WASHINGTON (AP) — A Syrian-born U.S. citizen charged with smuggling rifle scopes, night-vision goggles, knives, bulletproof vests and other gear from the United States to Islamic militants in his native country pleaded guilty Friday.
Amin al-Baroudi, 50, entered the plea in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia. A former resident of Irvine, California, al-Baroudi acknowledged as part of the plea deal that from December 2011 to March 2013 he and others exported equipment to Syria for the purpose of supplying Syrian insurgent groups whose aim is to overthrow the government of President Bashar Assad. Prosecutors said in a statement that the goods were for insurgents including the group Ahrar el-Sham, which aims to establish an Islamic state in Syria and frequently fights alongside al-Qaida's official branch in Syria.
Prosecutors said U.S. sanctions against Syria prohibit the supply of goods from the United States to Syria without prior authorization of the government and that al-Baroudi did not have that authorization.
Al-Baroudi acknowledged that he and others purchased tens of thousands of dollars worth of equipment and then traveled with the goods aboard commercial flights to Turkey. They then transported the goods to Syria or provided them to others to transport. Al-Baroudi acknowledged making two trips himself. On one, he traveled with 14 bags of checked luggage weighing more than 600 pounds, bags he said contained "clothes" when in fact they contained tactical equipment. On a second trip, he took four bags of luggage with additional goods.
An attorney for al-Baroudi, Anthony Capozzolo, said Friday in a telephone interview that his client's actions were "done for the sole purpose of protecting innocent civilians" from the Assad regime. Capozzolo said that al-Barudi was a teenager in Syria in the 1980s when Assad's father, then-Syrian President Hafez Assad, crushed an uprising in the city of Hama, killing tens of thousands.
"Mr. Barudi's actions were directed toward preventing another Hama," he said.
Sentencing is scheduled for May 6. Prosecutors say al-Baroudi faces a maximum of 20 years in prison.
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