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2 brothers arraigned on charges of providing drone equipment to Hezbollah militia group

Updated: October 30, 2019 05:56 AM

Federal prosecutors said two brothers charged with conspiring to export drone parts and technology from the United States to Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia in Lebanon are "dangerous" in an arraignment and detention hearing held Tuesday at the St. Paul Federal Courthouse.

Usama and Issam Hamade are charged with conspiracy to violate U.S. export laws. Usama Hamade is also charged with smuggling.

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The Lebanese brothers, arrested in South Africa, repeatedly acquired sophisticated technology for drones then illegally exported them to Hezbollah, which the U.S. considers a terrorist organization from 2009 to 2013, according to court filings.

Both brothers entered not guilty pleas to the charges before Federal Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Cowan Wright. 

Prosecutors allege both men never traveled to the U.S. to conduct the purchases instead, using a different man to come to the country to make the buys.

Products were allegedly purchased at one of the companies, which is based in Minnesota. Due to that, the trial will be held in part in the state.

A court-appointed lawyer for Issam Hamade— Bruce Nestor— said his client was not a supporter of Hezbollah but confirmed he is a former 20-year member of the Lebanese military. 

"He respects and admires the United States," he said. 

The judge decided to keep Issam Hamade in custody ahead of trial, while his brother will be back in court at a later date to learn if he will stay behind bars ahead of a trial. 

Lawyers say the trial, slated to start in December, will have witnesses brought in from around the world. 

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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Eric Chaloux

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