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DEA: U.S. drug traffic funded Mideast terrorists

From Jeff Flock and Bill Mears

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Federal investigators said Monday they have evidence that Middle East terrorist organizations have benefited financially from an illegal drug operation in the United States.

Drug Enforcement Administration officials said an ongoing investigation into a widespread methamphetamine operation found perhaps "millions of dollars" were being laundered illegally to overseas bank accounts connected to known terror groups in countries such as Yemen and Lebanon.

Authorities have made dozens of arrests in the United States since the drug ring was broken up in January, but none of those people have been charged with any terrorism-related offenses, according to the DEA.

"There is increasing intelligence information from the investigation ... that for the first time, illegal drug sales in the United States are going in part to support terrorist organizations in the Middle East," DEA Administrator Asa Hutchinson said in a statement.

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Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed group, is among the organizations alleged to have been receiving money from the drug sales.

The DEA said it has no evidence that any of the money was linked to the September 11 terrorist attacks.

DEA officials said there is no indication so far that any terrorist groups were in control of the drug operation. Hutchinson would say only that "a significant portion of some of the drug sales" benefited Middle East terror organizations.

No exact figure was given on how much money was funneled from the drug sales to these groups, but one official said the figure was possibly "in the millions," based on the amount recovered from the methamphetamine operation.

Some 136 people have been arrested since January when the DEA announced men of Middle Eastern descent were charged with smuggling pseudoephedrine from Canada into the Midwest.

Pseudoephedrine is legally used in many popular cold and allergy medicines. It also is used to make methamphetamine, an illegal drug known as "crystal meth."

At the time of the arrests, Hutchinson said there was no known link to terrorism, but evidence gathered recently led investigators to their new conclusion.

"Now we can show these [overseas terror] organizations are directly benefiting from what's going on here" in the illegal U.S. drug trade, one DEA official said.

The operations were based in Detroit, Michigan, and Chicago, Illinois, and involved men with ties to Jordan, Lebanon, and Yemen, according to federal investigators.

Nearly 36 tons of pseudoephedrine, 179 pounds of methamphetamine, $4.5 million in cash, 160 cars and real estate were seized in the drug raids.




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