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Italy Holds Tamil Tiger Members

By Sabina Castelfranco
18 June 2008

Italian police have arrested some 30 suspected members of Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger rebel group in pre-dawn raids across the country, as part of a 2-year counter-terrorism investigation. Police said the Sri Lankan suspects extorted money from fellow nationals to finance the rebel group's activities at home. For VOA, Sabina Castelfranco reports from Rome.

Italian police say the arrests in several cities in Italy came at the end of a two-year counter-terrorism investigation. At least 30 suspected members of Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger rebel group were arrested in an operation coordinated by Naples police. Most of those arrested 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's boss was also arrested in Zurich. The Sri Lankans were allegedly involved in extorting money from fellow nationals in various Italian cities including Rome, Genoa, Bologna, Naples and Palermo.

Police said some $4.5 million were being funneled to Sri Lanka every year to help the rebel group finance illegal activities including terror attacks against the government, institutions and other civilian targets at home.

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

Sbordone said the organization was very well structured and hierarchical with a boss in Europe, others in Italy and deputy bosses in various areas and regions of Italy.

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

Sbordone also said that those arrested were involved in extortion of fellow nationals who had been living in Italy for years and were forced to pay monthly sums of money to the organization. They were told that if they did not pay up there would be serious repercussions not only to them but their family members back home.

Investigators said wiretaps were widely used as part of the investigation that led to the early morning arrests. Tamil Tiger rebels have fought since 1983 to create an independent homeland for Sri Lanka's ethnic minority Tamils.

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