The Brazilian magazine Veja is reporting that al Qaeda members have established an active presence in South America’s largest country, as have militants associated with Hezbollah, Hamas, and other terrorist groups. They are apparently engaged in fundraising, recruitment, and strategic planning. Earlier this week, Aldo Donzis, a leading figure in the Argentine Jewish community, spoke to the JTA news agency and voiced alarm about the revelations.
“We have high concern about fundamentalist movements in Latin America and about recruitment activities of fundamentalist movements,” Donzis said. “We shared this information with Latin American parliamentarians last July and they agreed with our information. But the situation is getting worse. In Argentina, we have seen graffiti written in Arabic calling for jihad which coincided with the visit of Iranians here. Also, this graffiti was seen in Bolivia. We understand that Brazil needs to feel worried and act.”
Terrorists have long found haven in South America’s so-called Triple Frontier, which encompasses the intersection of Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay. This area is known for being a Wild West of lawlessness, drug trafficking, and organized crime. Argentina is especially sensitive to increased terrorist activity in the region. During the 1990s, it suffered two deadly bombings orchestrated by Hezbollah and Iran. The first (in 1992) destroyed the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires; the second (in 1994) demolished a Jewish community center in the same city.
Speaking of Iran, the head of U.S. Southern Command, General Douglas Fraser, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday and declared that “Iran continues expanding regional ties to support its own diplomatic goal of reducing the impact of international sanctions connected with its nuclear program. While much of Iran’s engagement in the region has been with Venezuela and Bolivia, it has nearly doubled the number of embassies in the region in the past decade and hosted three regional heads of state in 2010.”
General Fraser expressed concern that “there are flights between Iran and Venezuela on a weekly basis, and visas are not required for entrance into Venezuela or Bolivia or Nicaragua.” He also confirmed that “members of violent extremist organizations from the Middle East remain active in Latin America and the Caribbean and constitute a potential threat. Hezbollah supporters continue to raise funds within the region to finance their worldwide activities. Several entities affiliated with Islamic extremism are increasing efforts to recruit adherents in the region, and we continue to monitor this situation closely.”
Yet another reason for the Obama administration to rethink its passive approach to Latin America.
Jaime Daremblum, who served as Costa Rica’s ambassador to the United States from 1998 to 2004, is director of the Center for Latin American Studies at the Hudson Institute.