A Canadian engineering graduate from Waterloo, Ont., pleaded guilty in New York Tuesday to being part of a terrorist procurement cell securing sophisticated military technology for the Tamil Tigers, including submarine and warship design software, and laundering money,the National Post Canada reports.
Suresh Sriskandarajah, 32, known by the nickname Waterloo Suresh, used students as couriers to smuggle prohibited items into Tiger-controlled territory in Sri Lanka.
Between September, 2004, and April, 2006, he and several co-conspirators helped a Tiger procurement officer research and acquire aviation equipment, submarine and warship design software, night vision equipment and communications technology, prosecutors said.
On Tuesday afternoon, in a near-empty courtroom in Brooklyn, Sriskandarajah admitted he provided support to the Tigers knowing it was designated as a terrorist group, saying he met his co-accuseds while visiting Sri Lanka.
Sriskandarajah could face up to 15 years in prison but likely will be sentenced to far less, perhaps even to the time he has already served in custody pending trial after his arrest in Toronto in 2006.
Although born in Sri Lanka, Sriskandarajah is a Canadian citizen and will be deported to Canada at the completion of his sentence.
“The defendant helped the LTTE, an organization that pioneered terrorist tactics and has killed numerous civilians in brutal terrorist attacks, obtain sophisticated military technology and equipment,” said United States Attorney Loretta Lynch after the plea.
“Claiming to fight for freedom, the LTTE instead created a climate of fear and bloodshed, systematically assassinating those who stood in the way of their terrorist goals.”
Despite the harsh words from the prosecution, Sriskandarajah was not seen as a typical, or unreformable, terrorist.
Articulate and bright, having earned three university degrees and learned three languages, he was president of the University of Waterloo Tamil Students Association. He was entrepreneurial and built websites for corporations and charities.
He said he became active in the Tamil struggle after traveling back to Sri Lanka after the 2004 tsunami.
Sriskandarajah was one of six Toronto-area men arrested in 2006, accused in a joint FBI-RCMP probe of providing weapons and equipment to the Sri Lankan rebels, officially called the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. (The LTTE was designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. in 1997 and by Canada in 2006.)
Sriskandarajah was extradited to New York in December after a six-year legal battle in Canada that went to the Supreme Court.
“This is not what I’m supposed to be doing,” he told the National Post in 2010.
“I don’t want to waste my life in custody. I just want to forget about this and move on and become a productive member rather than wasting time in jail. I just want to see this resolved and move forward in life and contribute back to society.”
That he made for an unusual terrorist was even noted by the U.S. federal judge hearing his case.
In February, Judge Raymond Dearie refused him bail “with some reluctance.”
“The seriousness of the charges cannot be overstated,” Judge Dearie wrote; the evidence against him — given the conviction of six others, three of them Canadian, in related trials — is likely “more than ample,” he wrote.
Still, he was tempted to grant release citing the “many supportive letters” on his behalf, the fact he was on bail in Canada while fighting extradition, and even had a letter from the government of Sri Lanka urging authorities to abandon his prosecution because of “his publicly recognized efforts to secure a lasting, peaceful reconciliation for the Tamil people.”
The letter was unexpected, as Judge Dearie noted: “Given the history of Sri Lanka’s prolonged and bitter conflict,” the request was “an extraordinary initiative that evidences Suresh’s legitimate and admirable work.”
Even Judge Dearie’s reference to him by his first name only suggests an atypical reaction of the U.S. court system towards a terrorist.
The Sri Lankan civil war ended in 2009 with the defeat of the Tigers.
Another Canadian, Piratheepan Nadarajah, 36, still faces terrorism charges in the U.S. for his alleged role in a related plot to buy $1-million worth of AK47 assault rifles and surface-to-air missiles for the Tamil Tigers.