Trio indicted in US for aiding Hezbollah drone programme

Two of the suspects arrested in South Africa are to be extradited to US

16:07 February 17, 2018

Minneapolis: A federal grand jury in Minnesota indicted three people on charges that they conspired to export drone parts and technology from the US to the Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia in Lebanon, authorities announced on Friday.

The US Attorney’s office for Minnesota said two of the suspects — brothers Usama and Essam Hamade — are now in custody in South Africa, while the third, Samir ‘Tony’ Berro, remains at large. All three are Lebanese citizens. Usama ‘Prince Sam’ Hamade also has South African citizenship, while Berro and Essam Hamade are also UK citizens.

The US considers Hezbollah a terrorist organisation. The militant group has used drones at least since 2004. The indictment alleges the conspiracy operated from 2009 through December 2013. It says the equipment included electronics that can be used in drone guidance systems, one jet engine and 20 piston engines that can be used in drones, and a pair of digital video recording binoculars.

The updated indictment unsealed on Friday was dated October 11, 2017, but the original was filed in 2015 and kept sealed to keep the investigation secret from the three men.

The brothers were arrested Tuesday in South Africa for extradition to the United States to face trial in Minnesota, according to another prosecution filing on Friday. They appeared before a magistrate there and were ordered held pending another hearing February 26. Usama Hamade is a South African resident. The filings don’t say where Issam Hamade lives, but said he would visit his brother in South Africa.

The parts included inertial measurement units (IMUs), which can be used to track an aircraft’s position, and digital compasses, which can be paired with the IMUs for drone guidance systems. The indictment doesn’t name the companies, but the model names and numbers indicate the IMUs were manufactured by Concord, California-based Systron Donner Inertial, and that the digital compasses were made by Honeywell International’s operations in suburban Minneapolis.

The jet engine was sold by an unnamed Indiana company, while the piston engines were sold by an unnamed Florida company. The model number indicates the digital binoculars were made by Sony. None of the items could legally be exported to Hezbollah, the indictment said.