A group of men agreed to assist the Taliban in a conspiracy to ship narcotics through West Africa to the United States and with the proceeds buy weapons for use against American forces in Afghanistan, federal prosecutors in Manhattan announced on Monday.Where Orbach and Pouryan lived in the U.S. isn't disclosed, although this report said Orbach is 52 and Pouryan 36. ABC reports Pouryan is a Hezbollah associate.
The charges stemmed from a sting operation run by the Drug Enforcement Administration, in which paid informants posed as representatives of the Taliban and discussed arrangements for the proposed drugs and weapons deals with the accused conspirators in meetings in West Africa and Eastern Europe.
One conspirator told the confidential informants that they could obtain heat-seeking surface-to-air missiles, antitank missiles, grenade launchers, night vision equipment, sniper rifles and AK-47 assault rifles, according to a criminal complaint unsealed in Federal District Court in Manhattan.
The defendants included two Americans, who were both accused of conspiring to provide surface-to-air missiles to the Taliban and to provide material support to terrorists.
As part of the sting, an informant acting as a Taliban representative explained that the missiles were needed to protect the Taliban’s heroin laboratories from attacks by American Cobra and Blackhawk helicopters.
Preet Bharara, the United States attorney in Manhattan, said the defendants “were prepared to provide millions of dollars in dangerous narcotics and lethal weapons to men they believed represented the Taliban.”
“This alleged effort to arm and enrich the Taliban,” Mr. Bharara said, “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.”
In all, seven defendants were charged. The two Americans, Oded Orbach and Alwar Pouryan, are naturalized citizens, the authorities said.
Mr. Orbach was born in Israel, and Mr. Pouryan in Iran. Both men were arrested last week in Bucharest, Romania, and were being held pending extradition to the United States, the government said.
Five other defendants were arrested in Monrovia, Liberia, were transferred to the United States and were arraigned late Monday in Manhattan.
All five entered pleas of not guilty and were ordered held pending further proceedings.
Those five included Maroun Saade, whom the indictment described as a narcotics trafficker in West Africa; Walid Nasr, who was said to be one of his associates; and three other men described as being involved in the drug trade in West Africa: Francis Sourou Ahissou, Corneille Dato and Martin Raouf Bouraima.
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.