Report: Iranian sleeper cells operating in U.S.

Hezbollah forces in Lebanon

WND, by Leo Hohmann, March 12, 2017:

American intelligence agencies have growing evidence that the Iranian-backed Hezbollah terrorist group maintains a network of sleeper cells in the United States, according to a new report.

Though Hezbollah has not conducted a major attack on U.S. soil, the group could decide to strike key American sites should U.S.-Iran relations deteriorate substantially, according to the Investigative Project on Terrorism.

“Preparations to combat Islamist terrorism broadly should strongly consider the nuanced and growing Hezbollah threat to U.S. national security,” the report concludes.

Hezbollah or “the Party of God” is based in southern Lebanon and has long served as Iran’s way of Islamizing a formerly Christian country while also stoking the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and periodically launching rockets into northern Israel.

But the organization has other enemies besides Israel and should not be viewed within the narrow scope of the Arab-Israel conflict.

In fact, the Shiite terror group has been building its presence in South America since the late 1980s and was able to make inroads on the North American continent during the Obama years, terror analysts say.

The problem is not new but it is reaching a point where a major terrorist event on U.S. soil is more possible, said John Guandolo, a former FBI counter-terrorism specialist who now operates a private consulting business at Understanding the Threat.

He says there is now a sizable Hezbollah presence in the U.S.

Urging Trump to take action

“There is a great deal of testimony – much of it by senior Drug Enforcement Agency officials – over the years revealing how dangerous the situation is,” Guandolo told WND.

“They operate under the direct authority of the leadership of Iran which makes them, legally, an agent of an enemy state operating in the U.S.,” he added. “Our response, in my opinion, should be very strong. For the last eight or nine years we have not taken any strong action, but hopefully that will change.”

About a dozen U.S. mosques in several states are owned or supported by the New York City-based Alavi Foundation, which has ties to the government of Iran. One such mosque is the Islamic Education Center in Potomac, Maryland, Guandolo said.

Alavi’s mosques and all its U.S. assets, including a 36-story glass tower in Manhattan, were seized in 2013-14 for alleged links to Iran’s government in violation of sanctions against that country, but the forfeiture was reversed on appeal in July 2016.

Bush, Obama ignored the threat

Hezbollah is known for having “broader penetration in the Western Hemisphere than any other terrorist organization,” stated the U.S. State Department’s acting coordinator for counter-terrorism, Mark F. Wong, in testimony before the U.S. House International Relations Committee in 2002.

Hezbollah “is a multi-faceted, multinational” organization that “has a presence in virtually every country in North and South America. …” Wong reported to Congress at the time.

Both al-Qaida and Hezbollah have been known to be active along the border region of Colombia, Peru and Ecuador.

The tri-border area known as the “Muslim triangle”

Hezbollah and Hamas have also been setting up shop in the tri-border region of Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil, also known as the “Muslim Triangle.”

Hezbollah has set up legitimate businesses that also deal in counterfeiting U.S. currency, drug smuggling and other illicit trades. This area of South and Central America has been described as a “haven for Islamic extremists” by the former administrator of the DEA, Asa Hutchinson, in testimony before the House International Relations Committee.

Another wave of warnings came in August 2013, again in testimony before Congress. That’s when Cuban-American Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., then-chair of the House Middle East and North Africa subcommittee, warned that Iran was building an “extensive intelligence and terrorist network” in Latin America that the Obama administration was ignoring.

Ros-Lehtinen blasted the Obama administration for putting “politics over national security” in refusing to “get serious” about Iran’s growing infiltration of Latin American nations.

Matthew Levitt’s in-depth essay in Prism magazine last year cited extensive evidence of Iran’s growing influence in Latin America and detailed how Iran works to circumvent economic sanctions through some 36 cultural centers in Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba, Ecuador and Bolivia.

Hezbollah is now believed to have penetrated the U.S. during the lax border security that became endemic during the Obama years.

Another wave of warnings came in August 2013, again in testimony before Congress. That’s when Cuban-American Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., then-chair of the House Middle East and North Africa subcommittee, warned that Iran was building an “extensive intelligence and terrorist network” in Latin America that the Obama administration was ignoring.

Ros-Lehtinen blasted the Obama administration for putting “politics over national security” in refusing to “get serious” about Iran’s growing infiltration of Latin American nations.

Matthew Levitt’s in-depth essay in Prism magazine last year cited extensive evidence of Iran’s growing influence in Latin America and detailed how Iran works to circumvent economic sanctions through some 36 cultural centers in Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba, Ecuador and Bolivia.

Hezbollah is now believed to have penetrated the U.S. during the lax border security that became endemic during the Obama years.

Philip B. Haney

Philip Haney, a retired Homeland Security officer who developed data templates for radical Islamic sects, said Caracas, Venezuela is home to the largest mosque in the Southern Hemisphere – the Al Ibrahim mosque, which is Shia and has ties to Iran.

“That would be an obvious transport point for a lot of things going on there,” said Haney, co-author of “See Something Say Nothing.”

He points to the Panama Free Trade Zone as a “wild west” type of region for fraudulent commercial activity, much of it conducted by Lebanese businessmen funneling money to Hezbollah.

“There are a lot of Lebanese immigrants operating there and they’re there for a reason, it’s kind of like the Switzerland of Latin America,” he said. “They deal in the movement of vehicles, cigarettes and infant formula, cigarettes in particular, and they’re run by Lebanese crews here in the U.S.”

There are so many tactical operations going on in the Western Hemisphere – visa fraud, drug trafficking, contraband, car and cigarette fraud – that it’s hard to keep track of them, Haney said.

“You have to remember the Lebanese have been moving money through non-conventional channels for many years and have become very good at it. It’s a form of underground economy generating huge off-market revenue,” Haney said.

“And that’s where the free trade zone comes in because it’s like a wide-open environment, it’s a source of capital for both legitimate and illicit transactions.”

There is a whole network of Lebanese financiers who operate in the zone.

Here’s how some of them work:

  • Passport fraud: These are real passports but they’re issued to people with false names and identities. “It’s a legit passport obtained illegitimately. It’s not fake, it’s real, but it’s issued normally to a person who created a new identity or a false identity,” Haney said.
    “We’ve known about all this stuff for probably a good 10 years.”

CNN reported just last month on a fake passport ring run out of Venezuela that included allegations that passports were given to people with ties to terrorism.

One confidential intelligence document obtained by CNN links Venezuela’s new Vice President Tareck El Aissami to 173 Venezuelan passports and ID’s that were issued to individuals from the Middle East, including people connected to the terrorist group Hezbollah, CNN reports.

One of CNN’s sources for the story was a cop who said he was offered a cut of the profits if he had cooperated with the scheme.

Here’s more from the CNN report:

The accusation that the country was issuing passports to people who are not Venezuelan first surfaced in the early 2000s when Hugo Chavez was the country’s president, interviews and records show.
A Venezuelan passport permits entry into more than 130 countries without a visa, including 26 countries in the European Union, according to a ranking by Henley and Partners. A visa is required to enter the United States.

  • Vehicle shipment fraud: Cars originating in Venezuela often get shipped to the Middle East for resale. They are bought low and sold higher for profit, which is legal. But it’s what’s stashed inside the cars that are illegal contraband.

“It’s very common. They use the cars as cover and they put contraband in them because most of the shipping containers these cars get loaded into are not inspected,” Haney said. “Some are stuffed with millions of dollars in cash. It’s in the seats and in the floor boards.”

“These cars can even turn up in car-bombings in Baghdad and sometimes they were tracked all the way back to the united states,” he added.

  • Illicit cigarette sales: What does cigarette smuggling have to do with terrorism? A lot, say terrorism experts. The market for illicit cigarettes is $3 billion a year and growing, and the Lebanese are a huge player in this market.

The Lebanese buy cigarettes in low-tax states like Missouri, North Carolina, Georgia and Virginia and then sell them in high-tax states like New York, where they can undercut highly taxed cigarettes and make huge profits.

For example, a pack of cigarettes in New York City can sell for upwards of $14 due to the $4.35 tax. But in Missouri the cigarette tax is only 17 cents, and in Georgia it is 35 cents, so a pack sells at retail for $6. That means a single truckload of black-market cigarettes can be worth up to $2 million to a ringleader.

A recent arrest in the Bronx netted charges against Mohamed Mustafa and Hiyad Chaib for running the illicit cigarette ring, Pix 11 reported.

Two brothers in North Carolina were convicted in 1992 of sending millions to the militant group, Hezbelloh, in Lebanon. The money made on the illicit cigarette sales is often laundered through a legitimate business here in the U.S. but much of the money ends up in the Middle East.

In 2002 Operation Smokescreen was a multi-agency federal counter-terrorism effort focused on black-market cigarette sales in Iredell County, North Carolina, that served as a fundraising effort for Hezbollah.

Detectives made repeated observations of a group of men purchasing large quantities of cigarettes, often with $20,000 – $30,000 in cash. The joint counterterrorism operation ended the fundraising operation, resulting in the arrest, trial, and conviction of the cell members.

In 2013, one of the defendants in another Brooklyn ring had long-time ties to Rashid Baz, the Lebanese cab driver accused of shooting up a van full of Orthodox Jewish students on the Brooklyn Bridge in 1994, Pix 11 reported.

“Lebanese immigrant gangs are doing these different criminal enterprises in the U.S. You’re talking macro truckloads of cigarettes,” Haney said. “They sell to vendors at about the same price but they didn’t have to pay the tax so they make a profit. So you have the cocaine trade, the cigarette trade here, the shipment of vehicles going to the Middle East, you have the Panama free trade zone being exploited.”

  • Drug trafficking: Hezbollah launders money through the free trade zone in Panama and they work with the Mexicans in the drug cartels, Haney said. “That’s why you started seeing really violent beheadings and stuff like that in the drug trade over the last couple of years,” he said. “Hezbollah is using the drug trade to finance its operations.”

Five types of jihad

So what’s all this have to do with sleeper cells and possible terror on U.S. soil? Not only do the smuggling and fraudster operations finance terrorist organizations, but they plunder the legitimate businesses here in the United States.

“There’s different forms of jihad. Financial jihad is one,” Haney said. “It has to do with the concept of plundering the unbelievers. You don’t have to blow them up, you can just make them go broke.”

