California man charged with smuggling rifle parts to Syria

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — The chief executive of a California check-cashing business was charged Tuesday in federal court with smuggling rifle parts and other military equipment to rebels in his native Syria.

Rasheed Al Jijakli, 56, pleaded not guilty in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana to charges of smuggling and violating U.S. laws that prohibit exports to Syria, prosecutors said. Bond was set at $250,000.

The CEO of Palmyra Corp. conspired with three others to export dozens of rifle scopes, including night-vision scopes, laser-sighting devices and other tactical equipment to Syria, according to the indictment.

The three alleged co-conspirators, who are not named or charged in the indictment, include two Syrian natives, who like Jijakli are U.S. citizens, and a Kuwaiti-born citizen of Canada who is the president of the corporation that does business in Orange County as Orange Check Cashing.

Jijakli and others bought the goods in the U.S., flew with them to Turkey and then delivered them to rebel fighters in Syria between January 2012 and March 2013, the indictment said.

Various groups of rebels have been fighting the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Until recently, the CIA covertly backed some rebels.

In July 2012, Jijakli told one of his co-conspirators that he had arrived in Syria and gave the material to rebel fighters, the indictment said. Prosecutors would not say what group he supported.

Jijakli told the accomplice that the optical devices were more expensive in Syria, and it was cheaper to smuggle them from the U.S., the indictment said. He also described how to smuggle the items to Turkey without being caught.

After returning to the U.S., Jijakli told a co-conspirator that he didn't have "too much fun" because he was unable to "join ... some action," the indictment said.

Jijakli's attorney did not immediately return a telephone message seeking comment.

If convicted of all three charges, Jijakli could face up to 50 years in prison.

A trial date was set for Sept. 26.

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