US prosecutors on Tuesday accused 10 people of having supported the Shiite militant group Hizbollah with weapons, fake passports, counterfeit money, stolen laptops and game consoles. It was the second set of such charges to be brought in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA in as many days. Four of the men were indicted yesterday - three from Lebanon and a fourth, Moussa Ali Hamdan, from New York - on charges of "conspiring to provide material support to Hizbollah." They faced 15 to 30 years in prison. Another six were charged with related crimes.
Forged in the early 1980s in response to Israel's invasion of Lebanon, Hizbollah has long been labelled a terrorist organization by the United States and Israel, although it is also a major political party in Lebanon. According to the indictment, Hassan Hodroj and Dib Hani Harb of Beirut sought to export to the port of Latakia in Syria about 1,200 Colt M-4 machine guns in June at a price of some US$1,800 (Dh6,600) a piece with the help of a contact who was in fact an undercover federal agent.
With the help of Mr Hamdan and fellow Lebanese Hasan Antar Karaki, Mr Harb is also accused of having sought to support Hizbollah using proceeds from the sale of fraudulent passports, stolen money and about US$9,200 in counterfeit American currency hidden inside a photo album. Mr Harb told the undercover agent that the genuine stolen money came from a string of robberies led by Hizbollah supporters and later smuggled into Lebanon to raise funds for the group.
He also claimed that "Iran manufactured high-quality counterfeit US currency for the benefit of Hizbollah," the indictment said. Mr Hamdan and three others - two Americans and a Venezuelan - were charged with having spearheaded the trafficking of over 1,500 mobile phones, nearly 150 laptop computers, 400 Sony PlayStation 2 systems and three cars starting around late 2007. The goods - which the undercover agent presented as stolen and sold to the defendants for a total of over 153,000 dollars in New Jersey and Pennsylvania - were transported to New Jersey, New York, Benin, Lebanon and Margarita Island, Venezuela.
Mr Hamdan, Hamze el Najjar and Alaa Allia Ahmed Mohamed of Brooklyn, New York, Moustafa Habib Kassem of Staten Island, New York, Maodo Kane of the Bronx, New York and Michael Katz of Plainsboro, New Jersey were charged with having purchased several thousands dollars worth of purportedly counterfeit goods. Among the merchandise were over 5,500 pairs of Nike shoes and 334 Mitchell & Ness sports jerseys.
"Today, through the well-coordinated effort of all involved agencies, a blow has been struck to Hizbollah's efforts to fund its terrorism activities," said Special Agent-in-Charge Janice Fedarcyk of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Philadelphia division. Assistant Attorney General for National Security David Kris noted that "the allegations contained in this complaint demonstrate how terrorist organizations rely on a variety of underlying criminal activities to fund and arm themselves."
Five Lebanese nationals were charged on Monday for engaging in similar trafficking activities, including dual Slovakia and Lebanon resident Dani Nemr Tarraf, who allegedly sought to ship anti-aircraft Stinger missiles and about 10,000 Colt-M4 machine guns to Syria and other ports. * AFP