Washington’s silent war against Hezbollah in Latin America

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The Hill, by Joseph M. Humire, October 8, 2018:

On July 11, 2018, the government of Argentina took its first action against Hezbollah by freezing the financial assets of 14 individuals belonging to the Barakat clan in South America. Last week, Brazilian Federal Police arrested the leader of this clan, Assad Ahmad Barakat, who was sanctioned by U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) in 2004 and is considered one of Hezbollah’s most important financiers. These recent actions against Hezbollah in Latin America signal a shift in the priorities of regional governments, with Washington’s help.

Hezbollah’s presence in a subregion of South America known as the Tri-Border Area (TBA), at the crossroads of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay, long has been known to regional authorities, but recently factors have prompted action. One element was the June 2017 extradition from Ciudad Del Este to Miami of Lebanese-Paraguayan Ali Issa Chamas, for shipping cocaine through U.S. ports and airports.

Many circumstances contribute to a high-level extradition but, fundamentally, both nations need political will to carry out this type of operation. The Obama administration repeatedly failed to extradite Hezbollah operatives when given the opportunity. For example, Obama’s Department of Justice and State Department failed in 2011 to bring Syrian-Venezuelan drug trafficker Walid Makled to the United States after he provided significant evidence of Hezbollah’s ties to Venezuelan officials shipping drugs to Europe and America. And, in 2016, Ali Fayad, a Lebanese-Ukrainian arms dealer charged in a New York court with “conspiracy to kill officers and employees of the United States,” was released from prison in the Czech Republic and returned to Lebanon.

In a bombshell article last year, Politico accused the Obama administration of turning a blind eye to Hezbollah’s illicit activities in favor of the nuclear deal with Iran, though members of Obama’s administration vehemently deny this was the case. President Trump is sending a different message to South America regarding Hezbollah, with results beginning to show.

Regional governments have started cracking down on Hezbollah’s criminal activity, namely in illicit financing. Argentina’s recent financial freeze affecting Barakat members is an official acknowledgment by the Argentine government that Hezbollah is a terrorist organization. Since Argentina does not yet have a legal mechanism to designate Hezbollah as such, its Financial Intelligence Unit (UIF) used the terror-financing prevention framework within its anti-terrorism law to issue the sanctions. This led to subsequent raids this past summer of casinos, hotels and money-exchange houses in the TBA that led to the capture of Assad Ahmad Barakat in Brazil.

Barakat was imprisoned in the past in Paraguay, convicted of tax-evasion charges in 2002. But this time, the political playing field is different and the Trump administration is likely to place tremendous pressure on Brazil to extradite Barakat to Argentina or the United States.

To stay ahead of the problem, Attorney General Jeff Sessions established the Hezbollah Financing Narcoterrorism Team (HFNT) in January 2018, led by veteran prosecutor John Cronan at the Department of Justice. This interagency task force, entrusted with combating Hezbollah’s terror finance, is focused not just on prosecuting Hezbollah operatives both in the United States and, with the cooperation of regional prosecutors and law enforcement agencies, in Latin American countries.

With President Trump’s election and the establishment of the HFNT, there is a noticeable difference in Latin American governments’ attitudes toward Hezbollah. In the weeks prior to Barakat’s arrest, several U.S. experts were invited by local authorities to take part in a conference on the crime-terror convergence in the TBA organized by the Department of Justice and U.S. Embassy. Similar seminars were held in recent months in Panama, Peru and Colombia, some of them sponsored by the Department of Defense in cooperation with local counterparts.

Congress also has weighed in, holding several hearings on the topic and passing the Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Amendments Act of 2017. Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-N.C.), the vice chair of a new subcommittee on terrorism and illicit finance, helped pave the way for greater regional cooperation by holding a Parliamentary Intelligence Security Forum with the UIF in Argentina in November 2017.

