The top U.S. representative of the Tamil Tigers, a rebel group designated as a foreign terrorist organization, orchestrated a covert campaign to finance its escalating conflict with military forces in Sri Lanka, federal prosecutors said Wednesday.
Karunakaran Kandasamy was arrested in Queens and was awaiting arraignment in Brooklyn on charges of providing material support to the Tamil Tigers. If convicted, he faces up to 15 years in prison.
In the past several years, the group has “covertly operated within the United States, drawing on America’s financial resources and technological advances to further its war of terror in Sri Lanka and elsewhere,” U.S. Attorney Roslynn Mauskopf said in a statement.
The arrest was the latest attempt by American authorities to cut off support for the group, which according to court papers has engaged “in terrorist tactics, including suicide bombings and political assassinations” while fighting for an independent homeland for ethnic minority Tamils in the island nation’s north and east.
Last year, its emissaries were charged in Brooklyn with conspiring to buy surface-to-air missiles. Prosecutors also alleged the defendants tried to bribe U.S. officials to remove the group from the terrorism list.
Kandasamy, as director of the American branch of the Tamil Tigers based in Queens, raised hundreds of thousands of dollars, the court papers said. He also allegedly arranged for rebel leaders to meet in Sri Lanka, in South Asia, with supporters “with backgrounds in engineering, technology, weaponry, medicine and scientific fields.”
The Tamil Tigers have fought the Sri Lankan government since 1983, seeking independence from the ethnic Sinhalese-dominated country after decades of discrimination.
A 2002 truce temporarily halted the civil war there that had killed at least 65,000 people, but more than 4,000 people have died since late 2005. The violence had flared again as the government pushed to retake rebel-held territory in the east and the rebels struck back with bombings, an air raid and attacks at sea.