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Terror Threat in Latin America

9:25 AM, Aug 15, 2013 • By JAIME DAREMBLUM
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Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee in April 2011, the head of U.S. Southern Command, Gen. Douglas Fraser, affirmed that “members of violent extremist organizations from the Middle East remain active in Latin America and the Caribbean and constitute a potential threat.” He mentioned Hezbollah’s fundraising activities specifically, adding that “several entities affiliated with Islamic extremism are increasing efforts to recruit adherents in the region.”

Around the same time that General Fraser delivered his testimony, the Brazilian magazine Veja reported that members of al-Qaeda were operating in Latin America’s biggest country, along with members of Hezbollah, Hamas, and other terror groups. A few months after that, a retired Peruvian general told the Jerusalem Post that Iranian-backed terrorist organizations were collaborating with other terror groups in South America. And a few months after that, U.S. authorities thwarted an Iranian attempt to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington with the help of a Mexican drug cartel—a shocking plan that highlighted the audacious, menacing nature of the regime in Tehran.

Jump ahead to January 2012: According to journalist Sebastian Rotella, Iranian and Venezuelan officials held a secret meeting at which “Venezuelan spymasters agreed to provide systematic help to Iran with intelligence infrastructure such as arms, identification documents, bank accounts, and pipelines for moving operatives and equipment between Iran and Latin America.” Iranian and Hezbollah operatives are already highly active in the notorious Tri-Border Area (TBA)—formed by the intersection of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay—which has long been a haven for all sorts of criminals, and is home to a relatively large Lebanese population. “Since 2006,” notes a recent Congressional Research Service report, “the Treasury Department has sanctioned over a dozen individuals and several entities in the TBA for providing financial support to Hezbollah leadership in Lebanon.”

It’s also worth recalling a few news items that haven’t received nearly enough attention in the American media. In October 2006, a pair of explosive devices were discovered close to the U.S. embassy in Caracas. Shortly thereafter, a group declaring itself “Hezbollah Latin America” claimed responsibility for planting the bombs, and vowed to launch more attacks in the future. We still don’t know much about this group, or its capabilities, but we do know that Hezbollah has been  expanding its operations in Latin America, including its recruitment efforts and its ties to drug cartels.

The case of Mexican national Jameel Nasr is especially disturbing. Arrested by Mexican officials in Tijuana in 2010, Nasr was apparently part of a Hezbollah-directed terror apparatus. According to a Kuwaiti newspaper account cited by Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens, Nasr, who frequently visited Lebanon, was trying to establish “a logistics infrastructure of Mexican citizens of Shiite Lebanese descent that will form a base in South America and the United States to carry out operations against Israeli and Western targets.” He aroused suspicion among Mexican authorities with his “long visit to Venezuela in mid-2008,” a trip that was aimed at “building a network for Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.”

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