Lawyer: NC man's money not for Hezbollah fighters

A re-sentencing hearing for a man serving a 155-year prison term focused Wednesday on whether donations to the militant group Hezbollah could be directed to the organization's fighting efforts.

Attorneys for Mohamad Hammoud argued that he did not send money abroad to support terrorist activity. The Charlotte man was the first person convicted under a 1996 law that prohibits aid to designated terrorist groups. Prosecuting suspects under that law has since become a key tactic in the war on terror.

Prosecutors contend Hammoud ran a cell in Charlotte that raised money for Hezbollah, which the U.S. government considers a terrorist organization.

Defense attorney James McLoughlin said in a morning session of the re-sentencing hearing that the small amount of money Hammoud sent overseas was not for terrorism. Hammoud's attorneys called former CIA officer Robert Baer to testify, and he said Hezbollah is broken into two distinct parts — one that provides social services in the region and the other devoted to military activities.

Baer said the military side doesn't publicly raise money and gets its money from Iran. David Brown, the federal prosecutor, contended that the military side does raise money and noted several U.S. indictments over the past year focused on fundraising for Hezbollah's military activity.

Judge Graham Mullen focused in on that debate.

"You said Iran funds the military; is that the only source?" Mullen asked Baer.

Baer said that Iran is the predominant source.

"Predominantly doesn't mean exclusively" the judge said.

Baer said exceptions were rare but acknowledged that anything could happen.

Prosecutors contend Hammoud was indoctrinated with radical teachings as a youth, adheres to an anti-American philosophy and wanted to kill a federal prosecutor and destroy the building that held evidence against him.

Hammoud was also convicted of other crimes including cigarette smuggling, credit card fraud, money laundering and racketeering. The government argues that he raised money by sending cheap North Carolina cigarettes to Michigan to be resold without paying that state's higher taxes — and that some profits were directed to Hezbollah.

Hammoud was charged in the months before the Sept. 11 attacks and convicted in 2002. The Supreme Court sent his case back for a new sentence in 2005.