Two Canadians sentenced in Tamil missile-buying case

Mon Jan 25, 2010 4:43pm EST
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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Two Canadian men who pleaded guilty to conspiring to buy anti-aircraft missiles and other equipment for the Tamil Tigers rebel group in Sri Lanka were sentenced on Monday to 25 years in a U.S. prison.

Thiruthanikan Thanigasalam, 41, and Sahilal Sabaratnam, 30, were among four men arrested in Long Island, New York, in 2006 in an FBI sting operation as they tried to buy surface-to-air missiles, missile launchers and hundreds of AK-47 assault rifles to be used against Sri Lankan forces, prosecutors said.

The two other men, who pleaded guilty, were sentenced to prison terms of 26 and 14 years on Friday.

Last May, Sri Lanka announced it had taken control of the entire country for the first time since 1983, bringing an end to its decades-long war against the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

The U.S. State Department considers the group, which had been fighting for an independent state in the north and east of the Indian Ocean island, a foreign terrorist organization.

"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 Prabhakaran," U.S. Attorney Benton Campbell said in a statement.

"The LTTE intended to use the SA-18 missiles to shoot down Kfir aircraft used by the Sri Lankan military."

U.S. District Judge Raymond Dearie handed out the sentences, which are to be followed by five years of supervised release.

(Reporting by Basil Katz; editing by Daniel Trotta and Todd Eastham)