A former Camden County resident extradited from Paraguay this week on charges of helping to finance the extremist group Hezbollah made his initial appearance Friday in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia.
Moussa Ali Hamdan, 38, a Lebanese native who for a time lived in a $600-a-month efficiency apartment in West Collingswood, was indicted in Philadelphia in 2009 along with nine other alleged Hezbollah operatives and sympathizers. The indictments were part of a four-year probe led by the FBI's Philadelphia Joint Terrorism Task Force in which more than two-dozen suspects were indicted and arrested in sweeps from Philadelphia to Michigan.
According to court records, Hamdan, a naturalized U.S. citizen, introduced undercover agents and informants to high-level Hezbollah operatives seeking to purchase assault weapons to be shipped overseas.
Hamdan fled the U.S. in 2009, shortly before he was indicted, authorities said. In June, investigators tracked him to Ciudad del Este, a violent region along the Paraguay border known as a Hezbollah hotbed. He was held in Paraguay until Thursday when he was flown on a U.S. government plane to Washington and then quickly transported to Philadelphia.
In Friday's brief hearing, Hamdan, handcuffed and wearing a green prison jumpsuit, appeared jittery and nervous, telling Magistrate Timothy Rice he could not afford an attorney since "friends" had stolen most of his savings while he was in Paraguay. Hamdan was held pending a detention hearing next week.
"These are certainly serious allegations," Hamdan's court-appointed attorney, Jeff Lindy, said afterward. Lindy said his client was "scared and looked as if had been crying" before the hearing.
Hamdan worked as a carpet installer in Cinnaminson in 2007 and 2008, and operated a low-end car dealership along Route 130. During that period, he bought more than $154,000 worth of what he thought were stolen electronics and cars from undercover agents, authorities said. Many of the meetings took place in the Deptford Mall parking lot. Hamdan smuggled some of the merchandise to be sold overseas to benefit Hezbollah, the indictment said.
The investigation provided a rare glimpse into Hezbollah's international fund-raising and weapons buying operations, experts said.
According to the indictment, Hamdan helped arrange a deal where a Hezbollah operative would sell an informant $1 million in counterfeit money. The first installment of the fake cash, about $10,000, was mailed to Philadelphia hidden in photo albums, the indictment said.
The high-level operatives also sought to buy 1,200 Colt M4 machine guns from undercover agents, authorities said.
Among the others indicted in 2009 was Dani Tarraf of Slovakia, an alleged Hezbollah weapons-procurement officer who authorities say gave undercover agents a $20,000 down payment for Stinger anti-aircraft missiles. He was arrested in Philadelphia in 2009 and has since pleaded not guilty.
If convicted on all charges, Hamdan faces 260 years in prison.