenced to 25 years in prison and five years of supervised release in connection with their efforts to purchase almost $1 million worth of high-powered weaponry for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a designated foreign terrorist organization. The sentences were imposed by Chief U.S. District Judge Raymond J. Dearie. In January 2009, Thanigasalam and Sabaratnam pleaded guilty to conspiring and attempting to provide material support to the LTTE and conspiring and attempting to acquire guided surface-to-air missiles and missile launchers.
On Aug. 19, 2006, Thanigasalam, Sabaratnam and two co-defendants were arrested on Long Island, N.Y., after engaging in negotiations with an undercover FBI agent to purchase and export 20 SA-18 heat-seeking missiles, ten missile launchers, 500 AK-47s and other military equipment for the LTTE. The defendants were 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 LTTE was founded in 1976 and uses illegal methods to raise money, acquire weapons and technology and publicize its cause of establishing an independent Tamil state in northern Sri Lanka. The LTTE began its armed conflict against the Sri Lankan government in 1983, and utilizes a guerrilla strategy that often includes acts of terrorism. With an army of several thousand combatants, the LTTE has, until recently, controlled most of the northern and eastern coastal areas of Sri Lanka. Over the past 17 years, the LTTE has conducted approximately 200 suicide bombings, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of victims, and carried out numerous political assassinations, including the May 1991 assassination of former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, the 1993 assassination of the President of Sri Lanka, Ranasinghe Premadasa, the July 1999 assassination of Neelan Thiruchelvam, a member of the Sri Lankan parliament, the June 2000 assassination of C.V. Goonaratne, the Sri Lankan Industry Minister, the August 2006 assassination of the Sri Lankan government's peace secretariat, Ketheshwaran Loganathan, the January 2008 assassination of Sri Lankan Minister for Nation Building, D.M. Dassanayake, and the April 2008 assassination of Sri Lankan Highways Minister, Jeyaraj Fernandopulle.
In 1997, the LTTE was designated by the U.S. State Department as a Foreign Terrorist Organization and therefore may not legally raise money or procure equipment or materials in the United States.
The government's case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Greg D. Andres, Marshall L. Miller, Andrew E. Goldsmith and Jeffrey H. Knox.
Thiruthanikan Thanigasalam, also known as "Thani"
Sahilal Sabaratnam, also known as "Sahil"
SOURCE U.S. Department of Justice