Why Are We Ignoring Jihadists in Latin America?

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Town Hall, by David Grantham, January 4, 2017:

Famed Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz said Obama will go down in history as the worst foreign policy president of all time, after the U.S. chose to abstain in the U.N. Security Council vote on the resolution condemning the construction of Israeli settlements. Cataloguing the president’s foreign policy blunders and their consequences will keep scholars busy for some time. But his inability to craft a meaningful strategy for combating Islamic terrorism in Latin America with U.S. partners may be the most significant for U.S. national security. The American public will face the deadly consequences of Obama’s failure there unless Trump changes course.

The presence of Islamic terrorists in Latin America can be traced back decades to the Iranian-sponsored bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires in 1992 and the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) headquarters in 1994 – together the attacks killed and injured over 650 people. The international community was reminded of those heinous events when, on January 18, 2015, Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman was found murdered the day before he was to present evidence to the Argentine Congress that showed then-president Cristina Kirchner and other Argentine officials had conspired with the Iranian government to cover-up Iran’s involvement in the AMIA attack. Joseph Humire, an expert on Iran’s influence in Latin America, called it the “most important political assassination in Latin America of the 21st century.”

Eight hundred miles to the north, Hezbollah and Hamas maintain a robust presence in the virtually lawless tri-border region of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. This largely ungoverned locale is considered a breeding ground for terrorism and is known as a busy transit point for the sale and smuggling of contraband, which generates billions of dollars annually for groups like Hezbollah, Al Qaeda and Egyptian Islamic Jihad. Author and senior Pentagon consultant Edward Luttwak describes the area as the most important base for Hezbollah outside of Lebanon. North Carolina-based Hezbollah cells involved in cigarette smuggling during the 1990s relied on assets in the tri-border area.

Infiltration by international terrorists of a region known for transnational organized crime has resulted in marriages of convenience. A report from Spain’s Defense Ministry in December 2016 outlined how Islamic terrorists have teamed up with drug trafficking organizations like El clan Barakat in Paraguay and Joumaa in Colombia to launder cash used to support terrorist activities. In fact, law enforcement officials in the southwest United States reported a significant increase in Hezbollah tattoos and imagery among imprisoned gang members.

Immigration stories naturally dovetail. A source for the U.S. State Department revealed in 2010 that Mexican drug cartels were likely smuggling known Arab extremists across the border into Texas. A lesser known story involves Hezbollah operative Muhammad Ghaleb Hamdar, who was arrested in Peru in October 2014 for planning a terrorist attack. He used an actual “marriage of convenience” to one Carmen Carrión Vela as part of his cover. She was arrested in November 2015 for material support to terrorism. The truly frightening detail of this episode: The convicted wife was a dual-citizen of Peru and the United States, and had twice traveled to the U.S. before Hamdar was arrested in Lima.

The Islamic State is now in the mix. The aforementioned Spanish report found that rapidly expanding Muslim communities have given rise to recruitment where as many as 100 Latin Americans have joined ISIS — 70 alone allegedly came from Trinidad and Tobago. That island nation says today’s radical Islamic elements operate like the local Jamaat al Muslimeen group that tried to overthrow the government in 1990.

These stories only gloss over a much bigger problem that also involves nation-state collaboration between the likes of Venezuela and Iran, nuclear technology in Argentina and the spread of Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi Islam in Latin America.

Despite all of this, the president shies away from confronting radical Islam. Despite all of this, the president helped enrich Iran to the tune of $10 billion. “Often considered a foreign policy backwater for the United States,” Joseph Humire writes, “Latin America has become a top foreign policy priority for the Islamic Republic of Iran.” Others like ISIS and Al Qaeda are not far behind.

Trump must reverse course and team up with Latin American partners to fight this war. Failure here will pale in comparison to failures elsewhere.

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.

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Death of a Prosecutor

B7y4GYhIIAAH2ad.jpg-large-450x300Frontpage, by Kenneth R. Timmerman, Jan. 21, 2015:

Alberto Nisman, the Argentinean prosecutor who indicted top Iranian regime officials for the July 1994 AMIA Jewish Center bombing in Buenos Aires, was found dead by gunshot in his apartment on Sunday night, in what initially was called a suicide.

Nisman was scheduled to address members of parliament the next day to reveal new information about alleged efforts by Argentinean President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and her foreign minister, Hector Timerman, to cover up the responsibility of the Iranian regime in the AMIA bombing that killed 86 people some twenty-one years ago.

Just days before his murder, Nisman publicly accused the President and her foreign minister of taking “the criminal decision to fabricate Iran’s innocence to save Argentina’s commercial, political and geopolitical interests.”

Police found arrayed on a desk in his apartment documents relating to his allegations, but no suicide note.

Nisman issued his initial 801 page indictment in the AMIA case in on October 25, 2006. He asked Interpol to issue international arrest warrants against eight current and former Iranian government officials, including then president Hashemi-Rafsanjani, his foreign minister, the intelligence minister, and the head of the Revolutionary Guards Corps.

He also accused Lebanese Hezbollah leader Imad Mugniyeh, who worked in tandem with the IRGC, of handling the logistics of the truck bomb plot.

Mugniyeh was assassinated in Damascus in February 2008, apparently by Israeli operatives. Mugniyeh has a long pedigree of killing Americans and killing Jews, which I have written about extensively.

He murdered 241 U.S. Marines in Beirut in 1983, hijacked aircraft, murdered U.S. hostages in Lebanon, and helped recruit the al Qaeda terrorists who carried out the 9/11 attacks.

