US blacklists Hezbollah agents buying drone components

AFP
US Secret Service Uniform Division officers walk in the door near the seal on the US Treasury building on August 9, 2011, in Washington, DC
US Secret Service Uniform Division officers walk in the door near the seal on the US Treasury building on August 9, 2011, in Washington, DC (AFP Photo/Paul J. Richards)

Washington (AFP) - The United States moved Thursday to blacklist a group of companies it said covertly helped Lebanon's powerful Hezbollah militia acquire components for surveillance drones.

The US Treasury placed sanctions on Beirut-based Stars Group Holding, which it said purchased electronics and other technology via offices in China and Dubai to support Hezbollah's military operations.

That included the development of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that the Shiite group had used in support of Syria's Assad regime against rebels, and were also used recently for surveillance over Israel, the Treasury said.

The material bought by Stars Group included engines, communications, electronics, and navigation equipment acquired from suppliers in the United States, Canada, Europe and Asia.

It named for sanctions the company, its subsidiaries, its owner, executives Kamel Mohamad Amhaz and Issam Mohamad Amhaz, and two Stars Group managers, Ayman Ibrahim and Ali Zeaiter.

Also named Hanna Elias Khalifeh, whom it described as a Lebanese businessman and Hezbollah member who worked with the Stars Group.

"These individuals and entities have relied on false end-user certificates, mislabeled air waybills, and other fraudulent methods to avoid export restrictions and otherwise conceal Hezbollah as the ultimate end-user or beneficiary of these goods," Treasury said.

The sanctions place a freeze on any of their assets under US jurisdiction and ban Americans from any business with them.

"Today's designation illustrates yet again the extent of Hezbollah’s international presence and reach," said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki in a statement.

"We call on our partners to take action against Hezbollah's illicit networks, which fuel its violent political agenda and enhance its ability to engage in destabilizing activities in Syria, throughout the Middle East more broadly, and around the world."