A Staten Island man has been broadcasting the television network of Hezbollah, al-Manar, to viewers across New York, prosecutors charged yesterday.
Law enforcement officials arrested Javed Iqbal, 42, Wednesday morning after a six-month investigation into a small broadcasting company that Mr. Iqbal owns. Mr. Iqbal, a native of Pakistan who is not an American citizen, was charged in U.S. District Court in Manhattan yesterday with conspiring to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.
Mr. Iqbal agreed to sell a satellite television service that could receive al-Manar broadcasts to a government informant who had posed as a customer, court filings unsealed yesterday allege.
In March, the Department of Treasury classified al-Manar, which is controlled by Hezbollah, as a global terrorist entity. The network is based in Beirut and conducts fund-raisers for Hezbollah in addition to broadcasting the terrorist organization's propaganda.
The courts papers suggest there is at least some appetite among New York viewers for the around-the-clock and often anti-Semitic programming. When a government informant sought to buy satellite television service from Mr. Iqbal, the defendant told the informant that 80% of his customers of Lebanese heritage received al-Manar, the court papers allege.
Prosecutors did not disclose how many viewers were reached through the broadcasts. Mr. Iqbal's company, HDTV Corporation, has an office in Brooklyn and eight satellite dishes in Staten Island, according to court papers.
A telephone call placed to HDTV's main number yesterday morning was answered by a woman who refused to identify herself. She said business was closed for the day and refused to comment on the case.
The government's investigation against Mr. Iqbal began in February following a tip, the court papers say. In May, Mr. Iqbal was stopped at John F. Kennedy International Airport as he returned from Lebanon. He then told investigators that he hoped to bring television programs to Arab communities in America from Lebanon and Qatar, court papers say.
"We remain committed to preventing a terrorist organization from advancing its agenda within our borders," a spokeswoman for the FBI, Christine Monaco, said yesterday.
The government offered few hints about the scope of the evidence against Mr. Iqbal. A federal agent saw what looked like al-Manar on a television screen inside Mr. Iqbal's Brooklyn office on Fort Hamilton Parkway, according to the court papers.
Still, one of Mr. Iqbal's employees proved unable to install al-Manar on a television belonging to a government informant. The sting operation occurred on July 14,in a Manhattan apartment. Following the attempted installation, the informant complained that Channel 2 —the one allegedly showing al-Manar — appeared scrambled, court papers say.The investigator on the case, Charles Villani, attributes the onscreen static to Israeli air strikes on al-Manar's headquarters the day before.
Mr. Iqbal's defense team denies the charges. A law clerk working for the defense, Farhan Memon, said Mr. Iqbal installs satellite receivers across New York and broadcasts television shows for evangelical Christian churches in Texas.
Mr. Iqbal is in America on a visa, his lawyer said.
"He's a small-time satellite receiver and satellite dish distributor," his lawyer, Mustapha Ndanusa, told Magistrate Judge Gabriel Gorenstein, yesterday at a bail hearing. Mr. Ndanusa characterized the defendant as a man who "goes to work" and then "goes home."
Mr. Iqbal said nothing during the hearing.
The prosecutor, Stephen Miller, characterized Mr. Iqbal as a shifty man who spent his first day in custody on Wednesday telling lies.
"The only thing he's done since being arrested is be evasive," Mr. Miller said.
Mr. Miller said Mr. Iqbal at first denied having anything to do with Hezbollah television.
Later, Mr. Miller said, "the story morphed into his only involvement was running a loop of al-Manar" over and over.
Magistrate Judge Gorenstein rejected the government's request that Mr. Iqbal be held without bail. The judge set bond at $250,000. The law Mr. Iqbal is currently charged under carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison, but Mr. Miller said more severe charges, carrying a prison sentence of up to 15 years, may follow.
"The charge lurking in the background here is material support for terrorism," Mr. Miller said.
Mr. Iqbal's broadcasting activities attracted more than just the government's interest. A private watchdog group, Coalition Against Terrorist Media, also told federal prosecutors that Mr. Iqbal was providing al-Manar broadcasts as early as this March, the government's court files stated.
The director of the Coalition against Terrorist Media, Mark Dubowitz, said yesterday in a telephone interview that he was not aware of any other prosecutions based on selling access to al-Manar.
Mr. Dubowitz estimated that 10 million to 15 million viewers worldwide watch al-Manar daily. Since al-Manar was designated a global terrorist organization in March, it has been a crime for Americans to do business with the company or provide it with revenue.
Despite these laws, Mr. Dubowitz said little prevents satellite providers from beaming al-Manar programming in from afar. Although he is not aware of any satellite networks that do so, Mr. Dubowitz said there would be little to prevent Middle Eastern broadcasters of al-Manar from extending their satellite footprint over America.
"The legality of that would be uncertain," Mr. Dubowitz said.