Latin America is paying attention to the whole-of-government approach that has formed in Washington. There is still much more to do to curb Hezbollah’s crime-terror activities, and action by our regional partners is critical to success. The recent arrest of Barakat demonstrates that Latin America indeed is ready to act, if given political and technical support. President Trump would be wise to capitalize on this momentum and prioritize Latin America in our global counterterrorism efforts.

Joseph M. Humire is the executive director of the Center for a Secure Free Society and a fellow at the Middle East Forum. He is the co-editor of “Iran’s Strategic Penetration of Latin America” (Lexington Books).

Trouble among America’s Gulf Allies

Gatestone Institute, by John R. Bolton, July 11, 2017:

  • The State Department should declare both the Muslim Brotherhood and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs), thus triggering the penalties and sanctions required by law when such a declaration is made.
  • Those “affiliates” of the Muslim Brotherhood that, in whole or part, meet the statutory FTO definition should be designated; those that do not can be spared, at least in the absence of new information.
  • Qatar can legitimately complain that it is being unfairly singled out. The proper response is not to let Qatar off the hook but to put every other country whose governments or citizens are financing terrorism on the hook.

In recent weeks, governments on the Arabian Peninsula have been having a diplomatic brawl. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain (together with Egypt and other Muslim countries) have put considerable economic and political pressure on Qatar, suspending diplomatic relations and embargoing trade with their fellow Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member. Kuwait and Oman, also GCC members, have been mediating the dispute or remaining publicly silent.

The Saudis and their supporters are demanding sweeping changes in Qatari policies, including suspending all financial support to the Muslim Brotherhood and other terrorist groups; joining the other GCC members in taking a much harder line against the nuclear and terrorist threat from Shia Iran and its proxies; and closing Al Jazeera, the irritating, radical-supporting television and media empire funded by Qatar’s royal family.

The United States’ response so far has been confused. President Trump has vocally supported the Saudi campaign, but the State Department has publicly taken a different view, urging that GCC members resolve their differences quietly.

As with so many Middle East disputes, the issues are complex, and there is considerable underlying history. Of course, if they were easy, Saudi Arabia and Qatar would not be nearly at daggers drawn seemingly overnight.

Washington has palpable interests at stake in this dispute and can make several critical moves to help restore unity among the Arabian governments, even though the issues may seem as exotic to the average American as the Saudi sword dance Trump joined during his recent Middle East trip.

Twin issues to confront

Confronting the twin issues of radical Islamic terrorism and the ayatollahs’ malign regime in Iraq are central not only to the Arab disputants but to the United States as well. In addition to providing our good offices to the GCC members, the Trump administration should take two critical steps to restore unity and stability among these key allies.

First, the State Department should declare both the Muslim Brotherhood and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs), thus triggering the penalties and sanctions required by law when such a declaration is made. Both groups meet the statutory definition because of their violence and continuing threats against Americans. The Obama administration’s failure to make the FTO designation has weakened our global anti-terrorist efforts.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s defenders argue that it is far from monolithic; that many of its “affiliates” are in fact entirely harmless; and that a blanket declaration would actually harm our anti-jihadi efforts. Even taking these objections as true for the sake of argument, they counsel a careful delineation among elements of the Brotherhood. Those that, in whole or part, meet the statutory FTO definition should be designated; those that do not can be spared, at least in the absence of new information. The Brotherhood’s alleged complexity is an argument for being precise in the FTO designations, not for avoiding any designations whatever.

Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other Arab governments already target the Brotherhood as a terrorist organization but Qatar does not. That may sound suspicious, but as of now, of course, the United States hasn’t found the resolve to do it either. Once Washington acts, however, it will be much harder for Qatar or anyone else to argue that the Brotherhood is just a collection of charitable souls performing humanitarian missions.

A direct terrorist threat

Similarly, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps is a direct terrorist threat that has been killing Americans ever since the IRGC-directed attack on the Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, in October 1983. The only real argument against naming the IRGC is that so doing would endanger Obama’s 2015 nuclear agreement, given Tehran’s expected response to an FTO determination.

