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Terror Threat in Latin America

9:25 AM, Aug 15, 2013 • By JAIME DAREMBLUM
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In late June, the State Department issued a controversial report on Iranian activity in the Western Hemisphere. Its most notable conclusion was that “Iranian influence in Latin America and the Caribbean is waning.” Critics immediately pointed out that, just a month earlier, Argentine special prosecutor Alberto Nisman had released a 500-page report showing that Tehran has “clandestine intelligence stations and operative agents” scattered across the region. The obvious question was: Why hadn’t Foggy Bottom considered the Nisman dossier before publishing its recommendations? In an August 1 letter to GOP senator Mark Kirk, State Department official Thomas Gibbons explained that “the Nisman report was made public after our report was completed.” However, Gibbons assured Senator Kirk that Foggy Bottom has asked the intelligence community to review the Nisman findings in a timely manner.

While they’re at it, U.S. officials might also take note of a front-page story in Sunday’s Washington Post, which describes an Iranian “outreach” program that “has brought hundreds of Latin Americans to Iran for intensive Spanish-language instruction in Iranian religion and culture, much of it supervised by a man who is wanted internationally on terrorism charges” (my emphasis). The terrorist supervisor is an Iranian cleric named Mohsen Rabbani, whom Nisman has identified as the mastermind of a 1994 bombing that destroyed the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) building in Buenos Aires, leaving 85 people dead and hundreds more injured. Since 2007, more than a thousand Latin Americans have received schooling in Iran, “mostly under Rabbani’s supervision,” according to a report cited by the Post. Predictably, the Iranian schooling includes a heavy dose of anti-American and Islamist propaganda. A Mexican student who spent three months in Iran told the Post that certain students were subjected to “weeks of theological and political indoctrination.” Some of them, in his words, became “crazy-obsessed” with the Iranian revolution.

Coming on the heels of Nisman’s report, the Post story should heighten concerns about Iran’s penetration of Latin America and the Caribbean. Over the past three decades, Tehran has deployed and cultivated agents throughout the hemisphere, everywhere from Guyana and Trinidad & Tobago to Argentina and Brazil to Chile and Colombia. These agents helped orchestrate both the 1994 AMIA massacre and the 1992 bombing of Israel’s Buenos Aires embassy, which killed 29 and injured hundreds. They also plotted to bomb New York City’s JFK International Airport, a plot that was foiled by U.S. authorities in 2007. A key player in the airport bomb scheme was Guyanese national Abdul Kadir, an Iranian agent who, according to Nisman, “had repeated contacts with Mohsen Rabbani” prior to his arrest. (Rabbani is still wanted by Interpol for his role in the AMIA attack.) Testimony from an informant suggests that Kadir and his fellow terrorist operatives “wanted to form an organization like Hezbollah in the Caribbean.” Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed terror group based in Lebanon, was responsible for both the 1992 and the 1994 bombings in Buenos Aires.

Writing in this space last month, I discussed the Nisman findings and reviewed Iran’s recent efforts to expand its Latin American footprint. Those efforts include (1) establishing new embassies, diplomatic missions, and “cultural centers” across the region, (2) dispatching members of the elite Iranian Quds Force (according to a 2010 Pentagon report), and (3) strengthening relations with leftist, anti-U.S. governments in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Nicaragua. Rather than rehash all the evidence of Iranian activity, I want to focus on the terror threat in particular.

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