US federal agents arrested 18 alleged supporters of the Hizbollah group in raids in North Carolina and Michigan on Friday, accusing them of trafficking in contraband cigarettes to raise funds for the organization, reported AFP.
Seven of the suspects were arrested in "Operation Smokescreen" were charged with US immigration law violations, conspiracy to traffic in contraband and money laundering, said the agency.
Mohammed Hammoud, Mohamad Atef Darwish, Shawqi Youssef, Ali Hussein Darwish, Ali Fayez Darwish, Said Mohamad Harb and Angela Tsioumas all lived in or around Charlotte, according to a statement from the US Attorney Western District of North Carolina.
Some 18 search warrants were executed, at the time of the arrests, to look for evidence of fund-raising activity linked with Hizbollah, a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) spokesman in Washington Steven Berry told AFP.
"The search warrants authorized officers to look for evidence of material support of fundraising activity for the designated terrorist organization Hizbollah," said Berry.
"None of the individuals arrested were charged with terrorism," said Berry, who added that some of the people arrested are natives of Lebanon.
However, one source told Reuters that Hammoud may have been a threat to the United States.
"Hammoud is dangerous because he would likely assist in carrying out any action against United States interests if he were requested to do so by Hizbollah," said the source.
All those arrested were resident in and around Charlotte, except for one suspect who was living in Northville, Michigan, according to the North Carolina US attorney's statement, said AFP.
Reuters said that the other 11 defendants were charged with associated crimes, according to the statement, which also alleged that a number of those charged, were married to evade immigration laws.
The search warrants were issued for 18 homes and businesses in the Charlotte area as well as Matthews, Concord, and Lexington, North Carolina.
An ongoing investigation is being conducted by the US State Department, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Immigration and Naturalization Service, Reuters said - (Several Sources)
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