The Justice Department announced the arrests Tuesday of 17 people believed to have been providing weapons, communications equipment, and money to Hizballah, a designated terrorist organization. Among the charged offenses are the provision of "material support" to a designated foreign terrorist organization, transportation and trafficking of stolen and counterfeit goods, money laundering, and fraud.
Two men, Hassan Hodroj and Dib Hani Harb, are accused of trying to provide material support to Hizballah with 1,200 Colt M4 Carbine machine guns and by selling fake passports, counterfeit money and stolen cash.
The investigation began in 2007 when an FBI undercover agent began transferring stolen cell phones and other electronic devices to Hassan Mahmoud Koumaiha and seven of his co-conspirators. From February 1, 2007 to November 1, 2008 the FBI provided the suspects with close to 30,000 stolen cell phones, Playstation 2 game systems, and laptop computers—all destined for Lebanon, Hong Kong, and the United Arab Emirates.
Although the purpose of these transactions remains unclear, if the cell phones were being transferred to Hizballah, as the indictments allege, there are a number of possibilities. It is well known that terrorist organizations engage in "traditional" criminal activities for the purpose of funding their violent jihad—for instance the use of cigarette smuggling. Just as likely, however, is that some or all of these phones were brought to Lebanon where they were provided to Hezbollah operatives for the purposes of having disposable cell phones for planning and carrying out attacks.
More than simply purchasing stolen electronics, over time the suspects attempted to acquire weapons for transfer to Lebanon. For instance, in March 2009 Dani Nemr Tarraf requested that the undercover agent procure guided missiles for the purposes of "shooting down airplanes or helicopters." The suspects also sought night vision, thermal imagining devices, military compasses, and military radio. While there may be a question as to the ultimate use of cell phones, it's difficult to envision a peaceful purpose for the items involved.
As Philadelphia's U.S. Attorney Michael L. Levy explained: "these cases show the breadth of the criminal activity engaged in by those who oppose us." If convicted Tarraf could face life in prison while his co-conspirators could each receive up to 5 years in prison.