There are few topics more slippery–and more emblematic of the current age–than the intersection of transnational organized crime, narcotics, illicit arms, and violent non-state actors. On that front, this has been a busy week. Consider the pair of indictments announced today out of the Southern District of New York, one involving Hezbollah and the other the Taliban. From DOJ’s press release:
NEW YORK – Two indictments resulting from two DEA narco-terrorism undercover operations have been unsealed, announced Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Michele M. Leonhart, the Administrator of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
The first indictment is against Siavosh Henareh, Bachar Wehbe and Cetin Aksu for conspiring to provide various forms of support to Hizballah. The second indictment is against Taza Gul Alizai (Gul) for narco-terrorism conspiracy, narco-terrorism and heroin importation related to his supplying of 15 kilograms of heroin and six AK-47 assault rifles to a DEA confidential source whom Gul believed represented the Taliban.
Henareh and Aksu were arrested yesterday in Bucharest, Romania, where they were detained pending extradition to the United States. Wehbe and Gul were detained yesterday in the Republic of the Maldives, after an International Red Notice issued by Interpol. They arrived in the Southern District of New York early this morning and were to appear in Manhattan federal court.
“Today’s indictments provide fresh evidence of what many of us have been seeing for some time: the growing nexus between drug trafficking and terrorism, a nexus that threatens to become a clear and present danger to our national security,” said U.S. Attorney Bhara. “Combating this lethal threat requires a bold and proactive approach. And as crime increasingly goes global and national security threats remain global, the long arm of the law has to get even longer.”
DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart stated: “These DEA operations starkly illustrate how drug trafficking is a double threat that fuels both addiction and terrorism. We have successfully targeted and substantially dismantled two dangerous and complex networks; stopped efforts to arm Hizaballah and Taliban terrorists; and prevented massive amounts of heroin from reaching illicit markets around the world. Those responsible for these crimes will now face trial due to the brave and talented men and women of the DEA, the skilled
federal prosecutors of the Southern District of New York, and the extraordinary cooperation of our many international and federal agency partners, all whom were instrumental in the success of these DEA operations.”
Charges Against Henareh, Wehbe, and Aksu
As alleged in the superseding indictment unsealed today in Manhattan federal court:
Beginning in June 2010, Henareh had a series of meetings in countries including Turkey, Romania, and Greece with DEA confidential sources (CSs), at least one of whom represented himself as an associate of Hizballah. During those meetings, and in a series of telephone calls, Henareh agreed to arrange the importation of hundreds of kilograms of high-quality heroin into the United States. The CSs represented to Henareh that the profits from the sale of the heroin in the United States would be used, among other things, to purchase weapons for Hizballah. In April 2011, in Bucharest, the CSs received a one-kilogram sample of heroin from Henareh’s co-conspirator in anticipation of a future, multi-hundred kilogram load.
As a result of their meetings with Henareh, the CSs were later introduced to Aksu and Wehbe. Beginning in February 2011, in Romania, Cyprus, Malaysia and elsewhere, Aksu and Wehbe agreed to purchase military-grade weaponry from the CSs on behalf of Hizballah. In those meetings, and in telephone calls and email messages, Aksu and Wehbe discussed the purchase of American-made Stinger surface-to-air missiles (SAMs”, Igla SAMs, AK-47 and M4 assault rifles, M107 .50 caliber sniper rifles and ammunition, from (among other places) an American base in Germany.
On June 13, 2011, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Aksu and Wehbe signed a written contract for the purchase of 48 American-made Stinger SAMs, 100 Igla SAMs, 5,000 AK-47 assault rifles, 1,000 M4 rifles, and 1,000 Glock handguns, for a total price of approximately $9.5 million. During the course of the weapons negotiation, Wehbe stated that he was purchasing the weapons on instructions from Hizballah. Shortly thereafter, Wehbe and others caused approximately $100,000 to be transferred to the CSs as a down payment for the weapons purchase, including a $50,000 wire transfer to an undercover bank account.
In coordination with Romanian authorities, Henareh and Aksu were arrested in Bucharest on July 25, 2011. Wehbe was detained in the Maldives after the International Red Notice was issued by Interpol on July 25, 2011. Wehbe was transferred to DEA custody and transported to the Southern District of New York. Wehbe was to make his first appearance this afternoon in Manhattan
federal court. The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Jed S. Rakoff.
