California CEO busted for smuggling military contraband to Syrian rebels

The FBI arrested the chief executive of a California check-cashing business on Tuesday for smuggling rifle scopes and other tactical military equipment to rebels in his native Syria, according to a Department of Justice (DOJ) statement. American sanctions prohibit on trading with Syria.

Rasheed Al Jijakli, 56, CEO of Palmyra Corp., pleaded not guilty in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana to charges of smuggling and both violating and conspiring to violate trade sanctions, prosecutors said. Bond was set at $250,000. If convicted, he could face up to 50 years in prison.

Al Jijakli conspired with three others to export dozens of rifle scopes, including night-vision scopes, laser-sighting devices and other tactical equipment to Syria, according to the indictment. He allegedly avoided U.S. sanctions on Syria by carrying the military equipment, which was bought in the U.S., through Istanbul, Turkey and then delivering the goods to rebel fighters in Syria between January 2012 and March 2013. Prosecutors would not say what group he supported.

The three alleged co-conspirators, who are not named or charged in the indictment, include two Syrian natives, who like Jijakli are U.S. citizens, and a Kuwaiti-born citizen of Canada who is the president of the corporation that does business in Orange County as Orange Check Cashing.

According to the indictment, Jijakli told the accomplice that the optical devices were more expensive in Syria, and it was cheaper to smuggle them from the U.S. He also described how he was able to smuggle the items to Turkey without being caught.

After returning to the U.S., Jijakli told one of his co-conspirators that he didn’t have “too much fun” because he was unable to “join … some action,” court records show.

Various groups of rebels have been fighting the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Until last month, the CIA covertly backed some rebels. The secret program, which was started by the Obama administration in 2013, armed and trained Syrian rebels fighting against Bashar al-Assad’s government. It was cancelled by the Trump administration on July 19.

Jijakli is the latest of several Americans to be caught providing material support to militant groups in the Middle East. In July, Yahya Farooq Mohammad, a citizen of India who married a U.S. citizen in 2008, pleaded guilty to traveling to Yemen to provide thousands of dollars, equipment, and other assistance to notorious now-deceased terrorist recruiter Anwar Al-Awlaki. His plea deal stated that he will be sentenced to 27 years in prison.

Mohammad also entered a guilty plea regarding his attempts at hiring a “hitman,” who was actually an undercover FBI agent, to kidnap and murder U.S. District Judge Jack Zouhary, who presided over his case in 2016. He offered to pay up to $15,000 to have the judge “taken care of.”

Justin Nojan Sullivan, 21, was sentenced to life in prison in June for attempting to start an ISIS branch in the U.S and trying to carry out terror attacks in North Carolina and Virginia.

The DOJ said Jijakli’s case is a result of investigations conducted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security.

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