California man arrested for smuggling scopes, equipment to Syria

The Syrian-born owner of an Orange County check cashing business was taken into custody Tuesday by federal agents for illegally exporting rifle scopes and other equipment to the conflict-ravaged country.

Rasheed Al Jijakli, 56, of Walnut, was charged this week in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana with smuggling assorted military gear and rifle parts to his native country as part of a ring of fellow Syrian and Kuwaiti-born individuals.

Court documents hold that, from January 2012 through March 2013, Jijakli and three others bought firearms optics and other “tactical equipment” from a series of five companies in Arizona, California, and Washington. The items included at least 85 tactical scopes with rangefinders, 43 laser bore sighters, six two-way radios, ballistic vests, and 27 night vision scopes.

Jijakli then traveled to Syria in July 2012 aboard a Turkish Airlines flight with some of the purchased goods but without an export license. He later allegedly transferred the items to unnamed rebel groups in Syria in violation of numerous federal laws including violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.

In 2004, President George W. Bush approved an Executive Order prohibiting the export of certain goods to Syria, and one of Jijakli’s unnamed co-conspirators warned him to be careful “because the items were prohibited from being exported.”

Upon arrival back in the U.S. in August 2012, Jijakli reportedly told a co-conspirator that, even though he met with “tough fighters” that “deserved to be supported” the trip was “not too much fun” because he was unable to “join with (sic) some action.”

Subsequent trips were made by the ring in September 2012 and February 2013, with the latter bringing 14 bags of checked luggage totaling 619 pounds.

The three-count indictment against Jijakli was returned by a federal grand jury on July 14 and he faces as many as 50 years in prison. He was released on $250,000 bond after pleading not guilty Tuesday and is required to be on electronic monitoring pending a September trial date.

The co-conspirators, two fellow native Syrians who are now naturalized U.S. citizens and a Kuwaiti who now lives in Canada, were not indicted.

The Central Intelligence Agency in 2013 began officially supply millions in aid to some rebel groups fighting the government of embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a practice recently halted by President Trump.