Four members of a Cedar Rapids family with ties to the Middle East were charged Tuesday in a plot to send weapons and thousands of rounds of ammunition to Lebanon, federal prosecutors said.
Ali Afif Al Herz, 50; his son, Adam Ben Ali Al Herz, 22; Ali Afif’s brother, Bassem Afif Herz, 29; and Bassem’s wife, 24-year-old Sarah Zeaiter; were each charged with conspiracy to provide a container or package containing firearms and ammunition to a common carrier without notice to the shipper, according to the government.
Prosecutors allege that three shipping containers purported to be carrying skid loaders, clothes and other goods were sent to Beirut between August of 2014 and May 11, but the last two of those containers were stopped and a total of 152 guns and more than 16,300 rounds of ammunition were found hidden inside, some secreted inside the construction equipment.
The first container was sent without being checked, prosecutors said. A gun dealer in Iowa contacted authorities in February and reported three men and a woman bought several guns and all of the store’s 5.7mm ammunition on two occasions, according to a criminal complaint.
According to the criminal complaint, the four bought at least 113 guns over the last 17 months. Of the weapons seized, 66 of the guns were traced back to the group, and 47 of the weapons purchased are unaccounted for.
Arrangements for the shipping of one of the intercepted containers was apparently made by someone who works for Midamar Corporation, which according to to NBC station KWWL in Iowa is a halal food processing plant in Cedar Springs. Midamar has advertised clothing drives for Syria and Lebanon in the past, according to the federal affidavit.
Ali Afif Al Herz is a naturalized citizen from Lebanon, according to the criminal complaint. His son is a U.S. citizen born in this country, while Bassem Afif Herz is a U.S. citizen born in Kuwait, the government said. Zeaiter was born in Lebanon but is a permanent resident of the U.S.
The criminal complaint doesn’t detail where the weapons were ultimately headed. If convicted, the four face up to 5 years in prison, 3 years of supervised release and a $250,000 fine, the government said.