Three Lebanese nationals and one U.S. resident were charged yesterday with attempting to obtain 1,200 M4 military assault weapons for Hezbollah, in the second set of such charges in as many days from Philadelphia.
An alleged Hezbollah arms dealer was arrested in Philadelphia on Saturday, and U.S. Attorney Michael L. Levy said, "We are dealing with two different groups trying to buy M4s."
Three of the four men charged yesterday are still in Lebanon. A fourth man, identified as Moussa Ali Hamdan of Brooklyn, N.Y., is also overseas, according to prosecutors. Apprehending them is likely to be problematic.
Both the earlier allegation - that the Hezbollah arms supplier attempted to buy Stinger antiaircraft missiles and other weapons - and yesterday's charges grew out of the same investigative effort by the FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said a senior ICE official in Washington.
The new case involves an informant who the indictment indicates has resided in Philadelphia.
The senior ICE official said the investigations were significant because "this one is the first in a while in which we've seen direct [attempted] arms sales."
"These were two networks of individuals connected to Hezbollah, all connected through a cottage industry," he said, referring to charges that both groups bought and sold stolen and counterfeit merchandise. ICE, the Department of Homeland Security's primary law enforcement agency, plays a major role in the effort to curb the illegal export of military goods.
An additional six men also indicted in the latest case allegedly participated in the purchase and transportation of stolen cell phones, laptops, computer games, and automobiles. They are from Brooklyn; Staten Island, N.Y.; Michigan, and Plainsboro, N.J., and do not face charges that they acted to support Hezbollah.
Five of those men are in custody in Philadelphia.
On the charges of supporting Hezbollah, the indictment says Dib Hani Harb of Beirut e-mailed the "cooperating witness" and asked for photographs of firearms available. On June 20, the informant met with a Hezbollah official and discussed selling weapons.
Three days later, Harb and a second Lebanese national, Hassan Hodroj, allegedly said they would buy 1,200 M4s for $1,800 per weapon. The indictment does not allege that any weapons changed hands.
The informant also discussed the sale of counterfeit U.S. currency, and in April met in Florida with Harb, who allegedly told him Hezbollah worked "18 to 20 hours a day counterfeiting many currencies."
In September, about $9,200 in fake currency allegedly was mailed to the informant in Philadelphia.
Harb and a third Lebanese, Hasan Antar Karaki, also allegedly supplied the informant with two fake passports, one for the United Kingdom, the other for Canada. The allegations are that the men raised money for Hezbollah by producing and selling fake passports.
Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.), a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said the latest charges "seem to confirm a new avenue of support from, of all places, inside the United States. This is a significant and troubling development."
The timeline in the indictment indicates the informant first got involved with the Lebanese by supplying them with supposedly stolen goods.
The merchandise, including hundreds of cell phones and at least one vehicle, was purchased in Pennsylvania or New Jersey and then shipped to New York, Benin, Lebanon, and Venezuela, according to the indictment. It was provided by the informant and is described as "purportedly" stolen.