MELBOURNE, Australia – Police on Tuesday arrested two men accused of raising money for Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger rebels on the pretext of collecting donations for victims of the devastating 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, police said.
The two men, aged 32 and 36 but not further identified, were arrested in raids in the southern city of Melbourne after an two-year investigation by Australian Federal Police and officers from Victoria state. Two raids related to the investigation also were conducted in Sydney.
Both were charged with three offenses: intentionally being a member of a terrorist organization, providing support to a terrorist organization, and with intentionally receiving funds from or making funds available to a terrorist organization. They face up to 25 years in prison if convicted.
There was no evidence the men were planning an attack in Australia, said Frank Prendergast, a senior federal counterterrorism officer.
The Sri Lankan rebel group, known formally as Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, is listed as a terrorist group in Australia.
"It will be alleged in court that these men are members of an organization engaging in terrorist activity overseas and they have been providing active, material support to that group," Prendergast told reporters. "Tsunami relief appeals were used as a vehicle for some of the fundraising."
The Tigers began fighting for an independent homeland for Sri Lanka's Tamil minority in 1983 following years of discrimination by the majority Sinhalese. The conflict has killed at least 69,000 people. A 2002 cease-fire brought a brief respite, but fighting has increased steadily since 2005.
Sri Lanka was among the hardest-hit of a dozen countries struck by killer waves churned up by a massive undersea earthquake on Dec. 26, 2004. At least 35,000 Sri Lankans were among the 230,000 people killed in the disaster, including many in the Tamil-controlled northeast.