It's an American-led investigation, but nine of the arrested suspects are now known to have links to Canada. In fact, New York prosecutors allege Tamil Tiger operatives from north of the border were the driving force behind a host of conspiracies, all aimed at subverting U.S. laws meant to ban support for terrorist organizations.
U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation agents, working with Canadian police, quickly rounded up a dozen suspects this past week. But the rapid-fire arrests came only after years after spying, infiltrating and patiently gathering intelligence about the Tamil Tigers. While it has long been feared that the separatist guerrillas had a very active presence in North America, authorities have never exposed the network until now.
Terrorist blacklists are to meant starve groups such as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam of money, weapons and legitimacy. Prosecutors say LTTE conspirators tried to get around the law by bribing U.S. officials to lift the ban on support, and further allege the suspects tried to trick all kinds of organizations - including high-tech companies in Toronto, the University of Waterloo, Vancouver-based military outfitters and British military contractors - into helping them get weapons and equipment for the Tamil Tigers.
In the jungles of Sri Lanka, the guerrillas have long told outsiders they do not prevail on a diaspora of Tamil refugees for arms or funds. They say they simply steal what's needed from the enemy army.
Yet the FBI has chronicled a very different story: As a civil-war ceasefire continues to fall apart in Sri Lanka, the agency says it has discovered that the Tamil Tigers want radio towers, missile-launchers, AK-47s, night-vision goggles - even software to design warships. And they are asking their sympathizers abroad to get it.
"Waterloo Suresh" was a big man on campus, at least among Tamils. On several occasions, the electrical engineering student urged his fellow students to open their hearts and their wallets to Tamil orphans affected by war or the 2004 tsunami.
Yet the U.S. criminal complaint against him alleges he procured military equipment as early as 2004. The FBI says he started out by helping obtain communications-tower equipment before moving on to bigger things.
The suspect, whose real name is Suresh Sriskandarajah, contacted a British warship-design firm and asked to buy $22,000 worth of software for the Tigers, according to the U.S. criminal complaint against him. The document further alleges the suspect said he needed the software for a University of Waterloo design project, and tried to legitimize that story by sending a note on the letterhead of ATI Technologies, a Markham, Ont.-based computer-chip maker.
The FBI further accuses Mr. Sriskandarajah of buying night-vision goggles for the Tigers.
Waterloo Suresh turned 26 last month. Another recent University of Waterloo graduate, Ramanan Mylvaganam, 30, is charged with being his co-conspirator.
Waterloo Suresh was known for pleading for Tamil causes after he accompanied 25 other Canadian Tamil students on a trip to Sri Lanka, which coincided with 2004's deadly tsunami.
Another current suspect, Sathajhan (Satha) Sarachandran, was also on that journey to the war-ravaged nation, witnessing the devastation of the flood waters that killed thousands. Last weekend, he seemed destined for happier times abroad. Border agents say that when they stopped his car, he said he and some friends were heading south to Buffalo for a bachelor party.
But the FBI knew that story was not true because they had been taping the suspect's conversations for three weeks. The agents had been working to snare him in a sting.
Federal agents used a New York drug dealer turned informant. He needed to stay out of jail, a new job and a means of staying in the country. The FBI needed a native Tamil speaker to infiltrate the Tigers.
The FBI says that Satha, the informant, and a man pretending to be an arms dealer were looking at crates of assault rifles and shoulder-launched missiles when agents arrested them in a Long Island warehouse last week.
Two others Canadians who made the car journey to New York, Sahilal (Sahil) Sabaratnam and Thiruthanikan (Thani) Thanigasalam, were also arrested on the spot. Police say a fourth man, Piratheepan (Peter) Nadarajah, apparently had been turned away at the border before being arrested in Toronto this week.
For the FBI, the arms-sale sting represented a tidy three-week turnaround from start to finish. But they and their star Tamil informant had been working another angle as early as 2002.
The head of the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka had sent emissaries to the United States with the specific goal of getting the terrorist ban on the group lifted. The informant's instructions were to meet those emissaries and their U.S. friends and invite them to his Staten Island apartment.
The informant did so, telling his new friends he had high-level government contacts. He said he could get the ban lifted, but "the LTTE would have to pay him millions," according the criminal complaint filed in New York.
The negotiations went on for years. There was talk of also getting the U.S. to stop selling arms to Colombo and of ways to smuggle illegal immigrants into the United States. Before long, federal agents pretending to be corrupt State Department officials were also attending meetings in the apartment.
The FBI says it taped the meetings. On one of those tapes, a suspect is alleged to have said "we sent millions" to the Tamil Tigers through a prominent charity, the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization.
The FBI sat on the intelligence for a long time. It watched what the suspects were doing, and who they were talking to in Canada before connecting the dots and moving to make the arrests.
Several Canadians are accused of assisting in the bribery conspiracy, including two brothers from Buffalo - Thileepan Patpanatha and Sujeepan Patpanathan - who had recently moved there from Montreal.
Another former University of Waterloo Student, Thirukumaran Sinnathamby, is also accused of being part of the conspiracy.