He said there are five major types of jihad and warfare conducted with bombs and guns is only one of them.

Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born imam of Yemeni parents who helped plan terror attacks for al-Qaida, specialized in financial jihad, Haney said.

“It comes from Quran chapter 8 on the spoils of war, plundering the unbelievers,” he said.

So while most intelligence is geared toward stopping the next big terrorist attacks, groups like Hezbollah are busy nibbling away at the edges of Western society. It’s less sensational but just as damaging over the long haul.

“This is more like the death by a thousand cuts kind of thing, not one fatal thrust but a thousand small ones,” Haney said. “If you approach everything from the expectation that there’s going to be one big attack you bias yourself because you’ve misdiagnosed the nature of the threat. One size doesn’t necessarily fit all.”

“There’s a lot more going on over on the Shia side of the fence than most people realize because we mostly focus on the Sunni groups like the Muslim Brotherhood,” Haney added.

In fact, the two sides are increasingly working together.

Notwithstanding the current disagreements over Syria, there is a long history of cooperation between Muslim extremists on both the Sunni and Shia sides, according to the Washington Institute, which published a policy paper on the issue in May 2013. There have been many meetings aimed at global reconciliation between the two, facilitated by the Muslim Brotherhood.

“The Muslim Brotherhood acts as a liaison between the two in terms of how they are addressing their enemies, the U.S. and Israel,” Haney said. “There’s a lot of overlap. And there are a lot of refugees coming out of the Middle East that are not all Sunni, they’re also Shia.”

Implications of Russian Presence in Latin America

putin2Center for Security Policy, January 23, 2017:

The Obama Administration expelled 35 Russian diplomats and imposed new sanctions on Russian spy agencies for espionage and involvement in hacking political sites during the last presidential election.

Let us be clear. Espionage is an act for which the U.S. has every right to take action against the country that perpetrates it. Since the Russians indeed committed these acts of espionage, the actions taken against the diplomats were justified.

Yet, this dramatic step taken by the Obama Administration constituted a rather puzzling action for an Administration that made reconciliation and reaching out to adversaries and enemies, a policy across the board . The “Obama Doctrine” as the journalist Jeffrey Goldberg called it, is that we do not get involved in conflicts that do not directly affect us. Obama believed that for Russia to claim a sphere of influence in the Ukraine is legitimate given the history and geography of both countries. Therefore, according to this view, let us stay away from unnecessary political confrontations, let alone military ones.

Russia later entered the Middle East with troops in support of its old client, the Assad regime. Russia, along with Hezbollah, helped Bashar Al Assad recover lost territory. Obama was not going to put American soldiers at risk in order to prevent genocide or disasters unless the situation constituted a security threat to the U.S. Following the same logic, in exchange for a nuclear deal, Iran was allowed to have influence in the Middle East raising panic among most countries in the region.

Latin America is the geographical neighborhood where the U.S. lives. Latin America is to the U.S. what Obama claimed the Ukraine is for Russia, namely an area where it can claim not necessarily domination but influence.

Two years ago, we reported the existence of Russian military cooperation with countries in Latin America that are hostile to the United States, mainly Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua.  This includes agreements between Russia and the above named countries that would enable Russia to place their naval logistic facilities within their territory. Russia clearly seeks to increase its political influence and geo-political strategic depth.

As pointed out in the above referenced article, while Russia views the former Soviet republics as naturally belonging to Russia’s traditional area of domination, the Obama Administration views similar attachment to its neighbors in the Western Hemisphere as antiquated.

Meanwhile, countries such as Brazil, Argentina and certainly Venezuela increased their cooperation with Russia. Venezuela even purchased arms for more than four billion dollars. Part of these weapons was handed over by the Venezuela government to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

Brazil, a growing power, supported the idea of “a multipolar world”. On paper multi-polarity could be seen as the recognition of the existence of many world powers and not just one or two. However, in reality, this represents a euphemism for the reduction of American influence.

For many years the leadership of the Workers party in Brazil (2003-2016) along with Hugo Chavez and others ended up creating regional groups where the U.S. was intentionally excluded. Left-wing leaders such as Lula Da Silva from Brazil, Hugo Chavez from Venezuela, Cristina Kirchner from Argentina, Evo Morales from Bolivia, and Rafael Correa from Ecuador dominated the discourse. They all rejoiced over the emergence of a second independence. The first was from the Spanish and Portuguese empires, the second from the United States. That “second independence” did not preclude these countries from increasing alliances with Russia and China precisely because part of the process of seeking “independence” was to establish anti-American political coalitions and alliances. So increasing military cooperation with Russia was an attempt to challenge the traditional influence of the United States in the Western Hemisphere.

The Obama Administration did not think that losing influence in the Western Hemisphere would have consequences. Or if he did, he thought to regain such influence through symbolic gestures. One such “deed’ was the normalization of relations with Cuba, which demanded very little sacrifice on the part of the Castro regime in return. In fact, such sloppy normalization makes us more vulnerable.

Given the presence of so many anti-American dictators, terrorist groups, Iran, and the increasing number of countries that have succumbed to anarchy in our own neighborhood – losing influence in the region is a security liability. Cuba has had relations with all these adverse elements. How exactly does this improve our security, let alone our image in the international arena? As President Donald Trump has pointed out, image is crucial to generate respect. Respect is a function of strength, of assertiveness, of the ability to dissuade the adversary from taking an aggressive stand.

The importance of being influential and having a powerful presence does not mean we are going to fight a war right away. It means we will have a say and we will be an omnipresent force that the Russians or the Chinese will have to take into account before they take any action. Today we are unable to deter the Russians or the Iranians because we do not display the will. This is the source of weakening. We allowed the Russians to do what they wanted in the Ukraine, Syria and in our own hemisphere.

In the Western Hemisphere, we have not been able to daunt the Venezuelan dictatorship. The regime of Nicolas Maduro is not only anti-American but it violates human rights and starves its’ people. Yet, we have failed to recognize the dangers of the regime and the need to at least pressure for the reinstatement of democracy or convincingly frighten them over their heavy involvement in the drug trafficking business. Even Pope Francis, an apologist of populist left-wing regimes, declared that civil disobedience and rebellion against the Maduro regime is legitimate.

In contrast, Russia supports the Maduro regime with a great deal of geo-political conviction. The Obama Administration has not even expressed concern over military exercises and the presence of Russian troops in the continent. According to General John Kelly, formerly the head of the U.S. Southern Command and now the nominee to head the Department of Homeland Security in the Trump Administration, pointed out that since 2008 we are seeing “an increased Russian presence in Latin America through propaganda, military arms and equipment sales”… As part of its global strategy, Russia is using power projection in an attempt to erode U.S. leadership and challenge U.S. influence in the Western Hemisphere”

This does not mean that Russia is a military threat. However, if Russia reinforces military alliances with U.S. enemies such as Venezuela, Bolivia (the so-called Bolivarian Alliance or ALBA), Nicaragua, Ecuador, and Cuba is this a geo-political challenge that we can live with?

As Russian influence increases within the Alba countries, this alliance protects them from human rights condemnations in the Security Council (as journalist Douglas Farrah pointed out) but worse; it secures a Russian strategic advantage in our own backyard.

Trying to find a modus vivendi with Russia is a legitimate goal to pursue but as long as we do it from a position of strength. Denouncing and counteracting cyber-espionage is important. But unfortunately if this is done while ignoring geo-politics altogether, it is not as effective as it could be. The current debate on Russian espionage lacks credibility when we lack the assertiveness that in the past was expected from the United States of America.

Donald Trump may well try to avoid interventionism and seek cooperation with Russia or any other country in the world but giving up our place and leadership in the world should not do such moves.

SOUTHCOM Raises Alarms on Sunni Extremists Infiltrating U.S. Southern Border

3688885704Center for Security Policy, by Dr. Luis Fleischman, Sept. 6, 2016:

On August 21st the United States Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) confirmed what the Menges Hemispheric Security Project has been warning about for a long time: the susceptibility of our Southern border to the infiltration of Middle East Terrorism. Most recently we warned that ISIS has the potential to operate in Latin America.

Reporting on cooperation between Iran or Iran’s proxy groups like Hezbollah and countries in Latin America such as Venezuela as well as drug cartels has been extensive. However, this time SOUTHCOM (which is responsible for all military activities in South and Central America) has explicitly talked about the infiltration of Sunni extremists from the Middle East, from the Afghanistan-Pakistan region and from East Africa broaching our southern border.

These infiltrations, which are carried out with the help of professional smugglers trained in smuggling illegal immigrants from Latin America, represent a major problem given the threat of the Islamic State. What is more interesting is that neither the media nor even the Donald Trump campaign raised public concern over this report. It is particularly worrisome given the fact that Southern Command reported the infiltration of 30,000 individuals from the Middle East, which is the equivalent of 10% of the total illegal smuggling coming from the southern border.

It is obvious that the problem of our southern border remains a very serious issue that requires a solution as soon as possible. The security of our borders should be resolved before any other issue is resolved, whether the next president is Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.

But for this to happen it is also imperative to look at the Western Hemisphere and Latin America not only in economic terms but also as a region that poses serious security challenges.

We have extensively covered all these challenges but with the rise of ISIS it is important to look into why the region is a fertile area for ISIS. First, the proximity of Latin America to the United States makes us vulnerable and provides easy access to those wishing to cross over our rather porous southern border.

Secondly, the northern states of Mexico as well as Central America constitute anarchical areas, territories without effective government. Ungoverned territories are fertile ground for terrorist activities. Third, corruption prevails. It is extremely easy to bribe judges, police, governors, and public officials as drug cartels have widely proved. By the same token, cooperation between ISIS and drug cartels should not be ruled out. After all, such cooperation has taken place between cartels and the Shiite Hezbollah. Drug cartels provide logistics and know the territory extremely well.

By the same token, there have been countries in the region that sold passports in exchange for money like Venezuela, whose embassy in Baghdad sold passports to whomever paid for them. Given the intense activity of ISIS and Sunni extremists in Iraq, it should not be surprising that some of these passports were sold to ISIS members or individuals associated to ISIS. Likewise, small Caribbean countries associated directly or indirectly with Venezuela and the ALBA coalition have been involved in the selling of passports raising eyebrows about the possibility that ISIS may have been one of the beneficiaries of such transactions.