Second, Trump should follow up his successful Riyadh summit by insisting on rapid and comprehensive implementation of the summit’s principal outcome, the Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology (GCCEI). This center can provide governments across the Muslim world a face-saving mechanism to do what should have been done long ago, namely taking individual and collective steps to dry up terrorist financing.

U.S. President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump join King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia, and the President of Egypt, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, in the inaugural opening of the Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology, May 21, 2017. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

One could write books on the intricate financing that supports international terrorism, and finger-pointing at those responsible could take years. But whether terrorists are financed by governments, directly or indirectly, or by individuals or groups, with or without government knowledge or encouragement, it must all stop. Qatar can legitimately complain that it is being unfairly singled out. The proper response is not to let Qatar off the hook but to put every other country whose governments or citizens are financing terrorism on the hook.

Although superficially the ongoing crisis among the oil-producing monarchies may seem a setback to American efforts in the war again terrorism and the struggle to eliminate the Iranian threat, in fact it provides a rare opportunity to make considerable progress on two of our top priorities. The Trump administration should not miss its chance.

John R. Bolton, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, is Chairman of Gatestone Institute, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and author of “Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations and Abroad”.

Also see:

Donor nations appear clueless about Palestinian Authority stipends to terrorists

download (50)By Money Jihad, January 5, 2014:

In November, The Guardian’s Edwin Black wrote about the phenomenon of Palestinian Authority providing stipends to terrorists imprisoned in Israel. Money Jihad did not blog about his piece at the time, because this phenomenon is already familiar to our readers (see herehere, and here), and it didn’t seem to break any news or provide any new information.

But upon rereading his write-up, Black’s explanation is so clear and striking that this is definitely worth a second look.  He makes the observation that many officials in the U.K. and U.S. are still stunningly unaware of how much of their donor aid to the PA is skimmed off for the purposes of these stipends.

Hat tip to Dr. Mia Bloom, professor of security studies at UMass Lowell, for sending this over:

How British and American aid subsidises Palestinian terrorism

US and UK taxpayers fund the Palestinian Authority, which in turn funds prisoners in Israeli jails. It’s dangerously dysfunctional

On both sides of the pond, in London and Washington, policymakers are struggling to weather their budget crises. Therefore, it may astound American and British taxpayers that the precious dollars and pounds they deploy in Israel and the Occupied Territories fungibly funds terrorism.

The instrument of this funding is US and UK programs of aid paid to the Palestinian Authority. This astonishing financial dynamic is known to most Israeli leaders and western journalists in Israel. But it is still a shock to most in Congress and many in Britain’s Parliament, who are unaware that money going to the Palestinian Authority is regularly diverted to a program that systematically rewards convicted prisoners with generous salaries. These transactions in fact violate American and British laws that prohibit US funding from benefiting terrorists. More than that, they could be seen as incentivizing murder and terror against innocent civilians.

Here’s how the system works. When a Palestinian is convicted of an act of terror against the Israeli government or innocent civilians, such as a bombing or a murder, that convicted terrorist automatically receives a generous salary from the Palestinian Authority. The salary is specified by the Palestinian “law of the prisoner” and administered by the PA’s Ministry of Prisoner Affairs. A Palestinian watchdog group, the Prisoners Club, ensures the PA’s compliance with the law and pushes for payments as a prioritized expenditure. This means that even during frequent budget shortfalls and financial crisis, the PA PA pays the prisoners’ salaries first and foremost – before other fiscal obligations.

The law of the prisoner narrowly delineates just who is entitled to receive an official salary. In a recent interview, Ministry of Prisoners spokesman Amr Nasser read aloud that definition:

A detainee is each and every person who is in an Occupation prison based on his or her participation in the resistance to Occupation.

