Analysis: 2 US cases provide unique window into Iran’s global terror network

Long War Journal, by Thomas Joscelyn, June 23, 2017:

On June 8, the Department of Justice (DOJ) made an announcement that deserves more attention. Two alleged Hizballah operatives had been arrested inside the United States after carrying out various missions on behalf of the Iranian-sponsored terrorist organization. The plots took the men around the globe, from Thailand to Panama and even into the heart of New York City.

Both men are naturalized U.S. citizens. And they are both accused of performing surveillance on prospective targets for Hizballah’s highly secretive external operations wing, known as the Islamic Jihad Organization (IJO).

Ali Kourani, a 32-year-old who was living in the Bronx, New York (pictured on the right*), allegedly gathered “information regarding operations and security at airports in the U.S. and elsewhere,” while also “surveilling U.S. military and law enforcement facilities in Manhattan and Brooklyn.” Hizballah asked Kourani to identify “individuals affiliated with the Israeli Defense Force” inside the U.S. and locate “weapons suppliers in the U.S. who could provide firearms to support IJO operations” as well. Kourani allegedly conducted all of these missions on behalf of his IJO “handler,” who was safely ensconced back home in Lebanon.

Samer el Debek, a 37-year-old resident of Dearborn, Michigan, is charged with “casing security procedures at the Panama Canal and the Israeli Embassy” in Panama, identifying “areas of weakness and construction at the Panama Canal,” and determining for Hizballah “how close someone could get to a ship passing through the Canal.” His “IJO handlers” also “asked him for photographs of the U.S. Embassy” in Panama, as well as “details” concerning its “security procedures.” (El Debek told authorities he did not provide Hizballah with the information requested on the American embassy.)

The charges brought against Kourani and El Debek have not been proven in a court of law. They remain allegations that have yet to be weighed by the criminal justice system. Still, the legal filings in both cases provide a unique window into how the FBI and the U.S. government are tracking Hizballah’s international terror network, including inside America.

Hizballah’s Islamic Jihad Organization first gained infamy in the 1980s, when it orchestrated various attacks on Americans and Europeans in Lebanon and elsewhere. In some ways, the IJO could be credited with launching the modern jihadist war against the U.S., pioneering the use of near-simultaneous suicide bombings. Such tactics would later be adopted by Sunni jihadists, including al Qaeda, with devastating effects.

The IJO has avoided public scrutiny at times. The public’s attention has been mainly focused on the Islamic State of late. This is understandable as the so-called caliphate inspires, directs and guides terrorist operations around the globe.

But the U.S. government’s recent filings, including the sworn affidavits of two FBI agents responsible for tracking Hizballah, make it clear that the IJO continues to manage a sophisticated, clandestine web of operatives who are trained to carry out Iran’s bidding.

The IJO uses multiple aliases, including “External Security Organization” and “910.” The government describes it as a “component of Hizballah responsible for the planning and coordination of intelligence, counterintelligence, and terrorist activities on behalf of” the terror group “outside of Lebanon.” The IJO’s “operatives” are usually “assigned a Lebanon-based ‘handler,’ sometimes referred to as a mentor,” and this person is “responsible for providing taskings, debriefing operatives, and arranging training.”

The IJO often compartmentalizes its operations, conducting them “in stages” and “sending waves of one or more operatives with separate taskings such as surveillance, obtaining and storing necessary components and equipment, and attack execution.” Indeed, the government explains that the IJO’s handlers keep the procurement of ammonium nitrate-based products used for bomb-making separate from other terror-related tasks so as to avoid generating additional scrutiny.

Neither Kourani, nor El Debek is accused of conspiring to commit an imminent attack. But US officials think their work was part of longer-term planning.

“Pre-operational surveillance is one of the hallmarks of [Hizballah] in planning for future attacks,” Commissioner James P. O’Neill of the New York Police Department (NYPD) explained in a statement.

The surveillance performed in New York City was done “in support of anticipated IJO terrorist attacks,” according to the complaint against Kourani.

Reading through the extensive legal paperwork, totaling dozens of pages, one is left to wonder who else Hizballah may have stationed here inside the U.S. as part of its patient plotting.

The sections that follow below are based on the U.S. government’s complaints and affidavits. In many cases, these same filings say the details cited were originally provided, in whole or in part, by Kourani and El Debek themselves during interviews with the FBI.

