10 November 2007

Busted U.S. drug ring was funding Hezbollah

Beirut / Los Angeles - A seemingly small-time drug ring busted this week in Los Angeles was actually targeted for funding the Lebanese militia group Hezbollah, the Daily News has learned.

Prosecutors left out the terror tie when they announced Tuesday that federal agents and local cops had arrested a dozen people for allegedly peddling cocaine and counterfeit clothing in Bell, Calif.

U.S. Attorney's Office announced the names of the dozen people that were arrested as follows:

Ali Khalil Elreda , 32, of Bell;
Mohamad Elreda, Ali's brother, 25, of Bell
Susanne Elreda, Ali's sister, 34, of Smyrna, Ga.
Hussein Saleh Saleh, 37, of Bell
Robert Bell, 36, of Corona
Dalisa Johnson, 37, of Corona
Moussa Matar, 48, of Cudahy
Mohamad Matar, Moussa's son, 28, of Cudahy
Ali Matar, Mohamad's twin brother, 28, of Cudahy
Juan Gonzalez, 26, of Lynwood
Frankie Higuea, 24, of Downey
Crystal Hill, 25, of Hawthorne

Two additional defendants, Epifanio Mercado, 29, of Perris, and Ricardo Nava, of El Monte, were arrested over the weekend, prosecutors said.

Three fugitives still remain at-large: Hassan Saleh Salehy, Hussein's brother, 36; Juan Galindo, age unavailable, of Cudahy; and Alfonso Bernal Barron, age and hometown unavailable.

The focus of the federal investigation was Ali Khalil Elreda, 32, who was detained at Los Angeles International Airport last year, accused of trying to smuggle $120,000 in money orders and cashier's checks, hidden in a child's toy, to Lebanon, according to an indictment and an affidavit filed in the case.

Several sources familiar with the investigation said the predominantly Arab-American and Latin gang was believed to have smuggled its crime cash to the Syrian and Iranian-backed group which is listed by US as a terrorist organization.

"This was a classic case of terrorism financing, and it was pretty sophisticated how they did it," a source close to Operation Bell Bottoms told The News.

The Justice Department's national security division and an FBI counterterrorism agent have signed all the court filings.

Because information linking the gang to Hezbollah came from classified intelligence, the alleged ringleader and "his siblings and associates" face criminal charges instead of a terror rap.-(daily news/yl)

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Lebanon Time-Line

Introducing Lebanon

Coolly combining the ancient with the ultramodern, Lebanon is one of the most captivating countries in the Middle East. From the Phoenician findings of Tyre (Sour) and Roman Baalbek's tremendous temple to Beirut's BO18 and Bernard Khoury's modern movement, the span of Lebanon's history leaves many visitors spinning. Tripoli (Trablous) is considered to have the best souk in the country and is famous for its Mamluk architecture. It's well equipped with a taste of modernity as well; Jounieh, formerly a sleepy fishing village, is a town alive with nightclubs and glitz on summer weekends.

With all of the Middle East's best bits - warm and welcoming people, mind-blowing history and considerable culture, Lebanon is also the antithesis of many people's imaginings of the Middle East: mostly mountainous with skiing to boot, it's also laid-back, liberal and fun. While Beirut is fast becoming the region's party place, Lebanon is working hard to recapture its crown as the 'Paris of the Orient'.

The rejuvenation of the Beirut Central District is one of the largest, most ambitious urban redevelopment projects ever undertaken. Travellers will find the excitement surrounding this and other developments and designs palpable - and very infectious.

Finally, Lebanon's cuisine is considered the richest of the region. From hummus to hommard (lobster), you'll dine like a king. With legendary sights, hospitality, food and nightlife, what more could a traveller want?

Introducing Beirut

What Beirut is depends entirely on where you are. If you’re gazing at the beautifully reconstructed colonial relics and mosques of central Beirut’s Downtown, the city is a triumph of rejuvenation over disaster.

If you’re in the young, vibrant neighbourhoods of Gemmayzeh or Achrafiye, Beirut is about living for the moment: partying, eating and drinking as if there’s no tomorrow. If you’re standing in the shadow of buildings still peppered with bullet holes, or walking the Green Line with an elderly resident, it’s a city of bitter memories and a dark past. If you’re with Beirut’s Armenians, Beirut is about salvation; if you’re with its handful of Jews, it’s about hiding your true identity. Here you’ll find the freest gay scene in the Arab Middle East, yet homosexuality is still illegal. If you’re in one of Beirut’s southern refugee camps, Beirut is about sorrow and displacement; other southern districts are considered a base for paramilitary operations and south Beirut is home to infamous Hezbollah secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah. For some, it’s a city of fear; for others, freedom.

Throw in maniacal drivers, air pollution from old, smoking Mercedes taxis, world-class universities, bars to rival Soho and coffee thicker than mud, political demonstrations, and swimming pools awash with more silicone than Miami. Add people so friendly you’ll swear it can’t be true, a political situation existing on a knife-edge, internationally renowned museums and gallery openings that continue in the face of explosions, assassinations and power cuts, and you’ll find that you’ve never experienced a capital city quite so alive and kicking – despite its frequent volatility.