US prosecutors have accused former Venezuelan politician, Adel El Zabayar, of conspiracy to help recruit Hezbollah and Hamas operatives to plan attacks on US targets.
The 56-year-old, who is of Syrian descent, also stands accused of two weapons related charges, conspiracy to commit narcoterrorist acts and conspiracy to import cocaine as part of his membership to the Cartel de los Soles, or Cartel of the Suns in English.
The Cartel of the Suns is a network of officials in the Nicolás Maduro regime, including Maduro and his number two Diosdado Cabello, involved in drug trafficking. Both were indicted in March.
Manhattan US Attorney Geoffrey Berman said in a statement on Wednesday: "We further allege today, for the first time, that the Cartel de los Soles sought to recruit terrorists from [Hezbollah] and Hamas to assist in planning and carrying out attacks on the US, and that El Zabayar was instrumental as a go-between."
According to the indictment, in 2014, El Zabayar held several meetings with Cabello, who instructed him to travel to Syria and Palestine to obtain weapons and recruit members of Hezbollah and Hamas to be trained in Venezuela, the Miami Herald reported.
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Federal prosecutors claimed Cabello said the purpose was "to create a large terrorist cell capable of attacking United States interests on behalf of the Cartel de los Soles".
According to prosecutors, a week after El Zabayar's return from the Middle East, a shipment of weapons, including rocket-propelled grenade launchers, AK-103 assault rifles and sniper rifles, from Lebanon arrived in the presidential hanger at the Maiquetía airport in Caracas.
El Zabayar also acted as a liaison between the Venezuelan government and Syria President Bashar Al-Assad and in 2013, joined Hezbollah forces to fight in the Syrian civil war, according to the indictment.
A US law enforcement official said El Zabayar was not in American custody, Reuters reported.
The 56-year-old Syrian-Venezuelan has responded to accusations on Twitter, calling on the US to present its accusations through the UN. He wrote: "Pay for my ticket to and from the US with expenses paid, present your accusation under the guardianship of the UN."
RETO AL MAL LLAMADO Departamento de Justicia de EEUU quien me acusa de narcoterrorismo. Paguen mi pasaje ida y vuelta a EEUU con gastos pagos, presenten su acusación BAJO LA TUTELA DE LA ONU.
Sino bañense CON SUS INFAMIAS.
Gobierno de EEUU NARCOTERRORISTA. https://t.co/qp9fRJ85YS
— Adel El Zabayar (@Zabayar) May 27, 2020
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arraza tweeted his and Maduro's support for El Zabayar against what he termed the "infamous and fantastical accusations" levied by US prosecutors.