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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 June 2018

US charges three men with exporting drone parts to Hezbollah

The United States considers Hezbollah - which has used drones since at least 2004 - a terrorist organisation. 

The US considers Hezbollah a terrorist group. Mohammed Zaatari, File / AP
The US considers Hezbollah a terrorist group. Mohammed Zaatari, File / AP

US authorities have charged three men with conspiring to export drone parts and technology from the United States to Hizbollah.

The US Attorney's office for the state of Minnesota said two of the suspects — brothers Usama and Issam Hamade — are now in custody in South Africa, while the third, Samir "Tony" Berro, remains at large. All three are Lebanese citizens. Usama "Prince Sam" Hamade also has South African citizenship, while Berro and Issam Hamade are also UK citizens.

The US considers Hezbollah - which has used drones since at least 2004 - a terrorist organisation.

The indictment alleges that the conspiracy operated from 2009 until December 2013. It says the equipment included electronics that can be used in drone guidance systems, one jet engine and 20 piston engines that can be used in drones, and a pair of digital video recording binoculars.

The updated indictment unsealed on Friday was dated October 11, 2017, but the original was filed in 2015 and kept sealed to keep the investigation secret from the three men.

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The brothers were arrested on Tuesday in South Africa for extradition to the US to face trial in Minnesota, according to another prosecution filing on Friday. They appeared before a magistrate there and were ordered held, pending another hearing on February 26. Usama Hamade is a South African resident. The filings do not say where Issam Hamade lives, but that he would visit his brother in South Africa.

The parts involved in the alleged conspiracy included inertial measurement units, which can be used to track an aircraft's position, and digital compasses, which can be paired with the IMUs for drone guidance systems. The indictment does not name the companies that made the parts, but the model names and numbers indicate that the IMUs were manufactured by the California-based Systron Donner Inertial and that the digital compasses were made by Honeywell International's operations in suburban Minneapolis.

The jet engine was sold by an unnamed Indiana company, while the piston engines were sold by an unnamed Florida company. The model number indicates the digital binoculars were made by Sony. None of the items could legally be exported to Hezbollah, the indictment said.

Berro controlled SAB Aerospace, a company based in Dubai, the indictment said, adding that the defendants had most of the items shipped to Lebanon and Hezbollah through the UAE and South Africa. One shipment of piston engines also went through Minnesota.

Usama Hamade falsely claimed the IMUs and digital compasses would be used in drones in South Africa to monitor wildlife to prevent poaching, the indictment said. As part of the conspiracy, the indictment added, Issam Hamade made nearly $174,000 (Dh639,015 ) in wire transfers from a bank in Beirut to accounts controlled by his brother.