Kourani allegedly admitted he was an IJO “sleeper” operative

Ali Kourani (also known as “Jacob Lewis” and “Daniel”) was born near Bint Jbeil, Lebanon in 1984 and relocated to the U.S. as a young man in 2003. He went on to receive “a Bachelor of Science in biomedical engineering in 2009” and a MBA in 2013.

Kourani sat for “multiple voluntary interviews” with the FBI in 2016 and 2017, and much of the evidence cited in the complaint against him is sourced to his own admissions during these sessions. At one point, he apparently said he hoped to exchange information for “financial support and immigration benefits for certain” relatives, but the FBI says it didn’t agree to this quid pro quo proposal.

Kourani allegedly compared his family to the “Bin Ladens of Lebanon,” describing one brother as the “face of Hizballah” in one area of Lebanon. He was first trained at a 45-day Hizballah “boot camp” in the year 2000. He was just 16 years old at the time, but claimed that his “family’s connections to a high-ranking Hizballah official named Haider Kourani” allowed him to attend the camp. Kourani was allegedly “taught to fire AK-47 assault rifles and rocket launchers, as well as basic military tactics.”

His “family’s home was destroyed by an Israeli bombing” during the 2006 Lebanon War. Approximately two years later, according to Kourani, he was “recruited by” Hizballah’s Sheikh Hussein Kourani to serve in the IJO.

Kourani described the IJO as being responsible for “black ops” carried out by Hizballah and “the Iranians.” Kourani also explained that the IJO is “operated” by Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah, who reports “directly to Ali Khamenei,” the Iranian Supreme Leader.

Kourani told the FBI that he was “recruited to join the IJO in light of his education and residence in the United States.” But there was another sinister motive for Hizballah’s interest in him. The IJO was developing a network of “sleepers” who “maintained ostensibly normal lies but could be activated and tasked with conducting IJO operations,” Kourani purportedly said.

Indeed, Kourani “identified himself” as one of these IJO “sleeper” operatives, “working undercover in the United States” and covertly “conducting IJO intelligence-gathering and surveillance missions” given to him by his handlers in Lebanon.

Kourani identified one IJO handler as “Fadi” (also known as “Hajj”) and explained the elaborate security protocols Hizballah took. In addition to be questioned about his own background, Kourani was trained on “conducting interrogations, resisting interrogations, and surveillance techniques.”

Fadi “typically wore a mask during their meetings,” explaining that the IJO’s “golden rule” is “the less you know the better it is.” Fadi “acted as” Kourani’s handler until about Sept. 2015, when Kourani claims he “was deactivated by the IJO.”

Fadi told Kourani to obtain a U.S. citizenship, a passport and related documents, thereby making it easier for him to travel around the world on behalf of Hizballah. The IJO’s man also instructed Kourani on how they could communicate securely, using code words and other basic tradecraft.

IJO surveillance in New York City, including at John F. Kennedy International Airport

The most striking allegations against Kourani involve his surveillance of potential targets in New York City on behalf of Hizballah.

Fadi “directed” Kourani to “surveil and collect information regarding military and intelligence targets in the New York City area,” the FBI found. Kourani then “conducted physical surveillance” on three locations in Manhattan and another in Brooklyn. The buildings he surveilled include: “a U.S. government facility, which includes FBI offices”; a “U.S. Army National Guard facility”; a “U.S. Secret Service facility”; and a “U.S. Army Armory facility.” Kourani transferred his video surveillance on “at least one” of these targets to “Fadi and other IJO personnel in Lebanon.”

According to the complaint, Fadi had Kourani surveil airports in the New York area. “In response,” Kourani “provided detailed information to Fadi regarding specific security protocols; baggage-screening and collection practices; and the locations of surveillance cameras, security personnel, law enforcement officers, and magnetometers at JFK and an international airport in another country.”

Fadi tasked Kourani with other missions as well. He told Kourani to “obtain surveillance equipment in the United States” – including “drones, night-vision goggles, and high-powered cameras” – “so that the underlying technology could be studied and replicated by the IJO.” He also had Kourani “cultivate contacts” who “could provide firearms for use in potential future IJO operations in the United States” (Fadi allegedly deemed these contacts unsuitable for arms purchases), while also collecting “intelligence regarding individuals…affiliated with the” Israeli Defense Forces.