It is also worthwhile to point out that Tareq Al Assami, currently the governor of the Venezuelan state of Aragua and a former Minister of interior was in charge of providing visas and passports. He is known for his connections with Iran and Hezbollah and his father was a former Secretary of the Iraqi Baath party in Venezuela. Former members of Sadam Hussein’s Baath party now constitute an important presence in the ranks of ISIS.

By the same token it should not be ruled out that with the recent peace accord agreed upon by the government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) there could be a number of guerillas that refuse to accept the binding power of the agreements. If those dissidents from the FARC join forces with ISIS as they have done in the past with Hezbollah, it could have disastrous consequences for the security of the region.

Finally, it is important to point out that Latin American countries are not paying due attention to terrorism and less to Islamic terrorism as we have already pointed out. For example, Brazil has denied that there is any terrorist activity in Brazil despite the fact that Hezbollah has major cells operating in the country and even some Al Qaeda operatives. They have been the least cooperative country in tracking activities in the tri-border area.  Brazil does not consider Hezbollah, Hamas, or even the familiar Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) as terrorist entities. This hopefully will change with the new interim government in Brazil or if a new government is elected as a result of Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment.

Therefore, the next president of the United States will need to take this issue very seriously. Failing to do so could place American lives at risk.

Dr. Luis Fleischman is a Senior adviser to the Menges Hemispheric Security Project at the Center for Security Policy in Washington DC. He is also an adjunct professor of Political Science and Sociology at Wilkes Honor College at Florida Atlantic University. He is the author of the upcoming book, “Latin America in the Post-Chavez Era: The Security Threat to the United States.”

Iran Expanding Terror Network in Latin America

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, is welcomed by Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, in Havana, Cuba / AP

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, is welcomed by Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, in Havana, Cuba / AP

Washington Free Beacon, by Adam Kredo, Aug. 23, 2016:

Iran is solidifying its foothold in Latin America, sparking concerns among U.S. officials that the Islamic Republic will enlist these regional allies in its push to launch terror attacks on U.S. soil, according to conversations with congressional sources.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has been on a diplomatic tour through key Latin American countries known for hostility towards the United States, including Cuba, Venezuela, and a host of other countries believed to be providing shelter to Iranian terrorist proxies such as Hezbollah.

As Iranian-ally Russia boosts its spy operation in the region, sources have raised concerns about the rogue nations working together to foster anti-U.S. unrest.

Zarif’s trip through the region has raised red flags among some senior congressional sources familiar with the region. For example, Zarif took aim at the United States and touted the regime’s desire to align with anti-American countries during his stay in Cuba.

One senior congressional source who works on the issue said to the Washington Free Beacon that Iran is seeking to recruit “potential terrorists who want to cause the U.S. harm.”

Increased ties between Iran and these Latin American nations are setting the stage for terrorists to penetrate close to U.S. soil with little detection.

These individuals “can travel easily to Venezuela, and once there, they can get to Nicaragua or Cuba without passports or visas, which poses a national security risk for our nation,” the source explained.

Iran has also reopened its embassy in Chile, a move that has only added fuel to speculation among U.S. officials that the Islamic Republic is making moves to position its global terror network on America’s doorstep.

“The threat to U.S. national security interests and our allies should be setting off alarm bells,” Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R., Fla.), chair of the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa, said in a statement about Zarif’s Latin American tour.

“The Obama administration has failed to prevent Russia and China from expanding in our Hemisphere, and now Iran is once again stepping up its efforts to gain a greater presence to carry out its nefarious activities,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “I urge the White House to stop downplaying the Iranian threat and take immediate action to prevent the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism from establishing a regional safe haven in the Americas.”

Asked to comment on Zarif’s trip and the potential repercussions on Monday, a State Department official said to the Free Beacon that the administration had no comment.

Ros-Lehtinen said the high-profile trip by Zarif should serve as a warning.

“The timing of Zarif’s trip is significant as Iran could use many of these rogue regimes to circumvent remaining sanctions, undermine U.S. interests, and expand the drug trafficking network that helps finance its illicit activities,” she said. “Tehran’s classic playbook is to use cultural centers, new embassies or consulates, or cooperative agreements on various areas to act as façades aimed at expanding Iran’s radical extremist network.”

The renewed concerns about Iran’s footprint in Latin America comes nearly two years after the State Department said Tehran’s influence in the region was “waning.”

“The timing of Zarif’s trip speaks volumes,” said the senior congressional aide who would discuss the issue only on background. It “is worrisome that as we just celebrated the 22nd year of the horrific terrorist attack against the AMIA Jewish community center in Argentina, Iran can now have personnel nearby in a new embassy in Chile.”

“Just recently, a Hezbollah member was picked up in Brazil, an explosive device was found near the Israeli embassy in Uruguay, and Hezbollah members are reportedly traveling on Venezuelan passports,” the source added. “It was not too long ago that Venezuela offered flights to Iran and Syria, and as of last week, Hezbollah cells were found in the West Bank where Venezuela lifted its visa requirements for Palestinians.”

Zarif slammed the United States on Monday during a speech in Havana.

“Iran and Cuba could prove to the U.S. that it cannot proceed with its policies through exerting pressure on other countries,” Zarif said, according to Iran’s state-controlled media.

“Now the time is ripe for realizing our common goals together and implement the resistance economy in Iran and materialize [Cuban dictator Fidel] Castro’s goals of reconstruction of the Cuban economy,” Zarif added.

Zarif went on to note that Iran “has age-old and strong relations with the American continent and the Latin American countries.”

Zarif is reported to have brought along at least 60 Iranian officials and executives working in the country’s state-controlled economic sector.

Behnam Ben Taleblu, senior Iran analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told the Free Beacon that Iran has boosted efforts to engage Latin America in the wake of last summer’s nuclear agreement.

“Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad-Javad Zarif is aggressively continuing Iran’s diplomatic outreach, a policy which began early in the Rouhani administration and was kicked into high gear in the aftermath of the JCPOA—last summer’s nuclear deal,” he said. “Zarif’s sojourn into the Western hemisphere follows on the heels of his May visit to the region. Zarif’s trip symbolically commences in Havana, Cuba, where the Iranian foreign minister harped on themes of steadfastness and resistance to American legal and economic pressure.”

The Iranian leader’s goal is to “build on this experience to help promote an anti-American and anti-capitalist world order,” he added. “What’s most clear however, is that in addition to seeking to solidify the anti-American political orientation of these states, Iran aims to capitalize on the increasingly detached stigma of doing business with it in the aftermath of the nuclear accord. Therefore, we can expect to see trade deals or memorandums of understanding inked. In short, Iran will be looking to deepen to its footprint in Latin America.”

State Dept.: Hezbollah, Islamic State Maintain Presence in Latin America

Getty Images

Getty Images

Breitbart, by Edwin Mora, June 6, 2016:

WASHINGTON, D.C. —The U.S. Department of State (DOS) has determined that Venezuela, which has refused to cooperate with the United States’ antiterrorism efforts in Latin America for nearly a decade, remains a “permissive environment” that promotes ideological and financial support for terrorist organizations, namely Iran’s Lebanese proxy Hezbollah.

Although the “primary threats” to the Western Hemisphere stem from left-wing guerrillas known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN), the Islamic extremist groups Shiite Hezbollah, also spelled Hizballah, and Sunni Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) also maintain a presence across the region, according to DOS’ Country Reports on Terrorism 2015, a congressionally mandated assessment of terrorism activities across the world authored by DOS.

The assessment declares:

South America and the Caribbean also served as areas of financial and ideological support for ISIL and other terrorist groups in the Middle East and South Asia. In addition, Hizballah continued to maintain a presence in the region, with members, facilitators, and supporters engaging in activity in support of the organization. This included efforts to build Hizballah’s infrastructure in South America and fundraising, both through licit and illicit means.

[…]

There were credible reports that Venezuela maintained a permissive environment that allowed for support of activities that benefited known terrorist groups… [including] Hizballah supporters and sympathizers.

Moreover, the DOS evaluation highlights the Tri-Border Area (TBA) between Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina, in addition to Peru, as regions where Hezbollah was operating last year.

“Illicit activities within the TBA remained potential funding sources for terrorist organizations, most notably Hizballah,” it says, adding, “The Tri-Border Areas of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay remained an important regional nexus of arms, narcotics, pirated goods, human smuggling, counterfeiting, and money laundering — all potential funding sources for terrorist organizations.”

The TBA border region has long been a hotbed for Hezbollah members.

In its terrorism reports, the DOS also points out that Peruvian authorities in 2014 arrested a Lebanese national and his wife, a U.S-Peruvian citizen, for suspected links to Hezbollah, adding that “there were residue and traces of explosives” in their apartment.

Hezbollah, along with other terrorists and criminals in Latin America, are known to use networks that support illicit activities, such as trafficking drugs, wildlife, bulk cash, weapons, humans, in addition to illegal logging and mining.

The DOS released its assessment Thursday, a day after the U.S. military declared the region’s illicit trafficking networks as one of the greatest security threats facing the United States.

Gen. John Kelly – former commander of U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), which oversees military activities in Latin America and the Caribbean – warned last year that jihadist groups like ISIS could exploit the illicit networks in the region to infiltrate the United States, adding that Hezbollah is already using known routes to traffic drugs and other contraband.

Although Hezbollah is believed to be the most prominent jihadist group in Latin America and the Caribbean due to Iran’s enduring presence in the region, Gen. Kelly warned in March 2015 that a small number of Sunni extremists are actively “radicalizing  converts and other Muslims in the region and also provide financial and logistical support to designated terrorist organizations within and outside Latin America.”

Pentagon and DOS have recently revealed that between 100 and 150 people from Latin America and the Caribbean have traveled to the Middle East to engage in jihad on behalf of ISIS, without specifying the names of any of the countries in the region.

According to the Department of State, some people from Trinidad and Tobago, as well as Argentina, are believed to have joined ISIS in the Middle East.

