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Tiger gang busted in ATM heist plot

A band of men linked to Tiger terrorists - led by a Sri Lankan who used a fake passport to get security clearance at Newark Airport - has been busted in a massive plot to loot city ATMs.

Manhattan prosecutors told the New York Daily News the eight men had ties to the terror group and were part of a scheme to use stolen credit card numbers to steal $250,000 in New York - and tens of millions from ATMs worldwide.

The six were nabbed in a raid at the Chelsea Inn, a reputed lair for the Sri Lankan separatist group.

The other two, including alleged ringleader Sivapalasri Velayuthampillai, 31, of Newark, were busted in July.

Until his arrest, Velayuthampillai worked three jobs at Newark Airport as a security agent and baggage handler with complete security clearance.

Prosecutors said Velayuthampillai entered the U.S. with a fake passport and dubious tale of persecution. He was given political asylum in December 2001 under circumstances still under investigation by District Attorney Robert Morgenthau.

“The defendant is part of a large, highly organized ring of international criminals who steal account and PIN numbers ... and then come to the United States to steal money from our financial institutions,” Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Kim Han said in court papers.

The U.S. and other Western governments consider the Tigers a terror organization. Velayuthampillai and the other alleged cell members came from families who emigrated from Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Somalia.

Prosecutors contend the men became part of a massive global identity theft scam last year when credit card numbers and PINs were stolen from thousands of customers at 200 gas stations in the United Kingdom. Han said Velayuthampillai had 30 forged cards on him when he was arrested in midtown in July and more than 400 bogus cards in his rented car, all bearing account numbers stolen from two U.K. gas stations.

British and Sri Lankan authorities say the proceeds from this kind of international ATM fraud are routed back to the Tamil Tigers, Han wrote.

This summer, Jane’s Intelligence Review said the Tigers raise up to $300 million a year through international credit card fraud, extortion and donations.

The Tigers are one of the world’s most ruthless and violent nationalist organizations. Thirty-two countries, including the U.S., have branded the Tigers a terrorist group.

Their sources of worldwide funding, in addition to credit card fraud, include sea piracy, human smuggling and drug trafficking, experts say.

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