Six years later, fugitive back in U.S. to face trial

/ Source: The Associated Press

After nearly six years as a fugitive, one of the first men charged under a 1996 anti-terrorism law voluntarily returned to the United States to face trial.

Fawzi Mustapha Assi, 44, was arrested in July 1998 after being stopped at Detroit Metropolitan Airport with night-vision goggles and other equipment that the FBI said was meant for the Hezbollah guerrilla group.

He was charged with providing material support to a terrorist organization but denied the charge and fled to Lebanon after he was released on bond.

An FBI agent accompanied Assi on his flight Monday from Beirut to Chicago. He was ordered arrested on Tuesday pending trial.

Negotiating for months
Assi, a U.S. citizen and former Ford Motor Co. engineer, had been negotiating his return for months with the U.S. attorney’s office, defense attorney Douglas Mullkoff said.

“His family lives here, and he wants to return to a normal life and put this behind him as swiftly as possible,” Mullkoff told The Detroit News for a Thursday story.

Assi, who emigrated from Lebanon when he was 18, has denied any links to Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed guerrilla group that was fighting Israeli soldiers and their Lebanese allies in south Lebanon when Assi was arrested.

He was one of the first people arrested under a 1996 terrorism law that outlaws financial assistance or “material support” to organizations including Hezbollah that are classified as terrorist by the State Department.

If convicted, he could face up to 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.