Updates below the fold.
By John Shiffman | Philadelphia Inquirer
It began in 2007 with the sale of stolen cell phones and PlayStation2 systems to a fencing operation in Detroit, one with alleged links to the terrorist organization Hezbollah.
Over two years, the ring bought more than 20,000 stolen phones, hundreds of video consoles and Nike shoes. The group’s appetite grew. It began to order laptops and military gear destined for Beirut. It even paid for stolen BMWs to be shipped overseas.
And for nearly two years, an undercover agent in Philadelphia kept selling the ring whatever it wanted, patiently laying the trap.
On Saturday, the FBI said, it lured its big fish to Philadelphia, an alleged arms dealer for Hezbollah, and arrested him during a sting, charging him with trying to buy Stinger missiles and machine guns for “the Resistance” in Lebanon.
Federal authorities in Philadelphia today unveiled the two-year undercover terrorism investigation, charging five men–three with dual residency in Slovakia and Lebanon, one from Lebanon and one from Centerville, Ga.–with participating in a ring that shipped stolen goods to ports in Beirut, Casablanca, Dubai and Hong Kong.
Only one man was charged with a crime related to terrorism – and the U.S. government alleges that he planned to use the Stinger missiles and machine guns against enemies in the Middle East, not the United States.
Dani Nemr Tarraf, a 39-year-old resident with residences in Trnava, Slovakia and Lebanon, was arrested Saturday in Philadelphia, after he allegedly arrived to inspect missiles and the guns he planned to ship to Syria.
A federal magistrate ordered Tarraf held without bond until a hearing Dec. 7. His lawyer, Marc Neff, said he had not yet met his client and declined to comment.
Eight other defendants–five of them from Dearborn, Mich.–were charged in Philadelphia in a separate but related indictment alleging that they bought stolen cell phones, counterfeit shoes, laptop computers and PlayStation2s and fenced them around the world. The other three resided in New York City, Canada and Hong Kong.
The eight were charged with conspiracy to traffic in counterfeit and stolen goods. No information was immediately available about their nationalities, and it was not clear how many of the eight were arrested today .
More from KYW’s Ian Bush:
When Dani Nemr Tarraf was in Philadelphia in June, the FBI says he met with an undercover agent, with hopes of purchasing 10,000 machine guns and missiles that could “take down an F-16.”
US Attorney Michael Levy: “You don’t use those for playing weekend games. These are clearly weapons of war he was procuring for some organization or some government that I don’t think, necessarily, would have been friendly toward us.”
An affidavit says Tarraf put a down payment on the weapons, and asked to have them sent to Syria, so “the Resistance” could use them there, or in Iran.
Tarraf was arrested in Philadelphia and charged with weapons conspiracy over the weekend when he came back to inspect the goods.
Authorities won’t say why the city played a central role in the investigation.
From the Macon Sun News:
Hussein Ali Asfour, 33, of Centerville, was indicted Tuesday in connection with an alleged terror plot to acquire anti-aircraft missiles and machine guns.
Ali Asfour, who also went by the name Alex, was one of five defendants named in the grand jury indictment filed in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia.
According to the Department of Justice, in July of this year, Tarraf paid an undercover law enforcement officer in Philadelphia $20,000 toward obtaining about 10,000 M-4 carbine rifles and FIM-92 Stinger missiles. The plot aimed to channel the weapons to “the resistance” in Lebanon and Syria and “take down an F-16,” according to the indictment.
The F-16 is commonly flown by the Israeli Air Force.
Asfour’s alleged role in the plot is unclear. He and three others named in the indictment — Dani Nemr Tarraf, Douri Nemr Tarraf and Hassan Mohamad Komeiha — are charged with transporting “interstate and foreign commerce goods and merchandise with a value in excess of $5,000, knowing the same to have been stolen.”
More details as they become available.
Update: Here is the DOJ announcement and defendants:
A criminal complaint, unsealed today, charged Dani Nemr Tarraf with conspiring to acquire anti-aircraft missiles (FIM-92 Stingers) and conspiring to possess machine guns (approximately 10,000 Colt M4 Carbines). In addition, Tarraf and other defendants — including Douri Nemr Tarraf, Hassan Mohamad Komeiha, and Hussein Ali Asfour — were charged with conspiring to transport stolen goods. Dani Nemr Tarraf and Ali Fadel Yahfoufi were charged with conspiring to commit passport fraud.
The complaint also alleges that Dani Nemr Tarraf conspired to acquire anti-aircraft missiles and conspired to possess machine guns. According to the complaint, in or about mid-June 2009, Tarraf asked whether the UC could supply guided missiles and told the UC that he (Tarraf) wanted the UC to export approximately 10,000 “commando” machine guns [Colt M4 Carbines with short barrels] from the United States. On or about July 28, 2009, in Philadelphia, Tarraf paid the UC a deposit of approximately $20,000 toward the cost of purchasing FIM-92 Stinger missiles and approximately 10,000 Colt M4 Carbines and shipping these items outside the United States.
Finally, the complaint alleges that Dani Nemr Tarraf and his assistant, Ali Fadel Yahfoufi, conspired to commit passport fraud. In furtherance of their scheme, Yahfoufi provided passport photos of himself to the UC, Tarraf agreed to pay the UC to obtain a U.S. passport in Yahfoufi’s name, and Yahfoufi instructed the UC to submit false information to the U.S. government in a passport application.
Information regarding the defendants is below:
- Dani Nemr Tarraf, of Trnava, Slovakia, was born in 1971 and faces a potential maximum sentence of life imprisonment if convicted.
- Douri Nemr Tarraf, of Trnava, Slovakia, was born in 1973 and faces a potential maximum sentence of five years imprisonment if convicted.
- Hassan Mohamad Komeiha, of Lebanon and Dearborn, Mich., was born in 1970 and faces a potential maximum sentence of five years imprisonment if convicted.
- Hussein Ali Asfour, a/k/a “Alex,” of Centreville, Ga., was born in 1976 and faces a potential maximum sentence of five years imprisonment if convicted.
- Ali Fadel Yahfoufi, of Trnava, Slovakia, was born in 1969 and faces a potential maximum sentence of five years in prison if convicted.