Trial of suspected Hezbollah pair starts in US


The trial of two Lebanese nationals accused of raising funds for the Hezbollah militant group starts today in a US federal court in North Carolina.

US authorities accuse Mr Mohamad Youssef Hammoud and brother Mr Chawki Youssef Hammoud of organising a cell of the Lebanese Shiite Muslim group and of financing the group's activities through a scheme to smuggle cigarettes from North Carolina, where tobacco taxes are low, to higher-tax states for sale.

The two also are charged with immigration violations, conspiracy to traffic in contraband and money laundering.

The Hammouds were among 18 people arrested in July 2000 in the Charlotte area and in Michigan after a Federal Bureau of Investigation sweep dubbed "Operation Smokescreen".

Another of the 18, Mr Said Mohamad Harb, pleaded guilty last month and agreed to testify against the others. AFP