Read more

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD’s Long War Journal.

Boeing Trying to Sell Planes to Leading Official of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps

Getty Images

Washington Free Beacon, by Adam  Kredo, April 12, 2017:

U.S airline manufacturer Boeing is coming under renewed criticism following disclosures that its latest deal with Iran is being inked with a senior regime official and leading member of the country’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, which has sponsored terrorism across the Middle East and is responsible for helping to kill U.S. soldiers.

Boeing’s latest deal—which the Washington Free Beacon first reported last week has been put under a critical review by the Trump administration—is being inked with Iran Aseman Airlines, which is owned and controlled by the state. The CEO of Aseman Airlines is Hossein Alaei, a “prominent and longtime member of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps,” or IRGC, according to several members of Congress who are petitioning the Trump administration to cancel the sales.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) and Rep. Peter Roskam (R., Ill.) expressed concern that Boeing’s sale of around 60 new planes to Aseman Airlines will bolster the IRGC’s global terrorism operation and help the Iranian regime transport weapons and troops to conflict areas such as Syria.

The lawmakers called on the Trump administration to immediately suspend licenses permitting these sales and conduct a review of Iran’s effort to use commercial aircraft for illicit activities.

“Iran, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, has systematically used commercial aircraft for illicit military purposes, including to transport troops, weapons, and cash to rogue regimes and terrorist groups around the world,” the lawmakers wrote. “The possibility that U.S.-manufactured aircraft could be used as tools of terror is absolutely unacceptable and should not be condoned by the U.S. government.”

Rubio and Roskam asked the administration to “suspend current and future licenses for aircraft sales to commercial Iranian airlines until your administration conducts a comprehensive review of their role in supporting Iran’s illicit activity.”

Instead of granting Boeing a license for these sales, the United States should take immediate steps to “revoke authorizations and re-impose sanctions on Iranian airlines found guilty of such support, and should bar U.S. companies from selling aircraft to Iran until the Iranian regime ceases using commercial airliners for illicit military purposes,” according to the letter.

The latest information about Boeing’s deal with Aseman Airlines and IRGC leader Alaei has only heightened concerns about the danger of the Trump administration approving the sales.

Alaei served as commander of the IRGC Navy until 1990. During that time, Alaei oversaw the harassment of U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf and efforts by the IRGC Navy to plant mines in international waters.

Alaei also served as the head of the IRGC’s general staff and a deputy minister of defense before assuming control of Iran’s Aviation Industries Organization, which is currently subject to U.S. sanctions.

Alaei serves as a lecturer at Iran’s Imam Hossein University, the IRGC’s national defense college, which also has been sanctioned by the United States.

“With his deep ties and service to the IRGC, Hossein Alaei’s position as CEO of Aseman therefore casts a dark shadow on the corporate ownership of and control over the airlines, and raises significant concerns that Iran Aseman Airlines is part of the IRGC’s economic empire and a tool used to support its malign activity abroad,” according to Rubio and Roskam.

Boeing also is pursuing deals with Iran Air, the country’s flagship carrier, and Mahan Air. Both have been sanctioned by the United States.

These carriers have been accused of using “commercial aircraft to transport weapons, troops and other tools of war to rogue regimes like the Syrian dictatorship of Bashar al Assad, terrorist groups like Hezbollah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad, and militant groups like the Houthi rebels in Yemen,” the lawmakers wrote.

Boeing could bolster Iran’s illicit activities and help the country revamp its aging fleet of planes, according to the lawmakers.

“There is no reason to believe Iran has ceased its malicious activity,” Rubio and Roskam wrote. “Compelling evidence indicates that commercial Iranian airliners remain pivotal in delivering military support to terrorist groups and dictatorships around the Middle East.”

“Iran’s commercial airlines have American blood on their hands,” they wrote.

Iranian Website Specializing In Syrian War Reports: Gas Attack Intended To Save Iranian/Syrian Frontline In Khan Sheikhoun Region From Breakdown

MEMRI, April 13, 2017:

Introduction

The April 4 Sarin gas attack on Khan Sheikhoun, just one day after the U.S. administration changed its position vis-à-vis Syrian President Al-Assad, declaring that his removal from power was no longer a priority, raised questions regarding the underlying motive for the attack. Indeed, the initial Russian claim that the attack had been fabricated by opponents of the Syrian regime was based on its being so clearly against Syrian interests.

