A Lebanese man charged with conspiracy to violate US export laws by sending drone equipment to Hezbollah, pleaded guilty in a federal court in Minnesota on Monday.
Issam Hamade is facing the charges alongside his brother, Usama Hamade. While a third defendant, Samir Ahmed Berro, remains at large.
Issam is set to be sentenced next month, with prosecutors planning to ask for a reduced sentence of 30 months, rather than five years, as part of a plea agreement.
Publicly filed yesterday, Issam’s plea agreement admitted to his brother arranging the purchase of goods and technology from various countries, including the US between 2009 and 2011.
Adding an admission that Issam transferred money from Lebanon to accounts in South Africa, at his brother’s request, knowing the money was being used to buy these parts.
Issam says he had reason to believe the drone parts would end up in Syria, in violation of US export laws.
The Lebanese national’s defence attorney plans to request time served, with Issam expected to be deported after he serves a prison sentence.
Usama faces similar charges to his brother but has also been accused of smuggling.
The brothers were arrested in South Africa in February 2018 and were extradited to the US to face trial in Autumn 2019.
The trio are thought to have sourced technical equipment for drones from several American companies between 2009 and 2013, including goods from a company in Minnesota which makes digital compasses.
Other parts included inertial measurement units, which can be paired with digital compasses to make drone guidance systems, as well as a jet engine, and 20 piston engines, according to the indictment.
Prosecutors noted that Hezbollah, which is considered a terrorist organisation by the US government, has used drones for many years, and that the brothers “present a danger to the United States, and to other communities around the world”.
Adding that Usama is a “violent, drunken, gun-totting thug”, who once threatened to kill a government witness and his family by cutting them “to pieces”.
According to AP, the government’s witness alleged he had visited Usama’s home in Beirut, where he found Hezbollah flags and firearms, including an assault rifle.
Prior to the hearing, Usama’s representative made no comment on his client’s political affiliation, while Issam’s attorney had claimed that his client was a member of the Lebanese Armed Forces.
But prosecutors say Issam had posted pictures of the 9/11 attacks on Facebook, suggesting the attacks would not have happened in an Islamic country.