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Judge weighs threat posed by Tamil Tigers

Man’s sentence in terror case hinges on final decision

By Tom Hays
Associated Press / October 16, 2010

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NEW YORK — More than three years after federal agents locked up a Sri Lankan immigrant they say was the top US representative of the Tamil Tigers, his fate may hinge on a complex question: Was the rebel group a terrorist threat to Americans?

Federal prosecutors who charged Karunakaran Kandasamy with supporting terrorism say the answer is yes. And they say he should get a stiff sentence — approaching 20 years — for raising money for the separatist group, which fought a 25-year war with the Sri Lankan government.

But a judge recently expressed his doubts.

The case against Kandasamy doesn’t neatly fit the definition of “a more obvious or garden-variety terrorism case, where . . . our security interests are compromised and the safety of our citizenry is in jeopardy,’’ US District Judge Raymond Dearie said this month at Kandasamy’s scheduled sentencing, which was postponed.

Assistant US Attorney Jeffrey Knox argued the Tamil Tigers had earned a State Department designation as a terrorist organization in part by putting US citizens living in Sri Lanka in harm’s way. He also said the group’s supporters in the United States extorted cash from Sri Lankan immigrants.

The Tamil Tigers pioneered and perfected technology for suicide bombings, Knox said. That technology “was borrowed and copied and sold on some occasions to other terrorist organizations — organizations like Al Qaeda,’’ he said.

Internal documents show the Tamil Tigers considered other terrorist groups as fellow freedom fighters, and had a policy of sharing black market arms shipments, he said.

The judge put off sentencing after Kandasamy — who has battled a spinal problem and other serious ailments since his arrest — asked for mercy.

“I love this country and its soil,’’ the 54-year-old former cabdriver said through an interpreter. “I’m sick and I’m afraid I’ll never live to be free with my family again.’’

No new sentencing date was set.

Kandasamy’s case inched forward as events his native country took a historic turn.

Last year, the Tamil Tigers admitted defeat in their 25-year war with the Sri Lankan government. The clash killed more than 70,000 people.

The rebels, who once controlled a de facto state in the island nation’s north, had been fighting for a separate state for minority Tamils after decades of oppression by the Sinhalese majority. They are responsible for hundreds of suicide attacks — including the 1991 assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, a former Indian prime minister.

Federal authorities in New York had sought to cut off support for the group by arresting sympathizers in their East Coast immigrant communities on charges of conspiring to provide material aid to a terrorist organization.

Some were accused of helping to buy explosives, missiles, anti-aircraft guns, and other weapons. Others, including Kandasamy, were tied to a covert campaign to raise and launder millions of dollars through a charity front organization.

Kandasamy, his lawyer said, raised money for a Tamil charity focusing on humanitarian causes.

Prosecutors counter that Kandasamy and others were well aware that their fund-raising was fueling violence.

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