WASHINGTON – A Lebanese-American businessman who acted as a conduit for a last-ditch peace offer from Iraq (search) to the United States faces federal charges of attempting to bring weapons on a commercial aircraft.
The charges were filed in May against Imad Hage (search), months after he was stopped at Dulles International Airport (search) outside Washington when a .45-caliber handgun, five ammunition magazines and four stun guns were detected in his checked luggage.
Hage said by telephone Thursday from Beirut that he intends to return to the United States in a few weeks to fight the charges, which he suggested were only brought after news surfaced of his involvement in the Iraqi peace deal.
"I think I am caught between various people with different agendas," Hage said. "I think they are blowing it out of proportion because somebody wanted to discredit me early on and unfortunately this thing became public."
Hage, who has joint U.S.-Lebanese citizenship, was a go-between for high-ranking Iraqis who were trying to approach the United States with a last-minute deal to avoid the U.S.-led invasion that began March 20. The deal fell through, Hage has said, because the Iraqis would not agree to U.S. demands that President Saddam Hussein step aside.
It's unclear if the people who approached Hage represented Saddam, but Hage has said he believes the former Iraqi leader was aware of the overture.
According to court documents, Hage was getting ready to board a British Airways flight from Dulles to London on Jan. 28 when the weapons were found, wrapped in foil, in his bags. He told authorities at the airport that the weapons were for his cousin, who acted as his bodyguard.
British Airways officials say they were not notified in advance about the weapons, as required by law. Hage faces a single count of attempting to transport firearms without that requisite notice, according to documents filed in federal court in Alexandria, Va.
A federal law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said U.S. agents contacted Hage by phone to urge him to return to the United States. That contact came even though prosecutors had approved the filing of charges as far back as March. The official said the charges were not related to Hage's role in the peace deal.
Hage also said the case has been overblown because the handgun was not loaded and the stun guns had no batteries. But the law enforcement official said Hage should have known better than to travel with such weapons after the Sept. 11 attacks without notifying the airline.