Sting operations by the US Drug Enforcement Administration have netted individuals connected with Hezbollah and the Taliban on charges of drug trafficking and terrorism, according to information unsealed yesterday in Manhattan federal court. The operations were designed to locate and break the link between international terrorism and the drug trade — a “growing nexus” that represents “a clear and present danger to our national security,” according to US Attorney Preet Bharara. The sale of drugs, usually heroin, is alleged to provide the financing required to buy military-grade weaponry for the terrorist organizations.
According to the ABC report on the stings, they are “part of an aggressive expansion of [the DEA’s] drug enforcement mission that has enabled federal prosecutors to successful [sic] make arms cases that otherwise may not have been brought into the U.S.” They are the next in a series following the arrest in March of international arms dealer Viktor Bout in Thailand. Bout is charged with conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals, conspiracy to kill U.S. officers and employees, conspiracy to acquire and use an anti-aircraft missile, and conspiracy to provide material support to FARC, a designated terrorist group.
In June 2010, a series of meetings began between undercover DEA operatives posing as “high grade weapons dealers” and Iranian drug trafficker Siavosh Henareh, 53, otherwise known as “The Doctor.” The meetings took place in Turkey, Romania and Greece. As the relationship deepened, Henareh agreed to ship hundreds of kilos of heroin into the United States.
The Henareh connection led the agents to 29-year-old Lebanese national Bachar Wehbe and Cetin Aksu, a Turkish Kurd. Over the course of meetings in Romania, Cyprus, Malaysia and elsewhere, Wehbe and Aksu agreed to buy military-grade arms from the agents on behalf of Hezbollah. The orders included Stinger and Igla surface-to-air missiles, AK-47s, M4 assault rifles, and ammunition. “In this conspiracy, you have heroin and you have guns and he [Wehbe] was doing a deal to get the money back to Hezbollah,” Derek Maltz, DEA Special Agent in Charge of Special Operations Division, said. “He signed a contract to bring these massive amounts of weapons to Hezbollah.”
In a separate operation, an undercover DEA officer posing as a member of the Taliban in Kandahar established a relationship with Taza Gul Alizai, a 48-year-old Afghan drug and arms dealer. Over the course of two years, Gul sold heroin to the officer and attempted to sell him assault rifles. According to Bharara’s statement, Gul and the agent discussed the fact that the heroin was destined for the U.S. market and that proceeds from its sale would go to the Taliban, together with the weapons.
Henareh and Aksu were arrested in Bucharest two days ago, in coordination with Romanian authorities. On the same day, Wehbe and Gul were detained in the Maldives “pursuant to a notice issued by Interpol” and sent to the States. Henareh, Aksu and Wehbe have been charged with conspiracy to distribute heroin, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison. Aksu and Wehbe are also charged with conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization and conspiracy to acquire and transfer anti- aircraft missiles, which carries a minimum penalty of 25 years in prison.
Gul, meanwhile, has been charged with conspiracy to engage in narco-terrorism, engaging in narco-terrorism, conspiracy to distribute heroin, and distribution of heroin. Each charge carries a maximum life sentence.
Henareh and Aksu are still in Romania awaiting extradition. Wehbe and Gul pleaded not guilty yesterday in New York and are being held without bail.