“More than 70 nationals of Trinidad and Tobago are believed be fighting with ISIL in Syria,” reports DOS, adding, “It is possible small numbers of Argentine citizens may have sought to travel to Syria and Iraq to join ISIL,” without providing any specific figures.

DOS also mentioned an ISIS-related arrest in Brazil involving a money laundering group accused of moving $10 million-plus and having social media ties to the jihadist group.

Iran’s growing presence in Latin America is believed to be facilitated by Venezuela.

Read more

Hillary Emails: Intelligence Report Said Hezbollah Has Base in Cuba

Hezbollah-in-South-America-Reuters-640x480

Breitbart, By Jordan Schachtel, Feb. 18, 2016:

A private intelligence report from Hillary Clinton’s confidant, Sid Blumenthal, claimed that Hezbollah, the Iran-backed terrorist organization, had set up shop in Cuba, according to an email released by the State Department over the weekend.

The group was actively “casing” facilities related to U.S. interests, the intelligence report also says.

The dispatch read:

During the week of September 5, 2011 extremely sensitive sources reported in confidence that the Israeli Intelligence and Security Service (Mossad) has informed the leadership of the Israeli Government that Hezbollah is establishing an operational base in Cuba, designed to support terrorist attacks throughout Latin America.

The confidential intelligence report from Blumenthal to Clinton continued:

These sources believe that Hezbollah supporters have been instructed to also begin casing facilities associated with the United States and the United Kingdom, including diplomatic missions, major banks, and businesses in the region. These individuals believe that the Hezbollah military commanders in Lebanon and Syria view these U.S. and U.K. entities as contingency targets to be attacked in the event of U.S. and British military intervention in either Syria or Iran, at some point in the future.

Breitbart News has reported extensively on Hezbollah’s encroachment into the western hemisphere, noting the group’s rapid rise in the west in recent years.

U.S. officials, members of Congress, and defense experts continue to warn that Iran is utilizing Hezbollah to expand its influence in the region, and is utilizing cultural centers and mosques to spread the message of the Shia Islamic revolution.

Moreover, a recent report alleged that Hezbollah is now “moving freely” throughout the United States and Latin America.

When reached by Breitbart News, the intelligence services of Canada and Mexico wouldnot confirm or deny reports that Hezbollah had extensive operations already set up within the United States.

A State Department official recently acknowledged in a statement to Breitbart News:“Hizballah receives funding from supporters around the world who engage in a host of licit and illicit activities, some of which takes place in the Western Hemisphere.”

U.S. Removed Cuba from Terrorist List After Hezbollah Opened Base on Island

hezbollahcubaJudicial Watch, Feb. 16, 2016:

A few years before the Obama administration removed Cuba from the U.S. list of nations that sponsor terrorism Hezbollah established an operational base on the communist island, according to intelligence received by Hillary Clinton when she was Secretary of State.

The information comes straight from electronic mail released by the State Department over the weekend as part of ongoing litigation from several groups, including Judicial Watch, and media outlets surrounding Clinton’s use of a private server to send and receive classified information as Secretary of State. This alarming information has been ignored by the mainstream media, which served as the president’s most vocal cheerleader when he established diplomatic ties with Cuba last summer. After appearing for decades on the U.S. government’s list of nations that sponsor terrorism, the Obama administration officially removed it to lay the groundwork for a full renewal of diplomatic ties.

Nevertheless, the administration knew that the radical Lebanon-based Islamic group Hezbollah had opened a base in Cuba, just 90 miles from the U.S, a few years earlier. In a cable dated September 9, 2011 Clinton is informed that “extremely sensitive sources reported in confidence that the Israeli Intelligence and Security Service (Mossad) has informed the leadership of the Israeli Government that Hezbollah is establishing an operational base in Cuba, designed to support terrorist attacks throughout Latin America.” The cable goes on to say that “the Hezbollah office in Cuba is being established under direct orders from the current General Secretary Hasan Nasrallah, who replaced Musawi in 1992. According to the information available to this source, in preparation for establishment of the base, Nasrallah, working from inside of Lebanon, carried out secret negotiations with representatives of the Cuban Government, particularly the Cuban Intelligence Service (General Intelligence Directorate — DGI), agreeing to , maintain a very low profile inside of Cuba. Nasrallah also promised to take measures to avoid any trail of evidence that could lead back to Cuba in the event of a Hezbollah attack in Latin America.”

Obama’s report to Congress indicating his intent to rescind Cuba’s State Sponsor of Terrorism designation included a certification that Cuba had not provided any support for international terrorism during the previous six-months. It also claimed that Cuba had provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future. This was May, 2015 when the State Department announced the island nation was officially off the terrorist list because it “meets the statutory criteria for rescission.” In the announcement the agency also wrote this: “While the United States has significant concerns and disagreements with a wide range of Cuba’s policies and actions, these fall outside the criteria relevant to the rescission of a State Sponsor of Terrorism designation.” The new Clinton email creates a number of questions relating to the agency’s abrupt move to clear Cuba as a sponsor of terrorism.

Hezbollah’s involvement in Latin America is nothing new and in fact Judicial Watch has been reporting it for years. In 2013 JW published a story about Hezbollah infiltrating the southwest U.S. border by joining forces with Mexican drug cartels that have long operated in the region. The recently released Clinton email, states that a “particularly sensitive source” confirmed that in the 1980s Hezbollah carried out similar contingency casing operations against U.S., British, and Israeli facilities and businesses in Latin America, Europe and North Africa. In 1992 Islamic Jihad, acting on behalf of Hezbollah, bombed the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina in retaliation for the death of Hezbollah General Secretary Abbas al-Musawi, the email says.

How Panama and Mexico Help Potential Terrorists Reach the U.S. Border

darien-gap-jungle-X2.sized-770x415xt

PJ MEDIA, BY TODD BENSMAN, JANUARY 6, 2016:

The State Department’s April 2015 “Country Report on Terrorism” no doubt came as sweet music to the ears of Special Interest Alien (SIA) smugglers. These are the smugglers of migrants from the spawning grounds of Islamic terrorism that, as I have been arguing, American homeland security leaders must strategically target with much greater aplomb to reduce the prospect of a Paris-like border infiltration attack here.

The April 2015 report noted that Latin American nations had only made “modest improvements to their counterterrorism capabilities and their border security” from the previous year(s). It noted corruption, weak government institutions, weak or non-existent legislation, and lack of resources as primary causes for little counterterrorism progress.

Conditions like those are, to SIA smugglers, pretty much a free pass to move their human contraband — and terrorist travelers posing as asylum seekers — from the Middle East through Latin America to the U.S.-Mexico border. That’s how so many of the Paris attackers did it in Europe: their smugglers took advantage of the same advantageous institutional weaknesses in Turkey, Italy, the Balkans, Hungary, Greece, and other countries.

One might forgive developing Latin American nations, relatively new to democracy, for slow progress in achieving basic state functionalities that could disrupt or deter such U.S.-bound smuggling of Paris-like terrorists. But less forgiveness is warranted for easily reversible formal government policies, which — as I found in my Naval Postgraduate School thesis researchovertly assist SIA smuggling.

I call the policy “catch, rest, and release,” and peg it squarely on two countries that are among our closest southern allies: Panama and Mexico. Rather than detain, investigate, and deport, Panama and Mexico provide housing, food, and medical services for a couple of weeks, and then release the migrants with full legal status. They know this will enable the travelers to continue unmolested out of their own territories and towards America’s southwestern border.

That’s why “catch, rest, and release” is a third attackable fail point of the smuggling networks, right up there with Latin America’s enabling diplomatic stations inside Islamic nations and with the multi-talented, hard-to-replace smuggling kingpins.

To understand the significance of “catch, rest, and release” to the SIA smugglers and their clients, one must grasp that migrants are paying once-in-a-lifetime fortunes to make it as far as Panama and Mexico. The mere prospect of deportation from one or both of those countries, short of the American border, portends a devastating financial loss not easily raised again for second attempts. Certainly, smugglers would have to charge more for routing adaptation that would have prospective migrant clients thinking twice about paying to attempt the new gauntlet. Therefore, in my estimation, lengthy detention and deportation from Panama and Mexico would threaten the viability of many SIA smuggling organizations.

Instead, the current policies of Panama and Mexico provide such a level of comfort and aid that SIA smugglers have come to count on them. Let’s use a clarifying example to see how all this works.

Panama, for instance, is a bottleneck bridge connecting South America — where many SIAs first land — to Central America. SIAs must traverse Panamanian territory to get to the U.S.-Mexico border. To get there, they must first exit Colombia territory and enter into a 40-mile, unpatrolled jungle wilderness of Panama known as the Darien Gap. The smugglers have no worries in Colombia; the 2014 State Department report stated that Colombian border security “remained an area of vulnerability” in part because only 1,500 of the country’s 180,000 national police officers were devoted to border security — elsewhere. In turn, Panama has left the Darien to the smugglers as well. The State Department report said Panama continued a “struggle to exert sovereignty in the underserved Darien region,” through which an estimated 7,000 migrants traveled in 2013 alone (8,432 during 2014, and 3,800 during the first three months of 2015).

With no border patrolling in the Darien wilderness, exhausted migrants who achieved the three-to-seven day journey eagerly turned themselves in to Panamanian security forces waiting at trail’s end, knowing they would be provided with food, housing, and a release with legal status. Within a few weeks, SIA migrants are thus able to continue northward, well-rested, refreshed, and legal. Otto Reich, former U.S. assistant secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs,told the Wall Street Journal that, despite knowing this human traffic threatened U.S. national security, Panamanian officials “know they are coming to the U.S. and … will no longer be Panama’s problem.”

Mexico, the other key bottleneck transit country, appears no less helpful.

Once through Guatemala, which amounts to an unimpeded “super highway of human smuggling,” SIAs gladly turn themselves in to Mexican immigration authorities. An ICE agent testifying in the 2010 asylum fraud case of Somali smuggler Ahmed Mohammad Dhakane described Mexico’s policy:

“Most of them, all of the East Africans and many from the Middle East, they will surrender at Tapachula (in the state of Chiapas bordering Guatemala), the Mexicans will hold them for, you know, ten to fifteen days, and then they will give them an order of deportation, and they are given 30 days to leave the country at that point.”

