RiskTech Forum

How A Hybrid Anti-Terrorist Approach Could Have Prevented Millions Of Dollars From Flowing To Overseas Terrorist Organizations

Posted: 19 December 2011  |  Source: SAS

The New Face of Terrorist Activity Detection

Trooper Paul Koener activated his lights and fell in behind a van speeding north on Interstate 81 on a dark stretch of road in rural West Virginia . It had been an uneventful shift, and he was ready to go home . Something about the nondescript white van and the nervous driver caused Trooper Koener to draw his weapon . His law enforcement sixth sense told him there was more to the situation than a driver with a heavy foot . As Chawki Hammoud, sweating profusely in the March air, hesitantly displayed a North Carolina driver’s license, Koener noticed the van was loaded to the ceiling with boxes of cigarette cartons, minus the required tax stamps . As he questioned Hammoud, it became evident that he was engaged in the illegal and lucrative trade of interstate transportation of untaxed cigarettes . A savvy smuggler can make up to $7 .50 per carton by buying the cartons at the low North Carolina tax rate and selling them in Detroit at a significantly higher rate . In fact, Hammoud and his co-conspirators had run dozens of vans loaded with untaxed cigarettes to Detroit funded by counterfeit credit cards .

A year later, Trooper Koener would stop Chawki’s brother, Mohammed Hammoud, on the same highway headed south with over $40,000 dollars in cash . Trooper Koener had no idea the person behind the wheel was a member of Hezbollah, the most violent terrorist organization in the world, whose favored method of fundraising was cigarette smuggling . Hezbollah’s activities included the murder of more than 200 Marines in Beirut, the hijacking of TWA flight 847, and suicide bombings throughout Europe and the Middle East .

It was March 1996 – more than five years before the tragic events of 9/11 – and Trooper Koener had stumbled onto an international terror financing network that spanned the globe .

Koener’s alert actions that evening helped set in motion one of the most significant terrorist prosecutions in US history . Hammoud was part of an active Hezbollah cell based in Charlotte, NC, that earned over $8 million in illicit proceeds smuggling cigarettes to Detroit, scamming small business loans out of the US government, and laundering its illicit funds . It would take over a dozen US law enforcement agencies, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and intelligence agencies in the US, Canada and Israel to identify the entire scope of the cell’s international procurement chain that stretched from Charlotte, NC, to the Hezbollah stronghold of Beirut, Lebanon .

Although the 10-member cell and its associates were focused on various criminal schemes to fund their organization, cell leader Mohammed Hammoud wrote directly to Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah that he was willing to do more – much more . Ominous photos of Hammoud and his band training with assault rifles and grenade launchers on rooftops in Beirut and on a remote rifle range outside Charlotte obtained by the FBI in a search of Hammoud’s residence painted a picture of a financing cell that was poised to follow any and all orders from Nasrallah and the Hezbollah leadership, if called upon to do so.

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