While it is now largely accepted that the Syrian regime carried out the attack, the motivation underlying it remains enigmatic, giving rise to conspiracy theories.

Iranian Website Specializing In Syrian War Reports Provides The Explanation: To Prevent Breakdown Of Iranian/Syrian Frontline

On April 7, 2017, WarReports, an Iranian research group dedicated to monitoring and covering Iran’s role in the war in Syria and Iraq,[1] published a report on its Facebook page, explaining why the Syrian regime had carried out the gas attack.[2] It claimed that the attack had been “in support of the Iranian-affiliated ground forces, Hizbullah, and the Syrian army, all of which were stationed several kilometers behind the frontline.” According to the report, in the past three weeks there had been 21 casualties from among the IRGC forces and the Fatimiyun Afghani Shi’ite militia located in Hama.[3] The report included a map of the region, showing the retreat southward of the Iranian-backed forces from the Khan Sheikhoun region, a retreat that threatened to turn into a complete breakdown of the front. The attack, therefore, was intended to curb the rebel thrust in Khan Sheikhoun, thus preventing this breakdown.

The report further stated that hitting the civilian population in the rebel-held areas was a known tactic of the Syrian regime, intended to crush the fighting spirit of the forces and to stop their operations. This was the case in the August 2013 gas attack on Ghouta, Damascus, and the October 2015 cluster-bomb attack on the civilization population of eastern Aleppo.

It should be noted that in a recent White House intelligence briefing, officials gave the same rationale for the Syrian regime attack, without providing further details: “They were losing in a particularly important area. That’s what drove [the attack].”[4]

Map legend:

Red areas:              territory held by Iranian/Syrian-regime forces

Green areas:          territory held by the Jabhat Fath Al-Sham (formerly JNS) armed rebels

Red circle:              Khan Sheikhoun

Red arrows:           distance from Khan Sheikhoun to the Iranian-backed forces

Black dotted line: opposition frontline prior to March 21 operations and Iranian forces retreat

Red dotted line:     current opposition frontline following the Iranian forces retreat

 

[1] https://warreports.org/about-us/; Twitter: @warreports. Facebook: Persian.war.news.

[2] https://www.facebook.com/persian.war.news/posts/1905690939688134.

[3] The website provided a link to the image of one of the IRGC members killed there. https://goo.gl/iunWwn

[4] http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2017/apr/11/white-house-offers-more-proof-syrian-gas-attack-ci/.

***

Also see:

Radical Iran-led Axis Confronted with U.S. Deterrence for First Time

by Yaakov Lappin
Special to IPT News
April 11, 2017

The conflict in Syria has long ceased being a civil war, becoming instead a clash between coalitions and blocs that divide the entire Middle East.

The Iranian-led axis is the most dangerous and highly armed bloc fighting in Syria. Bashar al-Assad’s regime is not an independent actor, but rather, a component of this wider axis. In many respects, Assad is a junior member of the Iranian coalition set up to fight for him.

Russia joined the Iranian axis in 2015, acting for its own reasons as the pro-Assad coalition’s air force, helping to preserve the Syrian regime.

This coalition enabled the Assad regime to conduct mass murder and ethnic cleansing of Sunnis from Syria, while also using unconventional weapons against civilians in an effort to terrorize rebel organizations into submission.

Feeling confident by its growing control of Syria, Iran also uses its regional coalition to arm, finance, and deploy Shi’ite jihadist agents all over the Middle East, and to attack those who stand in the way of Iranian domination.

The Iranian-led axis has been able to spread violence, terrorism, and Islamic militancy without facing repercussions.

Until recently, the United States focused its attention exclusively on Sunni jihadist threats – ISIS and al-Qaida-affiliated groups. While these terrorists certainly need to be attacked, turning a blind eye to the activities of the more powerful radical Shi’ite coalition did nothing to stop the region’s destabilization. In this context, Assad’s numerous crimes against humanity went unanswered.

This helped embolden Assad to use chemical weapons. It also gave the Iranians confidence to magnify their meddling in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain, and to target many other states. The end result is Iran’s enhanced ability to export its Khomeiniest Islamic fundamentalist doctrine.

That sent a troubling message to America’s regional allies, who, in the face of these threats, formed a de facto coalition of pragmatic Sunni states – a coalition that includes Israel.