On the day after a Paris-like border infiltration attack on the American homeland, our political and diplomatic leadership may well start to ask themselves: with friends like Panama and Mexico, who needs enemies?

Iran Rising: Tehran Using Hezbollah in Latin American ‘Cultural Centers’ To Infiltrate West

AP Photo/Iranian Presidency Office, Mohammad Berno

AP Photo/Iranian Presidency Office, Mohammad Berno

Breitbart, by JORDAN SCHACHTEL AND EDWIN MORA,  May 27, 2015:

The rapidly growing number of Shiite cultural centers in Latin America have provided the Islamic Republic of Iran with a means to expand its covert recruitment operations throughout the western hemisphere, leading military officials and experts to provide Breitbart News with statements that directly contradict the Obama administration’s narrative that Iran’s influence in the region is “waning.”

Breitbart News interviewed military and intelligence officials, policy experts, members of Congress, and a former White House official for this report, all of whom warned about the threat posed by Iran’s continuing encroachment into Latin America.

Iran is infiltrating Latin America thanks largely to Hezbollah, a Shiite terrorist group that has sworn loyalty to Iranian Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, showing overt preference to the Tehran dictator over its host-state Lebanon. Hezbollah, along with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), have provided the on-the-ground support needed for the proliferation of Iran’s Khomeinist ideology.

Breitbart News’ sources have unanimously refuted the assessment of Obama’s State Department, which has claimed that “Iranian influence in Latin America and the Caribbean is waning.”

A U.S. military official told Breitbart News that the estimated 80-plus Shiite cultural centers backed by Iran are continuously multiplying, and are currently being operated by Hezbollah and Tehran’s Revolutionary Guards-Quds Force.

Hezbollah provides operational and logistical support “for Iran’s covert activities in the region to include coordination and collaboration with Lebanese [Hezbollah’s] external operations arm the Islamic Jihad Organization” through Shiite Islamic centers dubbed “cultural centers,” the official told Breitbart News, contradicting the narrative put forth by the State Department.

Such centers can be found throughout Latin America, according to the official.

“Iranian cultural centers open possibilities for Iran to introduce members of its Revolutionary Guard-Qods Forces (IRGC-QF) to a pool of potential recruits within the centers population of Lebanese Shi’a Muslims and local converts to Shia Islam,” added the defense official.

David Shedd, the former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), echoed the U.S. military officials comments, telling Breitbart News via email that “the cultural centers may be used as platforms for truly nefarious purposes by the Iranian regime.”

“Iran has expanded its ‘cultural centers’ presence in locations such as Quito [in Peru] and Caracas [in Venezuela] where there is a strong anti-US government sentiment,” Shedd, currently a visiting distinguished fellow at the Heritage Foundation, told Breitbart News.

“Iran’s overall expanded presence in the Western Hemisphere is troubling,” the former DIA director added. “The expanded presence in any capacity in the Latin American region should give the U.S. pause given the profound differences between U.S. values and those of a regime in Tehran that supports terrorism as an officially sanctioned tool of national power.”

Shedd warned that Hezbollah, which he described as the most prominent global terrorist group in Latin America, likely has “sleeper cells” in various countries in the Western Hemisphere.

“Hezbollah sympathizers also appear to have a presence in the tri-border area of Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil where they are involved in black market commercial activities,” he noted.

The Tri-Border region in South America includes Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil. According to the Treasury Department, the Galeria Page shopping mall in Paraguay– at the heart of the tri-border– serves as central headquarters and a fundraising source for Hezbollah members in the region.

Members of Congress have also sounded the alarm about Tehran’s growing influence in Latin America.

Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-MT), a member of the House Armed Services, said that Iran’s presence was evident when he visited Quito, Ecuador. The congressman described it as a place where anti-American sentiment is strong and jihadist figures appear next to Latin American heroes.

Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC) the chairman of the House Foreign Relations Subcommittee, has been warning against the presence and activity of Iran and its ally Hezbollah in Latin America, holding multiple congressional hearings on the issue, visiting the region, and sponsoring legislation — the Countering Iran in the Western Hemisphere Act of 2012.

Chairman Duncan told Breitbart News that Iran and its proxy Hezbollah “use many tools to deepen their influence in the region, including diplomatic missions and cultural centers; ties with terrorist organizations and criminal groups; training Latin American youth in Tehran; and exploiting loose border security policies and free trade zones to smuggle contraband.”

Rep. Duncan accused the Obama administration of not paying enough attention to the Iranian threat in Latin America, saying during a March 18 congressional hearing, “I believe this negligence is misguided and dangerous.”

Duncan is not the only one who disagrees with how the Obama administration is dealing the presence of Iran in the Western Hemisphere.

Bud McFarlane, who served as National Security Advisor for President Ronald Reagan, told Breitbart News that Iran continues to expand its influence operations throughout the region, tailoring its message to the Spanish-speaking world. He explained:

Iran’s existing network of agents in place, including members of the Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), function through Iranian cultural centers where they seek to recruit candidates for conversion to Shia Islam and carry out other clandestine, subversive activities.  They also carry out what amounts to a form of brainwashing by encouraging teenagers to access Islamoriente.com, which features links to Iranian television for Spanish speakers, anti-American propaganda, essays on reasons to convert to Islam, chat rooms and a personal message from the supreme leader of Iran.

Iran’s propaganda and influence operations can be witnessed throughout the globe, not just in Latin America.

Dr. Michael Rubin, an Iran expert and scholar at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), told Breitbart News:

The Iranian use of Hezbullah and Lebanese expatriate populations is actually neither new nor limited to South America. In the aftermath of the 1992 ‘Mykonos Cafe’ assassinations in Berlin, German police captured both Iranian and Hezbollah operatives, the latter of which represented sleeper cells in Germany.

Rubin added that Hezbollah must not be seen as an independent actor, but as a tool of the Iranian regime. He explained:

Hezbollah is a proxy founded and controlled by Iran. Talk of Hezbollah as having evolved to become Lebanese nationalist first and foremost is nonsense. I’ve been in Hezbollah bunkers in southern Lebanon. Pictures are worth a thousand words, and it’s telling that Hezbollah terrorists bunk down under photos of Khomeini and Khamenei. Current Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei remains Hezbollah’s religious source of emulation. Any notion that Hezbollah was anything other than an Qods Force proxy should have been put to rest in 2008, when they turned their guns on fellow Lebanese in the center of Beirut, or when they supporter the worst atrocities in Syria since 2011.

But even with the overwhelming evidence that Iran’s influence in Latin America is expanding exponentially, the Obama administration has thus far refused to recognize its deep penetration of the Western Hemisphere.

The State Department, which falls under the purview of the Obama White House, has recently stated that the “Iranian influence in Latin America and the Caribbean is waning.”

But it appears as if other executive branch agencies are sending conflicting messages about Iran in Latin America.

In October 2014, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which serves as the investigative arm of Congress, noted a discrepancy in the assessments provided by the agencies.

Although the State Department claims that key government agencies — including the Defense Department, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice — agree with its position, the GAO revealed that U.S. Southern Command (Southcom), which oversees most of Latin America and the Caribbean, does not agree that Iran’s influence is “waning.”

Dead Argentine prosecutor was zeroing in on a terror threat to the entire Western Hemisphere

Alberto Nisman

Alberto Nisman

Business Insider, by LINETTE LOPEZ, March 20, 2015:

Iran and its proxies are well positioned in several Middle Eastern countries.

As days go by, the mystery surrounding the death of Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman – who was found shot in the head in his locked apartment two months ago – becomes murkier.

But we’re learning a lot more about the explosive findings of his decade-long investigation.

Testimony from journalists and government officials suggest that in addition to describing Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner’s hand in protecting the perpetrators of a 1994 Buenos Aires terrorist attack, Nisman was also working to blow the lid off the workings of Iran’s terrorist organization in Latin America.

Nisman’s decade of work on the subject pointed to Iran.

And according to the testimonies, it appears Nisman was working to blow the lid off the entire workings of Iran’s terrorist organization in Latin America.

‘Export Iran’s Islamic Revolution’

In a written statement on Wednesday, Brazilian investigative journalist Leonardo Coutinho walked members of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs through the findings of his years of work looking into Iran’s penetration of Brazil.

In a statement titled “Brazil as an operational hub for Iran and Islamic Terrorism,” Coutinho discusses not only his findings while working for Brazil’s Veja magazine, but also Nisman’s tireless work.

“Official investigations carried out by Argentine, American, and Brazilian authorities have revealed how Brazil figures into the intricate network set up to ‘export Iran’s Islamic Revolution’ to the West, by both establishing legitimacy and regional support while simultaneously organizing and planning terrorist attacks,” Coutinho said (emphasis ours).

“Despite the fact that Brazil has never been the target of one of these terrorist attacks, the country plays the role of a safe haven for Islamic extremist groups, as explained below.”

He went on to note that Nisman’s 502-page dictum on the 1994 Buenos Aires terrorist attack “not only describes the operations of the network responsible for this terrorist attack, it also names those who carried it out. Consequently, the document lists twelve people in Brazil with ties to [Iran’s Lebanese proxy] Hezbollah, who reside or resided in Brazil. Seven of these operatives had either direct or indirect participation in the AMIA bombing.”

To put these astounding assertions into perspective, consider that Iranian military mastermind Qassem Suleimani recently said, “We are witnessing the export of the Islamic Revolution throughout the region. From Bahrain and Iraq to Syria, Yemen and North Africa.”

Tony Badran, a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, explains what Suleimani, head of the foreign arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps, meant by this:

“When he talks about exporting the Islamic Revolution, Suleimani is referring to a very specific template.

“It’s the template that the Khomeinist revolutionaries first set up in Lebanon 36 years ago by cloning the various instruments that were burgeoning in Iran as the Islamic revolutionary regime consolidated its power.”

And now, according to reporting from Veja and Nisman, Iran and Hezbollah have been attempting the same in Latin America.

Nisman dug deep

Nisman had been working on Iran’s involvement in Latin America since 2005, when Nestor Kirchner, then Argentina’s president, asked him to investigate a 1994 terrorist attack on a Buenos Aires Jewish Center, AMIA. The attack killed 85 people.

