A Lebanese pleads guilty to conspiring to export drone tech from US to Hezbollah

Hezbollah fighters fly a drone at Juroud Arsal, the Syria-Lebanon border, July 29, 2017. (Reuters)

A Lebanese national charged with conspiring to export drone parts and technology from the US to Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia 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, which the US considers a terrorist organization.

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.

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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