On March 1, 1994, Lebanese-born immigrant Rashid Baz shot many rounds of automatic fire at a van carrying 15 Lubavitch students on the Brooklyn Bridge. Four students were hit, two were very seriously injured. Ari Halberstam, 16, died four days later from a shot to the head. Another student, also shot in the head, suffered permanent major speech impediments. Muaffaq Askar, Baz’s “Palestinian uncle,” has long been suspected of supplying the weapon to convicted killer, according to the NY Daily New.
Now Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly has announced Askar’s arrest as part of a multi-state cigarette smuggling ring with terrorist ties.
Last Thursday, authorities were searching for what had to be millions of dollars in profits of the captured smuggling ring that sold cheap cigarettes to bodegas across New York The current theory is that the funds have been sent to the Middle East.
“We’ve only recovered a small fraction of the money,” State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said after announcing the charges of enterprise corruption against 16 defendants. “We’re very seriously concerned about where that money went.”
Over the last 17 months, authorities say the ring bought $55 million worth of cigarettes in Virginia, and sold them “tax-free” to grocery stores in New York’s outer boroughs. They “saved” $80 million in state taxes, a percentage of which constituted their smuggling profits.
Three of the men charged in the smuggling operation are linked to known terrorists, including Hamas, officials said.
According to the Daily News, NYPD detectives visited the Crown Heights, Brooklyn, home of Halberstam’s parents. Ari’s mother, Devorah, is a gun control advocate, who just a month ago published an op-ed in the Daily News, on the 19th anniversary of her son’s death, in favor of increased gun control.
“I hope that Ari’s memory can help move Congress and leaders across the nation. I’m not asking for a perfect solution; I’m asking only for a solution that will save lives,” she wrote.
All 16 of those charged are Palestinian, and 14 of them are living illegally in the U.S. One fled to Jordan before the arrests Wednesday.
The U.S. should have no trouble getting Jordan, recipient of U.S. foreign aid, to assist in extraditing the 16th suspect.
Commissioner Kelly said the ring included several “individuals on our radar with links to known terrorists,” most importantly Mohannad Seif, 39, a cigarette reseller from Brooklyn.
Kelly said Seif lived in the same three-story walkup with the personal secretary of Hamas’ main fund-raiser in the U.S., Mousa Abu Marzouk, who was deported from the U.S. in 1997. Marzouk continues to raise money for Hamas in Egypt.