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Paraguay jails US-Lebanese man accused in Philadelphia of financing terrorism

ASUNCION, Paraguay (AP) — A New York man was arrested in Paraguay and ordered held Wednesday pending extradition to the United States on charges of conspiring to finance the Iranian-backed group Hezbollah, which Washington classifies as a terrorist organization.

Moussa Ali Hamdan, 38, of Brooklyn, N.Y., is accused of trafficking in stolen cell phones, video games, computers, cars and clothing with the aim of financing and supporting Hezbollah with counterfeit money and documents. He faces 25 years in prison if convicted of 31 crimes detailed in an indictment filed in November in Philadelphia.

Prosecutors say Hamdan began buying what he thought were stolen goods from a U.S. government informant in late 2007, and the alleged conspiracy grew from there.

Hamdan and nine other suspects allegedly agreed to sell the informant counterfeit currency and buy and sell stolen goods to raise money for Hezbollah, which forms part of Lebanon's coalition government as a political movement.

Specifically, Hamdan is accused of fencing and exporting more than 1,700 cell phones, 400 Sony PlayStation 2 systems, and three used cars. He also allegedly met with the informant to discuss the sale of counterfeit U.S. currency to support Hezbollah.

Hamdan faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted, the U.S. Justice Department said in a statement.

His Paraguayan lawyer Elizabeth Amarrila says the accusations are false.

Hamdan, who has dual U.S.-Lebanese citizenship and carried his U.S. passport, spoke briefly to a Paraguayan television station after his arrest, saying he came to Ciudad del Este with several friends in search of work. He said he has been falsely accused by U.S. police only because he's Muslim — and that if he were Christian, they would not have charged him.

Patty Hartman, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Philadelphia, confirmed Hamdan's arrest and said U.S. authorities are seeking his extradition. She declined further comment.

Commissioner Antonio Chena, who runs the local Interpol office in Paraguay, said Hamdan was arrested in an apartment in Ciudad del Este on Tuesday and he had been in the area for about 30 days.

Judge Hugo Sosa ordered Hamdan held in the Tacumbu prison outside Asuncion, the capital. Under Paraguay's penal code, he can remain there up to six months during the extradition process.

But Carlos Fleitas, legal affairs director for the Paraguayan Foreign Ministry, told The Associated Press he expects the extradition to be resolved within 60 days.

Ciudad del Este is situated along the so-called Triple Frontier with Brazil and Argentina, where about 30,000 people of Syrian, Lebanese and Asian descent live and the economy depends on border trade. U.S. officials say the area is a nexus of terrorism financing, which the three South American nations deny.


Associated Press Writers Maryclaire Dale in Philadelphia and Michael Warren in Buenos Aires, Argentina, contributed to this report.