Evidence of Terrorist Activity Leads to Raids and Arrests

Friday, July 21st 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Editor's Note: The following story is courtesy WCNC-TV Charlotte, NC

Charlotte, N.C. -- A major federal raid in the Charlotte area Friday has led to 16 arrests of people they claim were involved in a scheme to raise money for terrorism through cigarette trafficking. Authorities are still looking for one person in Charlotte and another in Michigan.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the Immigration and Naturalization Service began the raids around 6 a.m.

A 150-page affidavit released Friday afternoon alleges that eight or nine people are members of Hizballah, which is a terrorist organization which is based in Beirut, Lebanon. Hizbollah is described as one of the world's most dangerous terrorist organizations.

It says that they grew up in the same neighborhood south of Beirut and that the leader here in Charlotte has received Hizballah military training. It says he is comfortable with a number of weapons, and is well-connected with the Hizballah leadership in Lebanon and if he were given the order to carry out a terrorist act here in the United States that he would not hesitate.

The affidavit says those arrested do have connections to the Lebanese-based Hizballah terrorist group. That affidavit also says those arrested have done a number of crimes including money laundering and trafficking illegal cigarettes. All of these crimes were done to support the Hizballah group.

Agents say they do expect more arrests. The investigation started three and a half years ago.

The 16 people arrested in Charlotte were brought to the federal courthouse in shackles. All the women are American and they are charged with fraudulent marriage with has a maximum penalty of five years.

All of the men arrested are Lebanese.

US Attorney Mark Calloway told a hearing in federal court that the suspects in
custody were not alleged to have participated in terrorist activities.
One of the places raided was Queen Tobacco in the 6400 block of Albemarle Road. Agents removed boxes from the building and loaded them into a U-Haul.

Agents also raided a house at 5425 Donnefield Drive in east Charlotte.

Federal agents were taking boxes in and out of the house all day.

According to neighbors, around 6 a.m. SWAT team members and federal agents from the INS, the FBI and the ATF all surrounded the place, burst in and told the people they had a federal warrant and were searching the house.

Shortly after, one woman was removed from the house and they began collecting different evidence bags and evidence boxes from the house.

Everything from a fax, a printer, computer to other boxes has been seen coming from the house. They loaded them into a truck and are now taking them to downtown Charlotte, probably for evidence processing.

The U.S. Department of State Diplomatic Security Service is also involved in the investigation. This organization is designed to take care of threats to diplomats in the country.

Hizballah, or the "Party of God", is one of the more significant independence movements based in the Middle East. It is Lebanese Shi'ite group created in 1983. The group has a history of anti-U.S. and anti-Israel activity.

Hizballah's existence has been complicated slightly by the January 24, 1995 Executive Order, signed by President Clinton which prohibits transactions with the group due to their potential for disrupting the Middle East peace process.