DEA: Missile Deal, Drug Ring Arrests Prove ‘Interconnected World’ of Terrorist and Drug Runners
By LEE FERRAN
Feb. 14, 2011 —
Two U.S. citizens have been arrested in an international sting operation for allegedly agreeing to provide arms — everything from AK-47s to surface-to-air missiles — to the Taliban, according to court documents unsealed today.
The Americans were arrested in Bucharest, Romania, on Feb. 10 as part of a months-long operation that also nabbed five foreign nationals who allegedly told undercover federal informants they would smuggle “ton-quantities” of heroin and cocaine through West Africa to Europe and the U.S. for the terrorist organization. The missiles the Americans purportedly offered to sell the Taliban were to be used to protect heroin laboratories, the documents said.
“This alleged effort to harm and enrich the Taliban is the latest example of the dangers of an interconnected world in which terrorists and drug runners can link up across continents to harm Americans,” Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a statement.
The two Americans, Alwar Pouryan and Oded Orbach, were not involved directly in the narcotics portion of the operation, according to documents, but were connected through foreign national Maroun Saade. Saade, a “narcotics trafficker operating in West Africa” and the only man charged in both the weapons sales and the narcotics deal, introduced the DEA’s confidential sources to Pouryan, who is described as an arms trafficker, the documents allege.
The DEA said Orbach helped arrange the particulars of the weapons deal, including the prices of each item — from night vision gun scopes to Stinger anti-aircraft weapons. Orbach also allegedly offered to send someone to train the Taliban in the use of the weapons.
Evidence against the Americans includes emails, taped phone conversations and recorded in-person meetings that took place in Ghana, Ukraine and Romania, the DEA said.
West Africa: Where ‘Drugs and Terror Intersect’
Drug smuggling through West Africa for the financial support of terrorism in the Middle East has become an increasing concern for officials. The arrests mark the second major bust of a West African smuggling ring with terror ties in two years.
“West Africa has emerged as a place where drugs and terror intersect,” DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart said.
In 2009 three men linked to al Qaeda were arrested in a similar sting operation for allegedly agreeing to transport shipments of cocaine as large as 1,000 kilos for the terror network. That arrest confirmed long-held suspicions that al Qaeda provided protection for narcotics trafficking in return for payment.
CLICK HERE to read ABC News full report on Selling Drugs to Fund Terror.
The Hezbollah Connection
The indictment unsealed today also provided evidence that Hezbollah, a Lebanese group designated by the U.S. government as a terrorist organization, could be a source of arms for the Taliban. In October, when one of the DEA confidential sources asked where the Taliban could procure surface-to-air missiles, Saade said he would inquire about getting them from Hezbollah, according to the documents.
The next month Saade and several other defendants met with Pouryan, who was described to the informants as a man associated with Hezbollah, as well as an unidentified member of Hezbollah about purchasing the weapons.
Then, according to the court filings, just days before the Americans’ arrest, an unidentified co-conspirator of Orbach’s received a text message from a phone in Lebanon that was intercepted by the DEA.
“Dear Friend… I can do it, no problem,” the text message read.
In the documents, an investigator said he believed the text was confirmation the weapons deal was ready to go.
The Americans are currently in custody in Romania awaiting extradition, the U.S. attorney’s office said.