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Michigan man arrested, accused of plotting to join terrorists in Syria

DETROIT — A Michigan man is in federal custody on terrorism charges for allegedly plotting to travel to Syria in order to fight alongside Hezbollah according to court documents.

Hezbollah is a well-known, worldwide terrorist organization in Lebanon that has been linked to numerous terrorist attacks, including suicide truck bombings of U.S. embassies and the 1985 hijacking of TWA Flight 847, during which a U.S. Navy diver was murdered.

Mohammad Haffan Hamdan, 22, of Dearborn Heights, was arrested at Detroit Metro Airport on Sunday night after clearing a security checkpoint but prior to boarding an Air France flight bound for Paris and then to Lebanon.

According to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court Monday, Hamdan’s sister knew of his plans to fight with Hezbollah and tried to stop that from happening by taking his Lebanese passport. Hamdan, a Lebanese national who came to the United States in 2007, is a permanent resident. He applied to become a U.S. citizen last November.

Hamdan’s attorney, Art Weiss, was not immediately available for comment.

The FBI learned of his plan to travel to Syria with the help of a confidential informant who contacted the agency last September and told them about Hamdan’s plan, according to court records.

According to court documents, here is what the FBI learned about Hamdan from the informant:

Hamdan told the informant he wanted to travel to Syria by Christmas 2013 to fight alongside Hezbollah. He revealed, however, that he couldn’t leave because his sister had taken his Lebanese passport and wouldn’t give it back to him. Hamdan also told the informant that he wanted to become an active member of Hezbollah and that he had previously been involved with the group during the war with Israel in 2006, one year before he immigrated to the United States. He also admitted to the informant that he had received military training from Hezbollah, that it started at a very early age and that it included training on operating various weapon systems. Hamdan said that he would be paid between $500 and $1,000 a month by “the party,” meaning Hezbollah, to fight in Syria.

The FBI recorded this conversation with the informant in which Hamdan was heard stating “I am leaving behind a family ... my uncle’s tried to convince me (not to go) ... but this is my decision and no one else’s ...”

Hamdan said the timing of his trip to Lebanaon would depend on his ability to get a Lebanese or U.S. passport. To be able to apply for a temporary passport, he filed a police report March 4 with Dearborn Heights police saying his passport had been stolen. On March 15, the FBI learned that Hamdan had booked a flight to Lebanon. He would leave Detroit Metro at 10:30 p.m. on March 16 on Air France Flight 378 and arrive in Paris the next morning. He bought a round-trip ticket, but the FBI doubted he would be returning to the United States. For example, Hamdan had given ownership of his vehicle to his sister and had asked the informant on Saturday to sell Hamdan’s work van and give the money to Hamdan’s family.

Upon his arrest, he denied any plans to join Hezbollah or to fight Syria. He also denied ever telling anyone that he had such plans. He said the purpose of his trip to Lebanon was to have dental work done.

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