ASUNCIÓN, Paraguay – Lebanese national Moussa Ali Hamdan has been arrested in connection with 31 crimes, including financing terrorism, said José Chena, the Interpol chief in Paraguay.
“At the request of the United States Embassy in Paraguay, which in turn had received a request from the anti-terror service in Washington, we performed a surveillance operation for fifteen days until catching Moussa Hamdan,” Chena said after the June 16 apprehension in Ciudad del Este. “He will now face an extradition hearing where he will be prosecuted for financing Hezbollah, falsifying passports, [dealing in] counterfeit money, arms trafficking and other crimes that total 31 in all.”
James L. Russo, Public Affairs Officer for the United States Embassy in Paraguay, said the embassy has officially submitted a request to Paraguay’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs regarding the extradition of Hamdan, 38.
“The request to hold (Hamdan) pending extradition is not linked to arms trafficking,” Russo said.
Judge Hugo Sosa Pasmor ordered Hamdan to be held in the Tacumbú prison, outside the city of Asunción, where he will await his extradition hearing. Hamdan was indicted by U.S. federal authorities in 2009 in connection with a U.S.-based Hezbollah terrorist cell while residing in Camden County, N.J.
Hamdan was arrested in downtown Ciudad del Este, while leaving hotel Panorama II, where he had lived since last month, Chena said.
“He was not carrying any documents that confirmed his identity when we arrested him,” said Chena, adding the apprehension was made with the assistance of agents of the Department for the Prevention and Investigation of Terrorism in Paraguay (Seprinte). “However, the Paraguayan police that took part in the operation (five in all) had photographs and other documents provided by Interpol from the United States. That is how we were able to identify and arrest him.”
Hamdan was immediately transported to the capital by the five agents and placed in the custody of Interpol, where he spent the night at Interpol’s headquarters in Asunción.
“He is a very reserved person,” Chena said. “He does not speak Spanish. He manages in English, but he does not speak much.”
Hamdan told Paraguay’s Canal 4 Telefutura he was being persecuted “for being Muslim.”
At his court appearance, he told Judge Sosa Pasmor he makes a living installing carpets in the United States and he didn’t possess a (Lebanese) passport at the time of his arrest and couldn’t recall his passport number.
Sosa Pasmor released a writ on June 16 alleging Hamdan had played a role – along with others not identified in the writ – in a plot that raised money for terrorist groups, including Hezbollah, by selling false passports and counterfeit money in the United States.
Elizabeth Amarilla, Hamdan’s attorney, said law enforcement officials did not have the court order needed to take him into custody.
“They kidnapped him before an arrest warrant was issued,” Amarilla said as she accompanied Hamdan to his hearing.
Amarilla said that her client came to Ciudad del Este seeking employment. Authorities in the United States said Hamdan, a naturalized U.S citizen, was a key figure in a four-year investigation headed by the FBI’s Philadelphia Joint Terrorism Task Force. The officials said he worked as a carpet installer and at a car dealership in the Cinnaminson, N.J.-area in 2007 and 2008. But officials allege he bought more than US$154,000 worth of electronics and vehicles from undercover agents he thought were stolen. Authorities also said he smuggled some of the merchandise overseas so it could be sold by Hezbollah for a profit, according to media reports.
Sosa Pasmor ordered Hamdan to be jailed based on a “request for protective detention for the purpose of extradition.”
It is unclear how Hamdan arrived in Paraguay.
“He probably entered through Ciudad del Este in order to move freely in the Tri-Border (where Paraguay meets Argentina and Brazil), where it is thought that there are Hezbollah cells with connections to Venezuelan cells and [Hamdan] is the leader of both cells,” said a police source, speaking on the condition of anonymity.