Italy Holds Tamil Tiger Members

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18 June 2008

Italian police have arrested some 30 suspected members of Sri Lanka'sTamil Tiger rebel group in pre-dawn raids across the country, as partof a 2-year counter-terrorism investigation.

Police said the Sri Lankansuspects extorted money from fellow nationals to finance the rebelgroup's activities at home. For VOA, Sabina Castelfranco reports fromRome.

Italian police say the arrests in several cities inItaly came at the end of a two-year counter-terrorism investigation. Atleast 30 suspected members of Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger rebel group werearrested in an operation coordinated by Naples police. Most of thosearrested had permits to live in Italy and had jobs as domestic helpers.

Police in Naples said the operation dubbed "Home Tigers"effectively dismantles the Tamil Tiger network in Italy. The network'sboss was also arrested in Zurich. The Sri Lankans were allegedlyinvolved in extorting money from fellow nationals in various Italiancities including Rome, Genoa, Bologna, Naples and Palermo.

Policesaid some $4.5 million were being funneled to SriLanka every year to help the rebel group finance illegal activitiesincluding terror attacks against the government, institutions and othercivilian targets at home.

Antonio Sbordone, head of the Naples counter-terrorism investigative police unit, was in charge of the operation.

Sbordonesaid the organization was very well structured and hierarchical with aboss in Europe, others in Italy and deputy bosses in various areas andregions of Italy.

Investigators also said the organization spread hatred of the Sri Lankan majority among the ethnic minority Tamils.

Sbordonealso said that those arrested were involved in extortion of fellownationals who had been living in Italy for years and were forced to paymonthly sums of money to the organization. They were told that if theydid not pay up there would be serious repercussions not only to thembut their family members back home.

Investigators said wiretapswere widely used as part of the investigation that led to the earlymorning arrests. Tamil Tiger rebels have fought since 1983 to create anindependent homeland for Sri Lanka's ethnic minority Tamils.

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