News from the tri-border area:
US asks Paraguay to extradite suspected Hezbollah financier
The United States has asked Paraguay to extradite a Lebanese national suspected of funneling money to the Shiite militant group Hezbollah from the South American nation, court sources said Wednesday.
Mussa Ali Hamdan, 38, was arrested Tuesday in Ciudad del Este, part of the Triple Frontier, a region the United States has repeatedly cited as being exploited by militant groups that “finance terrorist activities.”
Hamdan is accused of 31 crimes, according to Interpol. The US extradition request cites his alleged material support for Hezbollah “including falsified documents.”
The suspect is also accused of counterfeiting US currency and conspiracy to commit passport fraud, according to the request.
Hamdan appeared Wednesday before judge Hugo Sosa Pasmor to confirm his identity as part of an extradition request, and then was transferred to Asuncion’s Tacumbu penitentiary.
Local media, citing local security officials, have said Hamdan was financing Hezbollah, which fought a devastating 2006 war with Israel and is blacklisted as a terror group by Washington.
A cosmopolitan area and significant tourist spot, the Triple Frontier is also considered a major spot for smuggling and other organized crime. Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina however deny their shared region is a hotbed for terror financing.
Hat tip Dan Collins.
Hamdan is wanted in Philadelphia,
Commissioner Antonio Chena, who runs the local Interpol office, says Moussa Ali Hamdan is accused in Philadelphia of 30 crimes, from counterfeiting money and documents to trading stolen cellphones and videogames. The most serious accusation in his arrest warrant is that he exported stolen cars to Lebanon to finance terror organizations there.
Hamdan is a former resident of West Collingswood, New Jersey,
authorities last year over his alleged role in what officials called a U.S.-based Hezbollah terror cell was arrested in Paraguay on Tuesday and faces extradition to the United States, authorities said.
Moussa Ali Hamdan, 38, a native of Lebanon who for a time lived in a $600-a-month efficiency apartment in West Collingswood, was a central figure in a four-year probe led by the FBI’s Philadelphia Joint Terrorism Task Force.
Investigators were digging into the terrorist organization’s fund-raising and weapons procurement in the United States.
Hamdan, a naturalized U.S. citizen, 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 resold some of the merchandise for personal profit, according to authorities. But he smuggled a portion of the merchandise to be sold overseas to benefit Hezbollah, they allege.
Hamdan proved to be a pivotal figure in the investigation. He led undercover agents and informants working with the investigation to high-level Hezbollah operatives who sold counterfeit cash and sought to purchase assault weapons to be shipped overseas, according to the indictment.
The investigation resulted in the November indictments of 26 suspected Hezbollah operatives and sympathizers in federal court in Philadelphia. Among them was Dani Tarraf, an alleged Hezbollah weapons procurement officer who authorities say gave undercover agents a $20,000 down payment on Stinger antiaircraft missiles.
Patricia Hartman, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Philadelphia, said Wednesday that her office was seeking Hamdan’s extradition. She could not give a timetable on how long that process could take.
Hamdan fled the country before he could be arrested in the United States last year, authorities said.
Working with Paraguayan police and Interpol officials, task force investigators tracked Hamdan to Ciudad del Este, a crime-ridden city in the loosely policed “tri-border” region of Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina. The area is a hotbed of Hezbollah activity and fund-raising, said Matthew Levitt, a terrorism expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
“His arrest there underscores the global nature and reach of Hezbollah’s financial and logistic support,” he said.
Hamdan was arrested after somebody tried to obtain a Paraguayan national identification card for him, law enforcement sources said.
According to the Associated Press, Commissioner Antonio Chena, who runs the Interpol office in Paraguay, said Hamdan would be jailed in Asunción, the country’s capital, pending a formal extradition request. Under Paraguayan law, he can be held there for six months.
And get a hold of this:
With the help of Hamdan, a deal was brokered for Harb to sell the 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.
Harb led investigators farther up the Hezbollah chain of command. Last June, he arranged a meeting between an FBI informant and Hassan Hodroj, a member of Hezbollah’s political bureau, in Beirut.
Hezbollah wanted 1,200 Colt M4 machine guns, a model used by U.S. special forces, and would pay $1,800 per gun, Hodroj said, according to the indictment. They were to be shipped to a port in Syria.
By November, law enforcement sources said, undercover agents had persuaded Harb to travel from Lebanon to Philadelphia, where he was to inspect the guns and provide a down payment.
Investigators planned to wait in Philadelphia and arrest Harb just as they had Tarraf, the sources said.
But high-level infighting between U.S. intelligence agencies prevented Harb from acquiring a visa, said the sources, who said Harb’s apprehension could have led to another major arrest and invaluable intelligence.
According to this article, he’s originally from Brooklyn,
A New York man was arrested in Paraguay and ordered held Wednesday pending extradition to the United States on charges of conspiring to finance the Iranian-backed group Hezbollah, which Washington classifies as a terrorist organization.
Moussa Ali Hamdan, 38, of Brooklyn, N.Y., is accused of trafficking in stolen cell phones, video games, computers and cars with the aim of financing and supporting Hezbollah with counterfeit money and documents. He faces 25 years in prison if convicted of 31 crimes detailed in an indictment filed in November in Philadelphia.
Prosecutors say Hamdan began buying what he thought were stolen goods from a U.S. government informant in late 2007, and the alleged conspiracy grew from there.
Hamdan and nine other suspects allegedly agreed to sell the informant counterfeit currency and buy and sell stolen goods to raise money for Hezbollah, which forms part of Lebanon’s coalition government as a political movement.
Specifically, Hamdan is accused of fencing and exporting more than 1,700 cell phones, 400 Sony PlayStation 2 systems, and three used cars. He also allegedly met with the informant to discuss the sale of counterfeit U.S. currency to support Hezbollah.
His Paraguayan lawyer Elizabeth Amarrila says the accusations are false.
Hamdan, who has dual U.S.-Lebanese citizenship and carried his U.S. passport, spoke briefly to a Paraguayan television station after his arrest, saying he came to Ciudad del Este with several friends in search of work. He said he has been falsely accused by U.S. police only because he’s Muslim — and that if he were Christian, they would not have charged him.
Patty Hartman, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Philadelphia, confirmed Hamdan’s arrest and said U.S. authorities are seeking his extradition. She declined further comment.
I’ll be talking about this in today’s podcast at 11AM Eastern.