05:34 GMT03 April 2020
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    Lebanese national Issam Hamade pleaded guilty Monday in a federal court in Minnesota to conspiring to export drone parts and technology from the US to Islamist militant group Hezbollah, which is based in Lebanon.

    According to a report by AP, Hamade pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate US export laws. His brother, Usama Hamade, has also been charged with conspiracy and smuggling, although not many details surrounding his case have been revealed. A third defendant charged in the case, Samir Ahmed Berro, has still not been located by officials, the Middle East Monitor reported.

    ​Prosecutors have accused the Hamade brothers of illegally exporting complex drone technology to Hezbollah between 2009 and 2013. They were arrested in February 2018 in South Africa and were extradited to the US last year.

    An attorney for Issam claimed in a court filing that he was part of the Lebanese Armed Forces.

    The indictment documents reveal that the smuggled parts include inertial measurement units (IMU) that can track an aircraft’s position, and digital compasses, which can be used in conjunction with IMUs for drone guidance systems. A jet engine and 20 piston engines were also among the equipment smuggled.

    In a plea agreement filed Tuesday, Issam revealed that his brother had helped purchase some of those parts between 2009 and 2011, and that he had reason to believe some of them would end up in Syria, in violation of US export laws. Issam also admitted that he wired money from Lebanon to South Africa with the understanding that it would be used to purchase such equipment.

    Issam, who will be sentenced next month, could face up to five years behind bars, although prosecutors plan to ask that he be given 30 months in prison. He is also expected to be deported after he serves his prison sentence. 

    Prosecutors noted that Hezbollah has used drones for years, saying that by smuggling drone parts to them, the brothers “present a danger to the United States, and to other communities around the world,” the Monitor reported. 

    They also described Usama as a "violent, drunken, gun-toting thug,” who previously threatened to cut a government witness and his family members “to pieces.”

    According to the unidentified witness, he had regular contact with Usama between 2009 and 2011, and the witness and his wife visited Lebanon with him in 2010. The witness also said that Usama told him that he and his brother were members of Hezbollah, and that they had pictures of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah in their homes.

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    Tags:
    Smuggling, Conspiracy, drones, Hezbollah, Lebanese Armed Forces, US court
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