Early this past Sunday, Israeli helicopters reportedly attacked a Hezbollah outpost in Syria, killing four Hezbollah operatives – including Mugniyeh’s son and terrorist-operative heir, Jihad.

A senior Iranian official told reporters that Israel would be hit at “the right time and right place” in retaliation for the strike.

That same evening, on the other side of the world, the Argentinean prosecutor instrumental in revealing Mugniyeh, Senior’s involvement in the AMIA bombings, died mysteriously of a gunshot wound to the temple, fired from a .22 revolver he did not own, with no apparent powder burns on his hands.

Coincidence? Perhaps.

When police discovered Nisman’s bloody body behind the locked door of his Buenos Aires apartment, they treated the area as a crime scene, not a suicide, and immediately called in forensics investigators.

This and other indicators led the Daily Beast’s Christopher Dickey, a long-time aficionado of Iranian state terrorism, to speculate that Iran might have murdered Nisman to bury the evidence of bigger crimes.

My Iranian sources tell me there is no doubt of Iran’s efforts to coopt Argentinean president Cristina Kirchner, nor any doubt that Nisman’s death was a murder carried out by professionals.

I got involved in the AMIA investigation early on, and corresponded with Nisman’s first boss on the case, Judge Juan Jose Galeano, who eventually traveled to Washington, DC to meet with me. When Nisman ultimately took over the case and issued his indictment against the Iranian regime, he cited my evidence on more than a dozen occasions.

As I reported in 2003, a former Iranian intelligence officer, Abdolghassem Mesbahi, told the court that Iranian officials had paid $10 million into a Banque Degroof Luxembourg bank account in Switzerland that was controlled by then-president Carlos Menem, in exchange for his efforts to impede the AMIA investigation.

Menem’s denials were ultimately put to rest when the Swiss government froze the $10 million in his Banque Degroof accounts. One can only imagine what would have happened to Mrs. Kirschner’s denials had Nisman been able to testify on Monday to the Argentinean parliament.

Nisman has been under pressure from the Argentinean authorities for years. I contacted him again in 2007 to see if he would be willing to testify before the U.S. District for the Southern District of New York about what he had learned of Iran’s overseas terrorist operations, as part of the Iran-9/11 investigation I was involved in.

After several months of back and forth negotiations, he got back to me to say that his superiors had forbidden him from having any contact with the U.S. court, even though we merely wanted him to present the same evidence he had made public in the AMIA indictment.

Nisman had huge amounts of evidence that has not been made public, including transcripts of intercepts between the Iranian cultural attaché and Iranian expat taxi drivers in Buenos Aires who helped transport explosives used in the bombing, and other intercepts detailing the involvement of the Islamic Republic Shipping Lines and their local agents in conveying the explosives to Argentina.

The circumstances of Nisman’s murder – the dubious murder weapon, the door locked from the inside, the apparent absence of a struggle – remind me eerily of the November 2011 murder of Ahmad Rezai, the son of the former commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps, Mohsen Rezai.

The younger Rezai was found dead in his room in a residence hotel in Dubai and was immediately declared a suicide by the Dubai police.

Because I had gotten to know him well (so well that he named his first child after my daughter), I flew to Dubai to investigate.

Although Rezai was a U.S. citizen, the U.S. consular authorities had no interest in investigating the case and provided no assistance to me or his U.S. family, who I was representing.

The Dubai authorities stonewalled but I went around them. From the medical examiner, I discovered that the cause of “suicide” – an overdose of anti-psychotic medicine – was not true: the amount found in Ahmad’s blood was normal.

Furthermore, upon interrogating hotel staff, I discovered that a known Russian mafia hitman had checked into a room just down the hall a few hours before Ahmad’s murder and disappeared the next day, even though he had paid a month’s rent in advance.

Needless to say, the Dubai police had never heard of the man, let alone interrogated him.

The morning of Ahmad’s death, an explosion rocked a huge missile facility west of Tehran, killing the father of Iran’s solid-fuel missile programs. I speculatedin these pages that rivals of Ahmad’s father suspected father and son of seeking to reform the regime from within, an effort that is rejected by many Iranian opposition activists who believe that reform is impossible.

On Tuesday, an Iranian website controlled by the IRGC, identified the Foundation that I founded and chair as the regime’s Public Enemy #1.

It’s certainly not the first time the IRGC and their allies among the hardliners have identified me personally and my foundation as “enemies” of their revolution, because we support the right of Iranians to choose their form of government by democratic means.

But the timing of this latest version of the anti-jihadi hit parade seems no accident, coming on the heels of the assassination of Jihad Mugniyeh and the apparent murder of Alberto Nisman.

No one should underestimate the determination of the Iranian regime to use any means at its disposal to achieve its ends. Whether that means dispatching thousands of Revolutionary Guards fighters to Syria to prop up Assad, or murdering Americans in Iraq to hasten our departure, or providing safe haven and logistical assistance to al Qaeda, or funneling arms secretly to ISIS to stoke a fire they can boast to the gullible U.S. officials they are uniquely qualified to put out, the Islamic Republic of Iran is playing for keeps.

They have more case officers working for their intelligence services than we do in the United States, and have developed an entire branch of their military – the Quds Force – to carry out overseas terrorist operations.

They will not hesitate to murder people who get in their way, no matter their nationality or where they might be found.

They are playing hardball, and we are playing tiddlywinks. And yet, successive U.S. administration’s have thrown away advantages won by the blood of patriots – both Iranian and American – for empty promises made by known liars, assassins, and cheats.

When will we ever learn?

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