On April 6, the U.S. sent a signal that something may have changed. A cruise missile attack on an Assad regime air base, in response to a savage chemical weapons massacre in Idlib, Syria, was, first and foremost, a moral response to an intolerable act of evil.

But the strike also carries a wider prospective message about Washington’s new willingness to enforce red lines against Assad and his Shi’ite allies.

Potentially, it is an indication that the U.S. is willing to use its military prowess beyond the objective of targeting ISIS, and that it recognizes that Sunni jihadists are not the only global security threat that warrants the use of military force.

Statements by senior Trump administration officials indicate that a shift has occurred. “What you have in Syria is a very destructive cycle of violence perpetuated by ISIS, obviously, but also by this regime and their Iranian and Russian sponsors,” National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster told Fox News Sunday.

Russia must choose between its alignment with Assad, Iran, and Hizballah, and working with the United States, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Tuesday. The firm comment was made hours before he touched down in Moscow for talks.

According to U.S. officials, the April 6 missile attack destroyed 20 percent of Assad’s fighter jets. It represents the first time that Washington has taken military action against a member of the Iranian-led coalition.

The strike could evolve into a ‘dialogue of deterrence’ that the U.S. initiates against dangerous actors. These radical actors all have ‘return addresses,’ and are likely to prove responsive to cost-benefit considerations, despite their extreme ideology. They may think twice before considering further development and usage of unconventional weapons.

Washington is now able to exercise muscular diplomacy – the only kind that is effective in the Middle East – and inform all members of the Iran’s pro-Assad coalition that the deployment of unconventional weapons will not be tolerated. It can also begin to rally and strengthen the pro-American coalition of states in the Middle East, who seek to keep a lid on both ISIS and Iran.

With American officials indicating that they are “ready to do more” in Syria if necessary, signs suggest that the strike represents the start of a policy of deterrence, and leaving open future options for drawing additional red lines.

In theory, should Washington decide that Iran’s transfer of weapons and extremist Shi’ite military forces to other lands has reached unacceptable levels, or that Iran’s missile development program has gone far enough, it could call on Tehran to cease these activities. This call would carry substantially more weight following last week’s missile attack on the Syrian airbase.

The U.S. is in a better position to inform Assad and his allies that there is a limit to how far they can go in pursuing their murderous ambitions.

While the objective of creating a renewed American deterrent posture is vital, it should not be confused with plans for wider military intervention in the seemingly endless Syrian conflict.

There is little reason to believe that conventional weapons use against Syrian civilians is going to stop any time soon, or that the enormous tragedy suffered by the Syrian people is about to end.

And there is certainly no indication that the U.S. is planning to initiate large-scale military involvement in this failed state.

Hence, the missile strike should be seen for what it is: an attempt to boost American deterrence, which can then be leveraged to restrain radical actors that have, until now, been operating completely unchecked.

That is a message that will likely be heard loud and clear not only in Damascus, but also in Tehran, which has not given up its long-term ambition of building nuclear weapons.

North Korea, which helped build Syria’s plutonium nuclear plant (destroyed in 2007 in a reported Israeli air strike), and which maintains close links with Iran’s nuclear and missile programs, can be expected to take note as well.

If a policy of strategic deterrence follows the strike, it could have an impact on a coalition that is not just keeping Assad’s regime alive, but spreading its radical influence in many other areas.

In Syria, the Iranian Republican Guards Corps (IRGC) oversees ground operations across many battlefields to prop up Bashar al-Assad. Iran has gathered and armed tens of thousands of Shi’ite militia members from across the region into Syria, and manages a local force composed of 100,000 members. They fight alongside the Syrian Arab Army against Sunni rebel organizations, thereby increasing and entrenching Iranian influence.

The IRGC and its elite Quds Force are also helping to fill Hizballah’s weapons depots in Lebanon, with a vast array of surface-to-surface projectiles that are all pointed at Israel, often using Syria as an arms trafficking transit zone. Syria acts as a bridge that grants Iran access to Lebanon, and allows it to threaten both Israel and Jordan.

Jordan, an important U.S. ally, is deeply concerned by Iran’s actions in Syria, as evidenced by recent comments made by King Abdullah, who told the Washington Post that “there is an attempt to forge a geographic link between Iran, Iraq, Syria and Hezbollah/Lebanon.” IRGC forces are stationed within a mere 45 miles from Jordan’s border, he warned, adding that any hostile forces approaching the Hashemite Kingdom “are not going to be tolerated.”