Around the same time, according to reports, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who died in 2013, had allegedly ensured that Iranian and Hezbollah agents were furnished with passports and flights that would allow them to move freely around South America and to Iran.

From there, it was a matter of fund-raising for Iran’s agents – co-opting drug cartels, and sometimes hiding in remote, lawless parts of Brazil, Peru, Venezuela, and other countries that lack the infrastructural, legal, and economic resources to root out Iran’s agents of terror.

“Iran and Hezbollah, two forces hostile to US interests, have made significant inroads in Peru, almost without detection, in part because of our weak institutions, prevalent criminal enterprise, and various stateless areas,” Peru’s former vice interior minister told Wednesday’s House hearing, noting that Peru was not hostile to the US. “These elements are particularly weak in the southern mountainous region of my country.”

AMIA bombing argentina

Remains of the AMIA after the 1994 bombing in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Wikipedia

Nisman’s findings alleged that Hezbollah and top government officials in Iran orchestrated the AMIA attack. Nisman’s investigation was lauded by international parties – current President (and Nestor’s widow) Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has said so herself.

But things changed after Nestor left office in 2007. Argentina’s prolonged ostracization from international markets made it a cash-strapped nation, and the popularity of the Kirchners domestically waned below ecstatic.

That meant Fernandez would have to fight to hold on to power, and that fight would take money. According to Coutinho’s work, that’s when things changed. He interviewed three defected officials of Chavez’s regime who said they witnessed a conversation between the Venezuelan president and his then-Iranian counterpart, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in January 2007.

Ahmadinejad and Chavez reportedly planned to coerce Argentina into sharing nuclear technology with Iran – which Argentina had done in the 1980s and again in the early 1990s after the AMIA bombing – and stopping the hunt for the perpetrators of the AMIA bombing in exchange for cash, some of it to finance Fernandez’s political aims. It’s unclear whether Fernandez knew where this money was coming from, according to Coutinho.

In any case, The New York Times recently reported that intercepted conversations between Argentine and Iranian officials “point to a long pattern of secret negotiations to reach a deal in which Argentina would receive oil in exchange for shielding Iranian officials” from being formally accused of orchestrating the terror attack.

If genuine, The Times noted, the conversation transcripts show “a concerted effort by representatives of President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner’s government to shift suspicions away from Iran in order to gain access to Iranian markets and to ease Argentina’s energy troubles.”

Hugo Chavez, Nestor Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner

Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner with her husband, Nestor, right, and, Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez in Buenos Aires in 2007. Reuters

After that, analysts at the US-based think tank Strategy Center note that there was a significant shift in Argentina’s policy toward Iran:

Later in 2012, Ahmadinejad made a speech at the UN, and for the first time in years the Argentine delegation did not walk out. The Argentine administration eventually cast Nisman’s findings on AMIA, Iran, and Hezbollah aside.

AMIA suspects

Moshen Rabbani and another original suspect in the AMIA bombing, Ahmad Reza Ashgari, from a 2006 handout released by an Argentine court. Reuters

Through all of this, Nisman continued digging. He tried to track the network of Mohsen Rabbani, who he believed led Iran’s cell in Latin America and was an architect of the AMIA attack.

>Brazilian authorities tried and failed to arrest Rabbani, whose main contact in Brazil at the time of the attacks, according to Nisman, was a cleric named Taleb Hussein al-Khazraji.

And that connection shows how Iran’s “intricate network set up to ‘export Iran’s Islamic Revolution’ to the West” touched the United States.

Both al-Khazraji and Rabbani were in contact with Abdul Kadir, a former politician from the South American country of Guyana who is now serving a sentence of life in prison in the US for plotting to attack New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport in 2007.

The FBI said Kadir was caught trying to board a plane in Trinidad bound for Venezuela and eventually to Tehran.

Kadir was prosecuted, with some assistance from Nisman, by none other than US attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch.

U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch

US Attorney Loretta Lynch. Reuters

“The sentence imposed on Abdul Kadir sends a powerful and clear message,” Lynch said in a statement at the time. “We will bring to justice those who plot to attack the United States of America.”

All of this suggests Alberto Nisman was a marked man for years. But for years he managed to do extraordinary work uncovering Iran’s terrorist network in Latin America.

It’s no wonder that confusion about what happened, who did it, and why has taken over Argentina’s news cycle. Reports have little to say or do with Nisman’s part in fighting international terrorism in Latin America.

Michael B. Kelley contributed to this report.

Also see:

New photos reveal expanding reach of Iran in Venezuela and other parts of Latin America

new imagesFox News, by Catherine Herridge, March 17, 2015:

As the Obama administration seeks a deal with Iran on its nuclear program, new congressional testimony, documents and photos show Tehran is expanding its reach into South America by advising rogue regimes on suppressing anti-government protests and financing secretive military facilities.

Rep. Jeff Duncan, a Republican from South Carolina, cited this evidence when questioning the notion that Iran has changed its ways as President Barack Obama and his team advance negotiations which may include dropping Iran from the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism.

“We have a negotiation going on with Iran,” Duncan told Fox News. “We don’t want anything to interfere with that.”

“And so we’re going to say their influence in this hemisphere is waning,”  Duncan said, referring to the administration’s argument. “The narrative doesn’t work when you start looking at all the pieces of the puzzle that fit together of Iran’s activity in this hemisphere”

Joseph Humire, who is executive director of the Center for a Secure Free Society and who will testify before Duncan and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s subcommittees on the Western Hemisphere as well as the Middle East and North Africa this week, says there is growing cooperation between Venezuela and Iran.

He pointed to a meeting between the Iranian commander of the notorious Basij paramilitary force, Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Nadqi, and the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, believed to have taken place in 2009.

Humire found evidence of striking similarities between the death of Neda Agha-Soltan — an Iranian student protestor who became the face of the green revolution in 2009, after she was shot in the chest by the Basij militias – and the murder in February last year of a 22-year-old Venezuelan student Genesis Carmona, a former beauty queen, who was killed at the hands of pro-government civilian militias.

The assessment is that Teheran advised Venezuela on the development and use of brutal civilian militias known as “colectivos” that were modelled after the Iranian Basij units.

“There’s a lot of similarities in the actual results, the killings, there’s also similarities in the tactics, clandestine communication techniques that these colectivos didn’t have previously, espionage, intelligence, the ability to infiltrate student movements like they didn’t before,” Humire explained.

And Iran allegedly helped build a UAV facility in Maracay, Venezuela, with documents reviewed by Fox News suggesting potential dual use technology.

After an unexplained explosion in 2011, Humire says sections of the plant, reinforced with ceramic plates at Teheran’s insistence, were largely intact.

“I believe the Iranian UAV program is a cover for something that is more illicit,” he said. “Perhaps something that’s sanctioned and mostly likely involves Iran’s strategic programs, its–nuclear program and ballistic missiles.”

Humire found other examples, in Bolivia, with photos showing a government site, alleged to have received backing from Iran. Before 2011, it housed a UN Peacekeeping unit, but since it has been replaced by an air defense command that is heavily secured, with some areas strictly off limits.

new images 2

Duncan, who authored the Countering the Iran Threat in the Western Hemisphere Act of 2012, signed by Obama, called on the State Department to assess Iranian activity, and its intentions, but the five-page unclassified report was a cursory review.

“It was a five-page report, (and) said the Iranian influence was waning,” he said. “But everyone I talked to in the intelligence community, differ from that whether it’s General Kelly with SouthCOM or whether it’s other independent, intelligence organizations.”

Catherine Herridge is an award-winning Chief Intelligence correspondent for FOX News Channel (FNC) based in Washington, D.C. She covers intelligence, the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security. Herridge joined FNC in 1996 as a London-based correspondent.

Also see:

Iran’s Expansive Role In The Middle East And Latin America, And The Nuclear Negotiations

333893762CSP, by Nancy Menges Luis Fleischman, Feb. 26, 2015:

As negotiations move forward on a nuclear arms agreement with the Islamic Republic of Iran, the United States along with the P5+1 appears to be oblivious to activities of Iran in the Western Hemisphere and other regions of the world.

In the Middle East, Iran has most recently supported insurgencies in both Bahrain and Yemen. The pro-Iranian Houthis just overthrew the American backed government in Yemen which we were working with on terrorism related issues.

In Syria, Iran and its proxy, Hezbollah, continue to support the Bashar Al Assad regime with Hezbollah fighting together with Assad’s forces. So far 200,000 people have been killed in Syria with millions dispersed in refugee camps in Jordan and Turkey. Hezbollah now has a perfect excuse to be involved in supporting Assad by invoking the need to defeat the bloody Islamic State. Hezbollah may think that this card could play well in the West which is trying to avoid direct intervention to defeat ISIS and would prefer that local forces to do the fighting.

In Iraq, hundreds of thousands of young Shiites are fighting as part of Iranian-backed militias, with a Shiite sectarian orientation likely to aggravate the sectarian strife prevailing in the country. These militias outnumber the Iraqi security forces, and in addition members of the Iranian revolutionary guards, the pro-Iranian Badr organization, and the pro-Iran Katain Hezbollah are heavily involved, mostly operating outside of Iraqi government control.

In Latin America ever since the election of the late Hugo Chavez to the presidency of Venezuela in 1998, Iran has become more embedded in the region in an effort to spread its influence. Several episodes and activities are illustrative of this point.

A few years ago the late Argentinean prosecutor, Alberto Nisman reported in a 500 page document the presence of Iranian and Hezbollah cells in twelve countries in South America.

For at least ten years if not longer, there have been direct airline flights from Caracas to Tehran. Though these are commercial airlines no passengers are allowed and no one seems to know the cargo they carry but it is believed that weapons and members of Hezbollah or the Iranian Revolutionary Guards might be on those flights. Hezbollah has reportedly trained Venezuelan and other guerillas and has strengthened relations with a number of revolutionary regimes in the region. Likewise, tunnels built across the Mexican-American border are akin to those built by Hezbollah along the Israeli/Lebanese border.

In 2011, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder accused the Iranian Quds Force of plotting to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to the United States. Though Iran vehemently denied complicity, the American government pointed to high officials in the Iranian hierarchy with having approved the plan.

