Lebanese man pleads guilty in US to buying drone parts for Hezbollah

Issam Hamade and brother Usama Hamade alleged to have bought engines and parts to help track and guide unmanned aircraft for terror group

Lebanese military intelligence inspects the scene where two drones came down in the vicinity of a Hezbollah media center in the south of the capital Beirut, August 25, 2019. (Anwar Amro/AFP)
Lebanese military intelligence inspects the scene where two drones came down in the vicinity of a Hezbollah media center in the south of the capital Beirut, August 25, 2019. (Anwar Amro/AFP)

MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota — A Lebanese national charged with conspiring to export drone parts and technology from the US to the Iranian-backed Hezbollah terror group in Lebanon has pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate US export laws.

Issam Hamade pleaded guilty Monday in federal court in Minnesota. His brother, Usama Hamade, faces similar counts and is also charged with smuggling.

Prosecutors said the brothers acquired sophisticated technology for drones from 2009 to 2013 and illegally exported them to Hezbollah.

Issam Hamade faces up to five years in prison when sentenced next month, but prosecutors plan to ask for 30 months, according to a plea agreement. Hamade’s defense attorneys plan to ask for time served. He’s expected to be deported after he serves his time.

The Hamades were arrested in February 2018 in South Africa and were extradited to the US last fall.

According to an indictment, the parts included inertial measurement units, which can be used to track an aircraft’s position, and digital compasses, which can be paired with the inertial measurement units for drone guidance systems. The parts also included a jet engine and 20 piston engines.

A child in tiny military fatigues waves the Hezbollah flag as supporters of the group’s leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah wait for his televised speech in a southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, Sunday, Jan. 5, 2020 following the US airstrike in Iraq that killed Iranian Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)

Hezbollah is known to have several models of drones in its arsenals, and some have been used to penetrate Israeli airspace, including in November.

In August, Israel said it foiled a planned armed drone attack from Iranian-backed fighters base din Syria. Hours later, two drones crashed into Hezbollah offices in Beirut in what was thought to be a linked incident.

In the plea agreement publicly filed Tuesday, Issam Hamade admitted that his brother arranged to purchase parts and technology from various countries, including the US, from 2009 to 2011.

He also admitted that he transferred money from Lebanon to accounts in South Africa at his brother’s request, knowing the money was being used to buy these parts.

The plea agreement says Hamade had reason to believe the parts and technology were going to Syria, in violation of US export laws.

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