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DateLine Sunday, 8 April 2007

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Sri Lankan Tamil to stand alone in US trial

Another accused in the second sting operation against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE), the Singaporean arms dealer Haniffa Bin Osman pleaded guilty, United States Attorney Rod Rosenstein said in a statement.

Isolating the only Sri Lanka Tamil accused in this case all others by now have pleaded guilty.

Four Indonesians and Osman have so far pleaded in this case arising out of a sting operation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation with the US Customs in which six people have been charged for conspiring to smuggle sophisticated weapons to a group listed as foreign terrorist group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam. The 55 year old Singaporean became the latest person to plead guilty in this case.

On trial

"The disruption of the supply chain of this organisation should reassure the public that the US government is committed to dismantling terrorist groups worldwide," said FBI special agent William Chase. All face long jail terms.

A Sri Lankan Tamil who is the sixth person in this case, Thirunavukarasu Varatharasa, is scheduled to go on trial next month on charges of conspiracy, attempting to export arms, money laundering and illegal possession of weapons.

"Keeping sophisticated US weapons from falling into the hands of terrorists has never been more important," said James Dinkins, special agent for the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Baltimore.

"This three-year undercover investigation...highlights the reach and impact of international arms trafficking."

The Tamil Tigers, another name for the LTTE have been listed as a foreign terrorist organisation by the United States since 1997.

US attorney Rod Rosenstein said the Singaporean arms Agent, Haniffa Bin Osman had pleaded guilty Thursday April 5 to the charges of conspiracy to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organisation and to money laundering.

In a statement, the Justice Department said that Osman conspired with two Indonesians to buy 53 military weapons, including sniper rifles, machine guns and grenade launchers as well as ammunition and night-vision devices for the LTTE. They contacted an undercover business in Maryland to request a price list and negotiate a deal... The statement further pointed out.

As the undercover operation went on, Osman met in July with undercover FBI agents in Baltimore to discuss transferring the arms to vessels in the Indian Ocean to be delivered in Sri Lanka.

He made inquiries about the cost of unmanned aerial vehicles, and test-fired several weapons including machine guns and sniper rifles in a make shift poice firing range camouflaged.

Osman told the under cover agents that if the first order, for some US$ 900,000 of supplies, went without a hitch a second one worth 15 million dollars could follow, the Justice Department statement said in a statement.

In August some US$ 250,000 was wired from a Malaysian bank to an undercover US bank account as a down payment for the weapons' purchase, it further said.

Osman then travelled to Guam to inspect the weapons including two surface-to-air missiles, and a second down payment of US$ 452,000 was made. They wanted to buy the missiles to down the Israeli made kfirs.

Smuggling weapons

Osman was joined in Guam by retired Indonesian General Erick Wotulo, 60, and they both met with undercover agents to discuss shipping the weapons to Sri Lanka.

They were both arrested in September in Guam.

"We will issue all available legal tools to prevent terrorism, including undercover operations targeting people who attempt to obtain military weapons in violation of American law," US Attorney Rod Rosenstein, further pointed out.

The other Indonesians charged in the case are Haji Subandi, 70; Reinhard Rusli, 34 and Helmi Soedirja, 33.

They along with Wotulo are scheduled to be sentenced in the coming months while, Osman is expected to be sentenced in June.

 

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