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6 Indicted on Arms Brokering Charges

September 29, 2006

BALTIMORE (AP) _ Three people suspected as arms brokers for the Tamil Tiger terrorist group were arrested as they thought they were closing a deal to send missiles, grenade launchers and other weapons to Sri Lanka, federal prosecutors said Friday.

The suspects, along with two people accused of trying to illegally buy military equipment for Indonesia’s army and a suspected international arms dealer connected to both groups, were arrested Thursday and Friday in Guam, where they had expected to finalize deals made with Maryland-based undercover agents, officials said.

Those accused of buying weapons for Sri Lanka had arranged to buy Stinger missiles, grenade launchers, submachine guns, sniper rifles and night-vision devices, said Mark Bastan of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Baltimore.

``They had a plan to ship these weapons from Guam to members of the Tamil Tigers in the Indian Ocean, where they would then be used for their terrorist purposes,″ U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein 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.

Under the operation initiated by ICE, investigators posed as arms dealers, wining and dining one of those charged, Haniffa Bin Osman, when he came to Baltimore in July to work out the deal. Investigators even took him to a police firing range to test some of the guns, after removing any identifying signs, Bastan said.

Osman, 55, Erick Wotulo, 60, and Haji Subandi, 69, were charged in a three-count indictment unsealed Friday 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.

Subandi, who federal authorities allege is an international arms dealer, also is charged with conspiracy to violate the arms export control act, along with fellow Indonesians Reinhard Rusli, 34, and Helmi Soedirdja, 33. They are accused of seeking night-vision goggles and a holographic weapons sight for the Indonesian army without the proper licenses, Bastan said.

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.

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.