The superseding indictment in U.S. v. Siavosh Henareh, et al. charges defendants
Henareh, Aksu and Wehbe with the following counts:
• Count One charges Henareh and Aksu with conspiracy to distribute one kilogram
or more of heroin, knowing or intending that the heroin would be imported into
the United States, in violation of Title 21, U.S. Code, Sections 959 and 963;
• Count Two charges Aksu and Wehbe with conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign
terrorist organization — namely, Hizballah — in violation of Title 18, U.S. Code,
Section 2339B; and
• Count Three charges Aksu and Wehbe with conspiracy to acquire and transfer
anti-aircraft missiles, in violation of Title 18, U.S. Code, Section 2332g.
The maximum and, in some cases, mandatory minimum penalties for these offenses
are as follows:
• Count One of the
indictment — life in prison, with a mandatory minimum term of 10 years in
• Count Two –– 15
years in prison; and
• Count Three –
life in prison, with a mandatory minimum term of 25 years in prison.
Charges Against Taza Gul Alizai
According to the superseding indictment unsealed today in Manhattan federal
In May 2008, in the vicinity of Kandahar, Afghanistan, Gul sold approximately
five kilograms of heroin to a DEA confidential source (CS). Approximately
two years later, Gul arranged for the sale of six AK-47 assault rifles and an
additional 10 kilograms of heroin to the CS, who purported to represent the
Taliban. In connection with the May 2010 transaction, Gul and the CS
discussed, among other things, that the heroin sold by Gul to the CS was
destined for the United States, and that the proceeds from the sale of the
heroin were to be paid to the Taliban. Gul understood that the assault
rifles would be supplied to the Taliban. In exchange for the heroin and
the AK-47 rifles, the CS paid Gul and a co-conspirator $31,000. During
the negotiations, GUL’s co-conspirator explained to the CS that heroin
laboratories in Afghanistan were under Taliban
In coordination with authorities in the Republic of the Maldives, Gul was
detained in that country and then transferred to DEA custody and transported
back to the Southern District of New York. Gul was to make his first
appearance today in Manhattan federal court. The case has been assigned
to U.S. District Judge Harold Baer, Jr.
The indictment in U.S. v. Taza Gul
Alizai charges defendant Gul with the following counts:
- Count One charges Gul with conspiracy to engage
in narco-terrorism, in violation of Title 21, U.S. Code, Section 960a;
- Count Two charges Gul with engaging in narco-terrorism,
in violation of Title 21, U.S. Code, Section 960a;
- Count Three charges Gul with conspiracy to
distribute one kilogram or more of heroin, knowing or intending that the heroin
would be imported into the United States, in violation of Title 21, U.S. Code,
Sections 959 and 963; and
- Count Four charges Gul with distributing one
kilogram or more of heroin, knowing or intending that the heroin would be
imported into the United States, in violation of Title 21, U.S. Code, Sections
959 and 960.
The maximum and, in some cases, minimum penalties for these offenses are as
- Count One –- life in prison, with a mandatory minimum term of 20 years
- Count Two –- life in prison, with a mandatory minimum term of 20 years
- Count Three –- life in prison, with a mandatory minimum term of 10 years
in prison; and
- Count Four –- life in prison, with a mandatory minimum term of 10 years
The charges, arrests, and transfers of these four defendants were the result of
the close cooperative efforts of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern
District of New York, the Special Operations Division of the DEA, and the DEA
Country Offices in: Istanbul, Kuala Lumpur; Copenhagen; New Delhi; Athens; Cyprus;
Mr. Bharara expressed his gratitude to the Southeast European Cooperative
Initiative Regional Center for Combating Trans-Border Crime; the Romanian
National Police; the Turkish National Police; the Malaysian National Police;
the Greek Hellenic Police; the Cyprus National Police; the Maldives Police
Service; the Latvian Central Criminal Police; and the Estonian Police and
Border Guard Board. He also thanked the Office of International Affairs
of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, the U.S. Department of Justice’s
National Security Division, the U.S. National Central Bureau of Interpol and
Interpol Headquarters in Lyon, France, the U.S. Embassy in Sri Lanka, and the
U.S. Department of State for their assistance.
These two cases are being handled by the Office’s Terrorism and International
Narcotics Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Benjamin Naftalis, Adam S.
Hickey, and Edward Kim are in charge of the prosecutions.