Federal authorities in New York charged a Venezuelan political leader Wednesday for allegedly conspiring with Middle East terrorist organizations to traffic tons of cocaine into the United States.
The suspect, 56-year-old Adel El Zabayar, allegedly conspired with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to traffic drugs while serving as a member of the country’s national assembly, prosecutors in the Southern District of New York alleged.
During her political career, Zabayar was actually serving the “Cartel of the Suns,” a powerful drug-trafficking organization led by Maduro that worked with terrorist organizations including the FARC, Hezbollah and Hamas, prosecutors charged.
In her cartel role, Zabayar traveled to the Middle East to meet with members of Hezbollah and Hamas to recruit them to go to Venezuela so they could form a terrorist cell capable of attacking US interests, according to prosecutors.
After her trip to the Middle East, a cargo plane from Lebanon filled with rocket launchers, automatic weapons and sniper rifles landed in Venezuela, according to court papers.
Zabayar also acted as a liaison to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and fought in Syria on behalf of Hezbollah in the country’s civil war, prosecutors charged.
The Cartel of the Suns, named for insignia worn by Venezuelan military officials, allegedly supplied FARC drug traffickers with machine guns, rocket launchers and other weapons and provided them safe airspace to fly cocaine from Colombia into Central America.
The drugs then “flooded” the United States and other countries in Europe and across the globe, prosecutors said.
“We … allege today, for the first time, that the Cártel de Los Soles sought to recruit terrorists from Hizballah [sic] and Hamas to assist in planning and carrying out attacks on the U.S., and that El Zabayar was instrumental as a go-between,” Manhattan US Attorney Geoffrey Berman said in a statement.
Zabayar, who has not been arrested, was hit in absentia with charges including narco-terrorism conspiracy, a cocaine importation conspiracy and several weapons offenses.
In March, the US charged Maduro — who the Trump administration does not recognize as the leader of Venezuela — with drug trafficking and narco terrorism for allegedly leading the Cartel of the Suns.