US charges American with helping Al Qaeda linked rebel group
A Syrian-born U.S. citizen has been charged with smuggling rifle scopes, night-vision goggles and other military-style gear from the United States to Islamic terrorists in his home country.
Amin al-Baroudi personally brought the gear to Syria and arranged other shipments between 2011 and 2013, according to an indictment unsealed on Friday.
The goods went to the insurgent group Ahrar el-Sham, which aims to establish an Islamic state in Syria and fights alongside al-Qaeda’s official branch there, federal prosecutors said.
In February 2013, according to the indictment, the 50-year-old man boarded a flight from Los Angeles to Turkey with 14 pieces of checked luggage weighing more than 600 pounds total.
He brought the goods across the border to Syria and returned to Los Angeles the next month with only two checked bags, prosecutors said.
Al-Baroudi, a former resident of Irvine, California, was arrested on Thursday at Washington Dulles International Airport, court documents show.
Capozzolo did not explain what al-Baroudi was doing in Saudi Arabia – beyond mentioning that he was treated for a heart condition there – or detail the circumstances of his client’s return trip.
He declined to comment following the hearing.
Although he is not accused of shipping weapons, the night-vision goggles, scopes, bulletproof vests and other items he is accused of smuggling are banned from export to Syria because while they are designed for civilians, they can be used for military purposes.
According to the indictment, al-Baroudi told an unnamed conspirator that he had a good relationship with Ahrar al-Sham, and he persisted with his plans despite being warned that the group was ‘al-Qaeda less 25 per cent.’
He said he planned to bring $30,000 worth of material and train people there how to use it, prosecutors said.
In one personal document, al-Baroudi boasted of having sent hundreds of rifle scopes to Syria, prosecutors said.
‘Proven to be real good in our environment,’ he wrote, according to the indictment.
‘People loved them and always asking for more. Capable to transfer any decent rifle to sniper rifle.’
It is alleged that al-Baroudi and others purchased supplies from companies in the US before traveling with the supplies on commercial flights to Turkey where a person would ‘slip across the border into Syria,’ the Washington Post reported.
Al-Baroudi reportedly often used websites such as eBay and Amazon to buy the supplies.
He did not have a license to export goods to his home country and as a result violating a broad prohibition on exporting goods to Syria, according to the indictment.
His attorney, Anthony Capozzolo, said in court on Monday that al-Baroudi had been living in Saudi Arabia before returning to the United States.
A judge ordered al-Baroudi detained pending further court proceedings. Al-Baroudi, who has a thick gray beard, wore a green prison jumpsuit and did not speak in court.
He faces four charges related to violations of U.S. sanctions against Syria and Commerce Department restrictions on exports there.
The Washington Post reported that the group al-Baroudi is accused of supplying the military-style gear with previously disputed it had links to ‘al-Qaeda or espouses of al-Qaeda’s ideology.’
Ahrar al-Sham’s head of foreign political relations, Labib Al Nahhas, previously wrote on the Post’s website that the group believes in ‘a moderate future for Syria that preserves the state and institutes reforms that benefit all Syrians.’
He wrote: ‘We consider ourselves a mainstream Sunni Islamic group that is led by Syrians and fights for Syrians.’
Al-Baroudi’s arrest comes amid heightened fears of terrorism in the US and a day after the San Bernardino massacre that left 14 people dead and 21 others injured.
The FBI said on Monday that the San Bernardino killers – husband and wife, Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik – had been radicalized ‘for quite some time’ and had taken target practice at area gun ranges, in one instance just days before the attack.