Iowans Charged in Plot to Send Weapons to Lebanon

     CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (CN) – A Cedar Rapids family was arrested on charges that they conspired to illegally ship firearms to Lebanon, according to court documents unsealed on Tuesday.
     The criminal complaint says defendant Ali Afif Al Herz, his sons Adam Ben Ali Al Herz and Bassem Herz, and his daughter-in-law Sarah Zeaiter initially came under investigation in February, when a firearms dealer in Iowa expressed concern after the family cleared his store out of 5.7mm ammunition – twice – buying up to 3,000 rounds total.
     5.7mm ammunition is commonly used in law enforcement and military weapons.
     While making one of these purchases, Ali Herz “referred to a text message, which appeared to have been written in a foreign language, located on [his] phone,” the informant said.
     Other local firearms dealers had also sold guns and ammunition to the family, a criminal investigation found, totaling 113 guns in the past 17 months.
     “Records checks conducted on the four individuals revealed no criminal convictions for any of the subjects that would disqualify them from being able to purchase firearms or ammunition,” the government says, but “none of the four individuals are licensed to sell firearms or appear to be licensed to export firearms from the United States.”
     All defendants except Sarah Zeaiter are citizens of the United States, the complaint says. Zeaiter is a permanent legal resident.
     Investigators found that Adam Herz had shipped a container to Beirut, Lebanon, that reportedly contained Bobcat vehicles between August and September of last year.
     Homeland Security intercepted two more shipments the family tried to send to Beirut in March and May of this year.
     The first one contained “53 firearms, firearms parts and accessories, and more than 6,800 rounds of ammunition hidden within three Bobcat skid loaders,” the complaint says.
     Clothes, shoes and household items were also discovered in the container, later determined to have been part of a clothing drive for Syrian refugees in Lebanon organized by halal food distributor Midamar, the complaint says.
     Mike Lahammar, an attorney for Midamar, told the Des Moines Register that the food company is not implicated in the investigation as it only rented shipping space to defendants.
     The second intercepted package contained 99 firearms and over 9,500 rounds of ammunition hidden within Bobcat skid loaders and in boxes and suitcases of clothes, the government says.
     The government seized a total of 152 firearms from the two shipments.
     All four defendants are currently in U.S. custody, with Ali Herz, Adam Herz, and Sarah Zeaiter scheduled to appear before Judge Jon Scoles on Friday, according to the U.S. Attorney General’s office for the Northern District of Iowa.
     If convicted, the four face up to five years in prison followed by three years of supervised release, as well as a $250,000 fine.
     Prosecuting attorney Richard Murphy declined a request for comment, and defense attorneys Christopher Nathan, Jonathan Hammond, Leslie Stokke and Cory Goldensoph did not respond by press time.