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Leader of Armenian terrorist group gets 12 years

By AURELIO ROJAS

LOS ANGELES -- The reputed leader of a local cell of an Armenian terrorist organization that staged a series of bombings to extort money and avenge the arrest of comrades was sentenced Monday to 12 years in prison.

Vicken Tcharkutian, 34, who pleaded guilty Nov. 11 to five counts stemming from the incidents in 1981 and 1982, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge David Kenyon.

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Defense attorney Dennis Landin, who argued his client was a changed man and disputed the government's assertion that he was the leader of the Los Angeles unit of the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia, had asked Kenyon to limit Tcharkutian's prison sentence to five years.

But the judge followed the recommendation of Assistant U.S. Attorney Terree Bowers, who argued the case had international significance on U.S. terrorist policy since Tcharkutian admitted he conspired to bomb the Swiss Consulate in Los Angeles and an Air Canada warehouse at Los Angeles International Airport.

Authorities said the two buildings were targeted in an attempt to obtain the freedom of jailed Armenian terrorists in Canada and Switzerland. The bombs were defused by police, but bombs planted by the group at the Swiss Bank Corp. in Los Angeles and a Hollywood carpet store exploded. No one was hurt in either incident.

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Tcharkutian, a former designer at the Fluor Corp. in Irvine, pleaded guilty to the two bombings and two attempted bombings and to threatening physical harm to demand $150,000 for the secret army's cause from Ted Haserjian, the president of Carpeteria, a carpet store chain.

Three other members of the group were previously given lesser sentences, including Hratch Kozibioukian, a goldsmith who told authorities that Tcharkutian threatened to harm his family if he failed to carry out the bombings.

Bowers told reporters the Los Angeles cell of the terrorist organization, which was believed to have had links to several Middle East terrorist groups, is now considered extinct.

Before he was sentenced, Tcharkutian told the judge he regretted his actions and explained he was driven by his dedication to the Armenian cause. The terrorist group is seeking an independent Armenian homeland in eastern Turkey and Turkish acknowledgement of guilt for the 1915 massacre of Amernians.

'I ought to have believed less and thought more,' said Tcharkutian, whose family, including wife and 3-year-old son, filled an entire row in the courtroom.

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