Another Iranian activity that goes largely unnoticed is Iran’s outreach to several small Caribbean nations. In return for financial assistance, these nations have issued passports to Iranian citizens who wish to enter the United States but could not do so using their Iranian passports. Venezuela and a number of other countries connected directly or indirectly to ALBA countries are providing passports to Iranians. One of those holding such a passport is Moshen Rabbani, the man believed to be behind the terrorist attacks against the Argentinean Jewish Community Center (AMIA) in 1994.

Iran has also been the recipient of uranium from Venezuela.

Most recently the government of Uruguay confirmed that an Iranian diplomat left the country after Uruguayan security suspected him of collecting intelligence about the Israeli embassy in Montevideo.

The diplomat was thought to have placed an explosive device near the Israeli embassy early in January. The device was not particularly powerful but investigations carried out by Uruguayan intelligence indicated the possibility of Iran’s involvement in this serious incident. It was not clear to the authorities whether the device was intended to do harm or was just testing their ability to respond.

But what is astonishing about this story is that two months earlier another incident occurred which was intentionally kept out of the public eye by the Uruguayan government. Indeed, on November 24, somebody placed a suitcase near the building that belonged to the old Israeli embassy in Montevideo. Although the suitcase was empty, cameras located a car belonging to the Iranian embassy nearby. Inside there was a man that the police could not identify immediately but it was assumed he was an Iranian diplomat. The police concluded that the empty suitcase was aimed at testing Uruguayan security forces’ ability to respond.

The Uruguayan government apparently decided to expel the diplomat, who himself, is an appointee of the former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. That appointee was a vocal anti-Semite, a Holocaust denier and apparently served as a translator in the conversations between Ahmadinejad and the late Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez. Furthermore, the man was reportedly working in Uruguay with Muslim converts that have been activists in a radical left wing party. These individuals could well have been potential candidates for terrorist recruitment; an activity Iran has been systematically performing.

Interestingly enough, Uruguay has been and is a friendly country towards Iran (without being a close ally like Venezuela and the other ALBA countries). Uruguay’s outgoing president, Jose Mujica, declared in the past that his country would pursue relations with Iran because it is good and convenient for the country. The Uruguayan foreign minister Luis Almagro was a commercial attaché in Teheran for about five years and under his watch commercial relations between the two countries flourished. Likewise, a Uruguayan parliamentary delegation visited Teheran to strengthen relations and Almagro himself defined Uruguay and Iran as “two countries that fight against injustice and oppression”. (Almagro is the most likely candidate to be the next Secretary General of the Organization of American States).

The incident in Uruguay is another instance where Iran once again displays its nature as a terrorist entity that does not hesitate in using its embassies and the good faith of the host countries to apply its lethal methods. This is what Iran did in Argentina previous to the two deadly terrorist attacks against the Israeli Embassy and the Jewish community center.

Why shouldn’t Iran be doing so if there is no demand for Iran to stop supporting and encouraging terrorism? After all, a year ago Argentina signed a memorandum with Iran where representatives from that country would be part of the investigation into a terrorist attack where Iran remains the main suspect. By the same token, the chief investigator of the terrorist attack, Mr. Nisman, is dead because he dared to investigate a suspected cover up by the Argentinean government-a government that allegedly wanted to exonerate Iran.

Furthermore, the Argentinean foreign minister Hector Timerman summoned the American and Israeli Ambassadors and asked that these two countries stop meddling in Argentinean internal affairs and stop bringing Middle East conflicts to Argentina. The irony of this statement is that Iran chose Argentina as the target of its’ own intense hatred and violence.

Iranians probably laugh at these events where they are being given a pass over and over again. So, the fact that Iranians may have considered an attack on the Israeli Embassy in a country that is friendly to them such as Uruguay shows the ruthless nature of the regime and how little relations or agreements mean to them.

The negotiations between Iran and the P 5 +1 are mainly focused on Iran’s nuclear program. Thus, Iran is treated as a partner in a negotiation over a specific issue but Iran’s terrorist and treacherous nature is not a factor being considered in this equation.

At this point the U.S. strategy could well be to try to reach an agreement with Iran where the latter would be allowed to enrich uranium at a low level. However, there could be a possibility that if Iran decides to develop nuclear weapons, it could take the Iranians a short time to develop them from the moment they make the decision to do so.

The examples of Iran’s activities show several negative signs. First, if Iran can betray friendly countries like Uruguay, why wouldn’t it betray the P5+1? Likewise, what makes us think that we can live with a terrorist subversive Iran that not only has good chances of having a dominant role in a post-ISIS Syria and Iraq but also expands its influence and activities beyond the Middle East including regions as far as Latin America (from where Iran can strike the U.S. via a terrorist attack or by placing missiles in friendly countries such as Venezuela or Nicaragua)?

Iran presents a very complex challenge. Iran’s non –nuclear, threat is not being discussed, nor considered. This possible nuclear arms agreement should not be treated, as if it were something comparable to a commercial transaction. After all, as a nation state, Iran for the last thirty five years has been the foremost exporter of terrorism.. As the United States along with the P5+1 continues with its negotiations with Iran, they might question whether as a non-nuclear power, Iran presents a threat to world peace and stability and if so how will that play out once they were to become a nuclear power.

In Latin America, radical Islamic presence flourishes while key countries downplay the threat

86886005CSP, by Luis Fleischman, January 17, 2015:

As a result of last week’s heinous terrorist attack in France that took the lives of 16 innocent people, President Barack Obama has set in motion plans for a counter-terrorism summit to be held on February 18th in Washington DC.

It is likely that mostly North American and European countries will attend this summit meeting despite the fact that there have been recent terrorist attacks in other parts of the world such as those in Ottawa, Canada and Sidney, Australia and the northern region of Nigeria. In other words, simple logic indicates that these types of attacks could take place anywhere.

Before September 11, 2001 , the deadliest terrorist attacks in the Western Hemisphere took place in Argentina against the Israeli embassy in 1992 and then the Argentinean Jewish community headquarters in 1994.

However, we do not have to go back two decades .to stress the very real presence of terrorism in Latin America.

Most recently the Peruvian authorities foiled a terrorist plot against Jews and Israelis. The attacker was a Lebanese member of Hezbollah’s foreign terror operations branch. He reportedly planned to attack locations popular among Israeli backpackers as well as against the Israeli embassy in Lima and other institutions of the Peruvian Jewish community.

As a result of his arrest by the Peruvian authorities early in November, Brazilian police uncovered documents according to which Lebanese traffickers who are members of Hezbollah have helped the Brazilian gang known as First Capital Command (PCC) obtain weapons. Hezbollah provided the PCC with access to arms smugglers. Most of these Hezbollah operatives were based in the tri-border area (where Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina’s borders meet), a place known as being a big center of Hezbollah’s fundraising and other operations.

Of course, the connections between criminal and drug cartels with terrorist groups have been reported for a long time. The problem is not only limited to the fact that terrorist groups and criminal gangs or cartels logistically cooperate to advance their respective goals. The problem is also that criminals and jails are sources of recruitment for future terrorists.

It is enough to look at Amedy Coulibaly, the man suspected of killing a trainee police officer in Southern Paris on January 8th and also the person responsible for the seizing of the kosher supermarket on January 9th. Coulibaly was a petty criminal before he became a monstruous jihadist. He had six previous convictions, one for robbery and one for drugs. While in jail he was mentored by Djamel Beghal, a jihadist imprisoned in 2001 for planning an attack against the U.S. embassy in Paris. It was in jail where he met one of the Kouachi brothers, who were responsible for the attack on the satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo.

Given what we have seen so far of the radicalization of criminals, would it not be plausible for criminal elements from the Brazilian PCC to turn into Jihadists? Should it be ruled out that these Jihadists could attack a magazine such as “Veja” known for its’ anti-terrorist views or even carry out an attack on an American or European embassy or institution in Brazil?

So, what has been the attitude of the Brazilin authorities?

Brazil has denied that there is any terrorist activity in Brazil despite the fact that Hezbollah has major cells operating in the country and even some Al Qaeda operatives. They have been the least cooperative country in tracking activities in the tri-border area.

Brazil has been ruled by the leftist Workers Party since 2003. For them counter-terrorist activities are associated with Brazil’s military dictatorship of the mid 1960’s and 70’sthat carried out a heavy war against local guerillas and other subversive and dissenting activists.. Since that war brought about major human rights violations and loss of lives, Brazil has viewed the war on terror as something negative.

Brazil does not consider Hezbollah, Hamas, or even the familiar Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) as terrorist entities. By the same token, an Al Qaeda suspect was released by a Brazilian judge.

Yet, it is interesting that the government of the Workers Party under Dilma Rousseff considered an ill-conceived anti-terorrism law in the wake of the massive anti-government protests in the summer of 2013.

The debate was highly controversial and for very good reasons. The Brazilian anti-terrorist bill was aimed at controlling unrest, particularly as the World Cup was approaching. The bill was aimed at social control. It had nothing to do with terrorism. Terrorism was used cynically. The bill defined terrorism very vaguely such as “provoking or infusing generalized terror or panic through offense or attempt at offense to life, physical integrity, health or deprivation of liberty of a person”. This general definition could easily criminalize social protests and other acts that are significantly below any act of terrorism.

In Argentina, President Cristina Kirchner and her associates seriously tried to apply anti-terrorist laws against American investment funds known as “vulture funds” for causing debt in Argentina and for applying “financial terror”. In fact, Kirchner absurdly tried to impose the anti-terror law against a company that declared bankruptcy since that decision created “economic chaos”.

Even worse than that, on January 15th, the prosecutor for the terrorist attacks against the Jewish headquarters in Argentina, Alberto Nisman, filed a 300-page complaint accusing President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman and other political figures associated with the government of “covering up” for Iranian operatives allegedly involved in the deadly 1994 attack. According to Nisman, the Kirchner Administration attempted to remove Iran from any incrimination related to the terrorist attack that left 85 people dead and hundreds of Argentinean citizens injured. The idea was to strengthen trade relations with Iran in order to alleviate the energy crisis by exchanging “oil for grains”. However, such trade could not be done without removing the accusations against Iran.

Between Brazil’s cynical approach to terrorism and Argentina’s de-facto alliance with it, the situation in the region is very serious.

