By J. PATRICK PEPPER
DEARBORN — The U.S. Attorney’s Office last week unsealed an indictment detailing the alleged story of how a player in an international stolen merchandise ring turned into a stateside liaison for a terrorist arms broker. According to the indictment, which was unsealed Monday, the operation began more than two years ago when Hassan Koumaiha and a cousin, both city residents, met an undercover FBI agent in Philadelphia who was posing as a stolen goods dealer.
Their arrangement was simple: The Koumaihas wanted cell phones, laptops and other consumer electronics to ship around the world. The FBI agent would acquire the purportedly stolen goods, which he then would sell to the Koumaihas at a reduced price.
The deal worked out well. They started with monthly meetings, but the Koumaihas began making purchases with increasing frequency. At the peak of their dealings they were traveling to Philadelphia as much as once a week to pick up 1,000 or more cell phones.
In June 2008, the enterprise expanded, when the undercover agent accompanied Hassan Koumaiha to Trnava, Slovakia, to meet with one of Koumaiha’s largest purchasers, Dani Tarraf. Tarraf, of Lebanon, told the undercover agent that although he moved a lot of the merchandise Koumaiha purchased his primary business dealt with “more sophisticated” technology; things like Army-issue night vision cameras and thermal imaging equipment. Tarraf and his right-hand man and brother, Douri Tarraf, wanted to know if the agent could help acquire such devices.
The agent confirmed that he could, and the men struck a deal: Douri Tarraf would send purchase orders to Koumaiha who then would place the orders with the agent. The agent, through purported shipping contacts, then would package the items and ship them to Beirut International Airport in boxes marked “spare parts.” And the men were to be extremely cautious in their communications; only encrypted e-mails and prepaid cell phones could be used to contact one another.
While the men continued their dealings in stolen consumer electronics, the first shipment of military equipment – 1,000 compasses – was sent in August 2008. Another shipment, sent in September 2008, contained 43 night vision cameras.
Then, over a series of meetings in Philadelphia beginning in March, Dani Tarraf began to ask the agent about weaponry. From the indictment, it appears Hassan Koumaiha was not present at these meetings.
Dani Tarraf was interested in guided rockets that could “move as you wish” with the capability to “take down an F-16” fighter jet. He also asked whether the agent could export Colt M-4 carbine machine guns to Syria and Iran for use by “the Resistance.”
In July, Tarraf visited the agent to make a $20,000 down payment toward the purchase of 10,000 of the Colt M-4s and an unspecified amount of FIM-92 Stinger anti-aircraft missiles. Tarraf also told the agent the shipment was to be sent to the Port of Latakia in Syria. He said he “owned” the port and had arranged to have security cameras shut off when the shipment arrived.
The illicit trade climaxed Nov. 20, when Dani Tarraf was arrested after arriving in Philadelphia to inspect the order. He is accused of conspiring to acquire anti-aircraft missiles and machine guns. He and Douri Tarraf, along with Hassan Koumaiha, also are accused of conspiring to transport stolen goods.
All of the men are being held in custody until their Dec. 7 arraignment and detention hearing.