By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 25, 2006
A New York man was arrested yesterday on charges that he conspired to support a terrorist group by providing U.S. residents with access to Hezbollah's satellite channel, al-Manar.
Javed Iqbal runs HDTV Corp., a Brooklyn-based company registered with the Federal Communications Commission that provides satellite television transmissions to cable operators, private companies, government organizations and individual customers.
According to an affidavit made public yesterday in U.S. District Court in New York, a paid FBI confidential informant told law enforcement officials in February that Iqbal's company was selling "satellite television service, including access to al-Manar broadcasts." The informant then had a recorded conversation during which Iqbal offered al-Manar broadcasts along with other Arab television stations.
The U.S. Treasury Department in March designated al-Manar a "global terrorist entity" and a media arm of the Hezbollah terrorist network. The designation froze al-Manar's assets in the United States and prohibited any transactions between Americans and al-Manar.
Iqbal's attorney, Mustapha Ndanusa, said yesterday that the accusations against his client are "completely ridiculous," according to the Associated Press. Ndanusa added that he is not aware of another instance in which someone was accused of violating U.S. laws by enabling access to a news outlet.
Donna Lieberman of the American Civil Liberties Union said she is "deeply troubled" that a television distributor is being prosecuted for the content of a broadcaster. Such a prosecution, she said, "raises serious First Amendment concerns." She said she thinks that the law under which Iqbal has been charged has a First Amendment exception for news communications.
Mark Dubowitz of the Coalition Against Terrorist Media (CATM), which is composed of Jewish, Christian, Muslim and secular organizations, said yesterday he is "saddened" that a U.S. resident was allegedly facilitating the transmission of al-Manar "but pleased that the U.S. is taking the necessary steps to ensure al-Manar's incitement to violence is stopped."
Al-Manar, he said, was placed on the terrorist list because it was used to incite violence, recruit people to a terrorist organization and raise funds for terrorist activities, including the provision of bank accounts where money should be sent.
On July 11, according to the affidavit, the FBI confidential informant arranged to have the satellite system installed in a New York City apartment that the bureau had wired for sound and video. Iqbal's technician installed the system, but the al-Manar channel came in scrambled.
The informant called twice in the ensuing week and during the second call Iqbal said he wanted to "check out the CI [confidential informant] to make sure the CI was not a spy," according to court documents.
In mid-August, the al-Manar channel at the apartment still was not fixed. When the informant called again on Aug. 17, Iqbal told him the Israeli bombing had disrupted al-Manar's transmissions. Iqbal also acknowledged that he was aware broadcasting of al-Manar was illegal in the United States, although he understood the government would make it legal again soon, according to the affidavit.