Mohamad Youssef Hammoud: Jailed for 23 years in USA, alleged 'Chief of Hezbollah in the Americas' returns to Lebanon under mysterious circumstances, declares innocence
The alleged former head of Hezbollah in the Americas, Mohammed Yousef Hammoud, returned to Lebanon on Tuesday after serving 23 years of a 30-year prison sentence in the US for terrorism financing, pro-Hezbollah media reported.
A video of the 49-year-old Lebanon-born man being received at Beirut International Airport was published by Hezbollah-outlet Al-Manar on Tuesday. Reports suggest he then received a 'hero's welcome' in his home village.
The New Arab could not independently verify the video or Hammoud's release.
Hammoud, 49-years old, was sentenced in 2002 to 155 years by a US District Court in prison on charges of "providing material support" to Hezbollah from 1995 to 2000 in Charlotte, North Carolina.
US authorities said he led an $8 million cigarette smuggling ring with some of the proceeds going to Hezbollah.
He was later resentenced to 30 years in 2011 after launching an appeal in which all of his convictions were upheld, but his sentence changed.
The US, UK and the EU have designated Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation.
Hezbollah has described the charges as bogus and insists Hammoud is an innocent man.
US authorities did not announce Hammoud's release, and a press spokesperson at the US embassy in Beirut had yet to give a comment to questions by The New Arab.
US District Attorney Anne Tompkins said in 2011 that Hammoud had created a "criminal enterprise which accumulated millions" in profits and that he had "led a clandestine terrorist cell in Charlotte".
She added that during his time in prison, Hammoud had "ordered the murder of then-prosecuting attorney and the bombing of Charlotte's federal courthouse".
Hammoud, in an interview with the pro-Hezbollah paper Al-Akhbar on Wednesday, said that the charges against him were "akin to science fiction".
He described the evidence against him as being forged by a Lebanese man who was facing life in prison in the US for credit card fraud, among other things.
Hammoud claimed that the witness's sentence was reduced in exchange for "fabricating" charges against him.
محمد يوسف حمود مواليد ١٩٧٣ من بلدة صربين الجنوبية القابع بالسجون الاميركية منذ سنة2000 بتهمة تمويل حزب الله.— السيدجواد Jawad (@JawadShhh) November 26, 2022
ولا يوجد اي جهة رسمية لبنانية طالبت به. pic.twitter.com/Kg5FwgE8zg
According to George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, Hezbollah has created a “vast array of networks” across the US to raise money for its activities in Lebanon.
Due to Western sanctions, the group is largely cut off from the global financial system and it has had to cope by creating its own parallel financial system.
Hezbollah is backed by Iran and is part of its regional network of proxy and allied paramilitary groups aligned with its foreign policy interests. In recent weeks, there have been increasing reports of indirect US-Iranian talks to revive their nuclear deal, which are often coupled with 'goodwill gestures' including so-called prisoner swaps.