Hizballah, a Lebanese-based Iranian Shi’ite proxy, evolved into a powerful army by sending 7,000 to 9,000 of its own highly trained members into Syria’s ground war. It helped rescue the Assad regime from collapse, and took part in battles stretching from Aleppo to the Qalamoun Mountains northeast of Damascus.

Last year, the Arab League and the Sunni countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council all declared Hizballah to be a terrorist entity.

Just as Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias have poured into Syria, the same has happened in Iraq, where 100,000 fighters supported by Tehran fight alongside the Iraqi government forces against ISIS. The IRGC’s network extends to Yemen’s Houthi Ansar Allah forces, who receive Iranian assistance. Ansar Allah, a heavily armed Shi’ite military force, fires ballistic missiles at Saudi Arabia on a regular basis.

The IRGC and Hizballah have been linked to a recent large-scale terrorist plot in Bahrain.

If the message addressed in the cruise missile strike is followed up with a strategy of deterrence, addressed to Ayatollah Khamenei as much as it was addressed to Assad, the U.S. could begin projecting to the world that it recognizes the threat posed by Shi’ite jihadists as much as it takes seriously the threat from their fundamentalist Sunni equivalents.

Washington’s campaign to pressure Russia to distance itself from its Middle Eastern allies could play an important part of this message.

Yaakov Lappin is a military and strategic affairs correspondent. He also conducts research and analysis for defense think tanks, and is the Israel correspondent for IHS Jane’s Defense Weekly. His book, The Virtual Caliphate, explores the online jihadist presence.

Hizballah’s Ongoing Threat to U.S. National Security

by IPT News  •  Mar 7, 2017

Most analyses of Hizballah focus on the terrorist group’s intervention in Syria or its threat to Israel. But the Iranian-backed organization maintains a significant presence in and near the United States, threatening national security. Current American proposals to strengthen borders and immigration measures may be limited to address this important, yet poorly understood, threat.

A recent Al-Arabiya article examines Hizballah’s North American threat.

It has the expertise to build advanced tunnels on the southern U.S. border, enabling Hizballah terrorists and Mexican cartel operatives to infiltrate the United States. Relations between Iranian-backed proxies, including Hizballah, and Latin American drug cartels are well established. Mexican gang members learn from Hizballah’s combat experience and use of advanced weaponry. Hizballah, in turn, derives a significant portion of its finances from the drug trade and other illicit activities.

In recent years, security officials in southwestern states noticed a rise in tattoos featuring Hizballah’s insignia among imprisoned drug cartel operatives. This surprising trend indicates a strengthened relationship between the terrorist group and Mexican gang members. In line with its foreign policy, Iranian operatives infiltrating Latin America seek to convert individuals to adopt its extremist Shi’ite ideology. Over the years, pro Iranian websites have proliferated across Latin America, in an attempt to cultivate support for the Islamic Republic.

Powerful Latin American politicians also help Iran and Hizballah penetrate the region and threaten the United States. In February, CNN received a 2013 secret intelligence document from several Latin American countries demonstrating ties between Venezuelan Vice President Tarreck El Aissami and 173 Venezuelan identification cards and passports issued to people from the Middle East, including Hizballah operatives. El Aissami “took charge of issuing, granting visas and nationalizing citizens from different countries, especially Syrians, Lebanese, Jordanians, Iranians, and Iraqis,” the report shows.

Iranian and Hizballah operatives have cultivated and consolidated operating bases in South America, especially in the tri-border area (TBA) of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. With a large Muslim population featuring significant numbers of Hizballah sympathizers, the region is ripe for recruitment, arms smuggling and drug trafficking. Hizballah continues to exploit other Lebanese Shi’ite diaspora communities, including in the United States, to strengthen its presence worldwide.

In 2011, the United States disrupted a plot led by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in cooperation with a Mexican drug cartel to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Washington.

The problematic nexus between Iranian-backed operatives, including Hizballah, and Mexican drug cartels allows terrorists to earn big money to fuel their violent operations. These connections also enable Hizballah to make inroads into the United States through its porous border with Mexico.