As terrorist organizations have a strong presence in countries such as Venezuela, Latin America cannot be excluded from the anti-terrorist summit and cannot be ignored. Venezuela and a number of other countries are selling passports to Iranians as well as other individuals from the Middle East. (http://www.theamericasreport.com/2013/10/15/irans-presence-is-multifaceted-and-reaches-remote-places-in-latin-america/ ).

Furthermore, a few years ago Nisman reported in a 500 page document the presence of Iranian and Hezbollah cells in several countries in South America and that Iran plans to establish intelligence bases in every country in order to carry out, promote, and sponsor terrorists.

Furthermore, if there is a campaign to uproot radical Islam from Europe altogether, it is likely that terrorists will shift their operations to other areas where they won’t be bothered and can still do harm to Western targets. Latin America’s neutrality towards Islamic terrorism makes the region one of the most likely areas of choice for them, particularly when terrorists already have a well rooted presence.

President Obama needs to develop a real global strategy on the war against terrorism. The countries of Latin America should not be neglected. The Latin American regional block bears responsibility to protect every resident and institution that exists within their borders. Their cynical and manipulative attitude towards terrorism needs to be challenged. It is in America’s interest.

Dr. Luis Fleischman is a Senior adviser to the Menges Hemispheric Security Project at the Center for Security Policy in Washington DC. He is also an adjunct professor of Political Science and Sociology at Wilkes Honor College at Florida Atlantic University. He is the author of the upcoming book, “Latin America in the Post-Chavez Era: The Security Threat to the United States.”

Also see:

Some Facts and Notes About The Situation on the Border: From the Jihadi Threat Perspective

h2Terror Trends Bulletin, By Christopher Holton, July 27.2014:

• Hezbollah has a major presence in North, Central and South America.

• Hezbollah is embedded in the Lebanese Muslim community in the US and enjoys protection from a neighborhood watch-type program that serves as a countersurveillance and counterintelligence operation. They also are embedded in multiple Shia mosques, some of which are directly tied to the Iranian regime.

• In 2003, then-CIA director George Tenet testified before Congress that 12 Hezbollah cells has been identified as operating in the US conducting surveillance.

• A Congressional Research Service report published in 2011 indicated that Hezbollah was present in 15 US cities, including Houston and Nashville.

• Hezbollah’s activities in the US primarily center around drug trafficking and criminal schemes and scams.

dea-used-car-scam

Picture-117

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• In Operation Smokescreen from 1995-2002, a Hezbollah cell in North Carolina that was bootlegging cigarettes to raise money was broken up. This was detailed in the excellent book, “Lightning Out of Lebanon.”

• In Operation Tobacco Road, 16 Muslim in the US were indicted for trafficking bootleg cigarettes in Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey and New York. The proceeds are believed to have gone to Hezbollah and/or HAMAS.

tobacco-road-1

• In 2011, 70 car dealerships in Florida and elsewhere were uncovered laundering cars for sale in West Africa to raise money for Hezbollah.

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• Hezbollah has two major networks operating in Latin America:

1. The Hojjat al-Eslam Mohsen Rabbani Network

2. The Ghazi Atef Salameh Nassereddine Network

• Rabbani is an Iranian diplomatic official who was formerly the cultural attache’ to Argentina when Hezbollah attacked two Jewish targets there in 1992 and 1994. He is wanted on an Interpol Red Notice.

Hojjat al-Eslam Mohsen Rabbani

• Nassereddine was born in Lebanon, became a Venezuelan citizen in 2000-2001 and became Venezuela’s number 2 diplomat to Syria.

Ghazi Atef Salameh Nassereddine

• Hezbollah’s Rabbani network operates in Brazil and Venezuela and is linked to the Sinaloa Cartel and has been identified as operating cocaine labs and providing security for drug operations.

The Southern Border of the US

• Former DEA Operations Chief, Michael Braun, has testified about Hezbollah’s extensive operations in Latin America:

–Hezbollah has exploited America’s porous southern border for years.

–Hezbollah has close relations with Mexican cartels.

• Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman detailed Hezbollah’s Latin American operations in his indictment of Iranian officials for the 1992 and 1994 Buenos Aires bombings:

–9 Latin American countries have Hezbollah deeply embedded.

20130220_hezbollah_south_america

–The origin of Hezbollah’s presence in Latin America was the heavy emigration out of Lebanon from 1975-1990.

–Hezbollah initially set up operations in the lawless “Tri-border” area where Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay come together.

The lawless "Tri-Border Area" in South America

• Hezbollah has a particularly heavy presence in Venezuela, especially on Margarita Island, where Hezbollah operates a training camp and has banking assets

hezbollah776283

• Hezbollah operates in Mexico and has relations with the Los Zetas cartel.

• In Mexico, Hezbollah’s operations include drug and human trafficking and providing explosives and tunneling training for the cartels. Hezbollah originally provided explosives training to Al Qaeda in Sudan in the 1990s and they have extensive experience in tunneling operations on the Lebanon-Israel border.

Hezbollah tunnel

• In July 2010, acting on intelligence provided by the US, Mexican authorities arrested a Hezbollah operative in Tijuana.

• The two main north-south routes for Hezbollah trafficking operations are I-35 and Highway 59.

interstate-35-map

US Highway 59

• US LE and Border Patrol have reported an increase in detainees with Farsi language tattoos and Hezbollah imagery on tattoos in recent years.

Source: fortressoffaith.org

• It has become increasingly common for Muslims in Mexico to change their Islamic surnames to Hispanic sounding names to facilitate moving across the border. Apologists claim this is simply to avoid discrimination. 

• Cartels have been involved in trafficking Al Qaeda, Al Shabaab and Hezbollah operatives into the US.

• From 2008-2010, an estimated 180,000 OTMs (Other Than Mexicans) were believed to have crossed the border illegaly.

• In that same period, 1,918 “Special Interest” OTMs were apprehended on the border. “Special Interest” means they originated from nations of terrorism concern, such as Middle Eastern Islamic nations.

• In January 2011, a Farsi language book was found on the border in Arizona. It was named “In Memory of Our Martyrs.” It was an anthology of Jihadis killed in martyrdom operations.

English language translation of "In Memory of Our Martyrs" published by Iran's Qods Force and available on Amazon in the UK

• In April 2005, then-FBI director Robert Mueller reported that Hezbollah was involved in human trafficking on the southern border.

• In July of 2012, six Special Interest aliens from Afghanistan, Iraq and Yemen were arrested in Laredo, TX. Each had 60,000 Iraqi dinars.

Information on general enforcement conditions on the Mexican border:

• There are constraints on border control. The Border Patrol is forbidden from patrolling on federal land. The Border Patrol reports receiving instructions to avoid detaining and processing illegal aliens.

• The majority of border crossers are NOT economic immigrants.

• Cartels are buying real estate on both sides of the border to set up staging areas and camps.

• The cartels employ high-tech comm gear superior to that in the hands of US LE.

• Cartels and coyotes employ scouts and snipers on the high ground along trafficking routes.

• The Mexican army has in fact provided surveillance and cover fire FOR traffickers on more than one occasion.

• Arizona ranchers are afraid to use their cell phones in the open because cartel snipers might think they are calling in reports to LE and kill them. Even US LE are careful about using comm gear in the open on the southern border. It is believed that the cartels have snipers and scouts in the high ground all the way to Phoenix.

• In 2010, an indictment in San Antonio involved the human smuggling of 100 or more Al Shabaab members from Somalia.

In short, the border is not secure, not at all. Any politician that says otherwise is LYING. In significant portions of the border, for much of the day/night, the border is completely controlled by cartels who have known ties to Jihadis, such as Hezbollah.

Christopher Holton is Director of Education and Outreach at ACT! for America. Holton joined ACT! for America after serving for 10 years at the Center for Security Policy, where he directed the Center’s Divest Terror Initiative and Shariah Risk Due Diligence Program. He has been involved in legislation in twenty states to divest taxpayer supported pension systems from foreign companies that do business with the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Islamic Republic of Sudan, and the Syrian Arab Republic as well as passage of American Laws for American Courts and several other forms of state level legislation in dozens of states. In 2005, he was a co-author of War Footing, published by the US Naval Institute Press. Holton’s work has also been published by National Review, Human Events, The American Thinker, Family Security Matters, Big Peace, World Tribune, World Net Daily, and NewsMax. Before joining the Center, Chris was President of Blanchard and Company, a two hundred million dollar per year investment firm, and editor-in-chief of the Blanchard Economic Research Unit.

Experts: Iran Exerting Troubling Influence in Latin America

Guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, FARC / AP

Guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, FARC / AP

By :

Iran and its terrorist proxy groups’ influence in Latin America remains a troubling security threat to the region and world, experts said at a congressional hearing on Tuesday.

Hezbollah, a Shiite terrorist group based in Lebanon and sponsored by Iran, has established illicit networks in Latin America in the last few decades to provide millions annually for its global operations, experts on the region told the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade.

Those networks involve money laundering, counterfeiting, piracy, and drug trafficking in cooperation with local criminal groups like the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

Celina Realuyo, assistant professor of national security affairs at the National Defense University, said the “convergence” of terror and crime networks in Latin America presents a significant threat to regional and global security.

“These types of illicit actors, terror providers, and criminals, a lot of them are offering and brokering services but may not espouse the ideological fervor that other groups have,” she said. “But they’re offering a lot of special services—a terror pipeline—where you see this very unholy alliance between terror groups and criminal groups who have a win-win.”

The witnesses’ testimony on Tuesday appeared to contradict a State Departmentreport issued last year that downplayed the threat of Iran and Hezbollah in the Western Hemisphere and was sharply criticized by some lawmakers and terrorism experts.

Realuyo said a lot of fundraising for Hezbollah in the region cannot be “separated out” from the illicit operations of local criminal groups.

Douglas Farah, senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Americas Program, added that just because ties between Hezbollah and groups like FARC seem opaque does not mean they are nonexistent.

“It’s hard to get through the policy perception that [they’re] not there,” he said.

Realuyo pointed to three recent cases as evidence of the links between Hezbollah and criminal groups in Latin America.

Read more at Free Beacon

More on Hezbollah activities in Latin America: https://counterjihadreport.com/category/latin-america/