South Florida becomes gateway for arms smuggling

Miami seems more and more like the Casablanca of movie
legend.

This month, a Palestinian man and a Cuban migrant were
charged in an FBI counter-terrorism probe with plotting to buy hundreds of
stolen assault rifles, high-tech bombs and remote-control detonators to ship to
the West Bank.

Shortly before that, Miami Beach arms wunderkind Efraim
Diveroli — already convicted of selling banned Chinese-made munitions to the
Pentagon — was arrested on new firearms charges after he allegedly tried to
import rounds of ammunition from South Korea.

And two years ago, a ring of foreigners and businesses
was charged with illegally supplying electronic parts to Iran via South Florida
for explosives that could be used to target American soldiers in Iraq.

The disparate cases are among dozens of South Florida
prosecutions alleging illegal arms trafficking, weapons exports, embargo
violations, and shipments of ‘dual-use’ military and commercial technology.

Known as an international marketplace for drugs and money
laundering since the days of Miami Vice, the region has expanded into a viable
gateway for arms smuggling — not only to Latin America but also to the Middle
East and Far East.

Federal agencies, accustomed for decades to battling
shadowy drug cartels in South America, quickly adapted to weapons
investigations. They’ve been deploying the same crime-fighting techniques to
make cases.

Three years ago, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement
established a bunker in Fort Lauderdale for probing illegal arms trafficking,
generating more prosecutions in South Florida.

“The investigations are not just focused on the smuggling
of arms out of the Port of Miami, Port Everglades or Miami International
Airport,” said Anthony Mangione, special agent in charge of ICE Homeland Security
Investigations in Miami.

“We’re focusing on these international arms brokers with
laundry lists of weapons and explosives. These guys operate in the shadows, and
it takes a lot to draw them out.”

In 2007, the Justice Department launched a plan to coordinate
investigations, training and prosecutions to stop clandestine efforts by
terrorist organizations from obtaining sensitive US technology and parts for
their rocket, military and nuclear systems.

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