American intelligence reports show that Hizballah maintains a significant network of sleeper cells in the United States. Though Hizballah 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. Preparations to combat Islamist terrorism broadly should strongly consider the nuanced and growing Hizballah threat to U.S. national security.

European Counter-Terror Official: IRGC, Muslim Brotherhood Are Not Terror Groups

Peter Neumann / AP

Peter Neumann / AP

Washington Free Beacon, by Adam Kredo, Feb. 22, 2017:

A leading European counter-terrorism official is facing criticism after claiming that the Muslim Brotherhood and Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, or IRGC, are not terrorist groups.

Peter Neumann, an Austrian counter-terrorism official charged with working to combat violent extremism under the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) attracted criticism this week after stating that both the Brotherhood and IRGC are not terrorist groups and should not be formally designated as such.

Neumann’s stance elicited criticism from U.S. terror experts who told the Washington Free Beacon that this line of thinking would not help European officials combat a rising threat from radical terrorists, many of whom have become radicalized through extremist doctrines promoted by the Muslim Brotherhood and the theocratic regime in Iran. The position also runs counter to views held by the Trump administration, which has vowed tougher action on radical organizations.

A senior White House official who spoke to the Free Beacon about the matter disclosed that the Trump administration is keeping a keen eye on all of these groups and will not hesitate to take action as the administration works to combat radical groups.

“Like with Muslim Brotherhood, the main argument against designating them as terrorist organisation is that they aren’t one,” Neumann stated on Twitter Tuesday, a day before he was appointed as a special representative on radicalization for the OSCE.

Neumann, who also serves as director of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalization and Political Violence based in London, is tasked with helping the OSCE combat the rise of Islamic terrorism amid reports of growing threats across the continent. An estimated 10,000 individuals from OSCE member countries are reported to have traveled to Syria to wage jihad.

Neumann’s stance appears to clash with the national security vision backed by the Trump administration and many U.S. lawmakers, who view both groups as terror agents and have sought to formally designate them as terror outfits.

The White House is already considering a designation for the Brotherhood and could pursue similar designations for the IRGC.

“It is no secret that President Trump is deeply concerned about the threat of radical Islamic terrorism, and he’s made clear that while he’s prioritizing defeating ISIS, he knows the issue doesn’t end there,” one senior White House official told the Free Beacon. “We’re going to have to look at the root causes if we’re actually going to fight this enemy.”

The Muslim Brotherhood is already designated as a terror outfit by Egypt, Israel, and other nations due to its efforts to foment unrest and violence. The IRGC is a primary backer of Hezbollah, Hamas, and other terror groups that have wreaked violence across the Middle East.

Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon adviser and expert on rogue regimes, said that the IRGC, in particular, represents the type of terrorism gripping the Middle East and other regions.

“The IRGC sees the world in black-and-white terms, and so it’s ironic that Western diplomats and academics want to read nuance into the group,” Rubin said after reviewing Neumann’s comments. “They can slap themselves on the back and believe they are sophisticated but, in reality, they are becoming useful idiots and legitimizing the bureaucracy of terror.”

The IRGC not only directly supports terrorism forces but also runs a massive propaganda effort meant to indoctrinate new recruits.

“Some analysts say the IRGC isn’t monolithic, and some Iranians only join for the privileges,” Rubin said. “Well, a designation would put these opportunists on notice that the short-term gain in gasoline rations isn’t worth a lifetime blacklist from seeing relatives abroad or visiting beaches without burqas.”

One U.S.-based terrorism expert who liaises with many in Congress told the Free Beacon that efforts to downplay these organizations harm the global response to terrorism.

“Neumann’s equivocation on the IRGC’s role in Iran’s state sponsorship of terrorism is precisely why many don’t take the ‘experts’ so seriously,” said the expert, who requested anonymity to speak freely. “But what makes Neumann so dangerous is not that he is some fringe crackpot academic, but at the very pinnacle of the international ‘countering violent extremism’ effort. We already have these so-called ‘experts’ talking about ‘moderate al Qaeda’. What’s next in this effort to define down terrorism, ‘moderate’ ISIS?”

The Saudi-Iran Rivalry and Sectarian Strife in South Asia

sunni-vs-shia

Iran and Saudi Arabia are recruiting and radicalizing local Muslim populations in Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan.

IPT, by Abha Shankar
The Diplomat
October 6, 2016

Note: This article originally was published at The Diplomat website.