This means crimes against Israel or Israelis. Nasser was careful to explain:

It does not include common-law thieves and burglars. They are not included and are not part of the mandate of the ministry.

Under a sliding scale, carefully articulated in the law of the prisoner, the more serious the act of terrorism, the longer the prison sentence, and consequently, the higher the salary. Incarceration for up to three years fetches a salary of almost $400 per month. Prisoners behind bars for between three and five years will be paid about $560 monthly – a compensation level already higher than that for many ordinary West Bank jobs. Sentences of ten to 15 years fetch salaries of about $1,690 per month. Still worse acts of terrorism against civilians, punished with sentences between 15 and 20 years, earn almost $2,000 per month.

These are the best salaries in the Palestinian territories. The Arabic word ratib, meaning “salary”, is the official term for this compensation. The law ensures the greatest financial reward for the most egregious acts of terrorism.

In the Palestinian community, the salaries are no secret; they are publicly hailed in public speeches and special TV reports. The New York Times and the Times of Israel have both mentioned the mechanism in passing. Only British and American legislators seem to be uninformed about the payments…

 

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Watch Erick Stakelbeck interview of Edwin Black here:  The Watchman Show: Financing the Flames of Terror

End of the Line for HLF

IPT News:

The United States Supreme Court has decided not to accept appeals from the five Holy Land Foundation officials convicted of illegally funneling more than $12 million to Hamas, essentially concluding the case.

The court had no comment in declining to hear the case Monday.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected similar arguments last year in upholding the convictions against Ghassan Elashi, Shukri Abu-Baker, Mohammad El-Mezain, Mufid Abdulqader and Abdulrahman Odeh. They were convicted on a total of 108 counts in 2008 and are serving sentences ranging from 15 years to 65 years in prison.

The defendants wanted the Supreme Court to overturn the Fifth Circuit ruling by rejecting the prosecution’s use of Israeli security officials whose identities were never disclosed. That, defense attorneys argued, hampered their ability to cross-examine the witnesses and violated the defendants’ rights to confront their accusers.

But other testimony and evidence was consistent with the Israelis’ testimony, the Fifth Circuit found. And there is precedent – especially in drug prosecutions – for courts balancing witness safety against the defendants’ confrontation rights. “[T]here was a serious and clear need to protect the true identities of [the Israeli witnesses] because of concerns for their safety,” the Fifth Circuit ruling said.

In addition, prosecutors did provide sufficient information for defense attorneys to cross examine aggressively. The “defense was therefore well-armed with information upon which to confront and cross-examine both,” the appellate court found.

The defense and its supporters continue to cast the Holy Land Foundation as a victim of overzealous post-9/11 prosecutions. The group merely raised money for needy Palestinians, they argue, and was never connected to any violence.

But evidence and testimony in the trial showed the HLF sent money to Palestinian charities controlled by Hamas. “The purpose of creating the Holy Land Foundation was as a fundraising arm for Hamas,” U.S. District Judge Jorge Solis said at the 2009 sentencing hearing.

HLF had been one of the nation’s largest Muslim charities before being shut down in 2001. Other disclosures in the case tied several prominent American Islamist groups – especially the Council on American-Islamic Relations – to a Muslim Brotherhood network in the United States created to provide Hamas with political and financial support.

Beyond The Line For HLF:

While Monday’s refusal by the U.S. Supreme Court to hear an appeal by defendants in the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF) prosecution effectively closes the case for the defense, it could open options for the government.

In addition to the five defendants, HLF as an organization also was convicted in the case. As we reported in December 2008, there are potential enforcement ramifications stemming from the HLF case beyond the five convicted defendants. This is particularly true now the appellate process has been exhausted in favor of the prosecution.

Since HLF has now been legally determined to have been an organization involved in terrorism support, foreign nationals who worked for HLF or otherwise assisted it may be subject to immigration enforcement action in the form of removal (deportation) proceedings.

In fact, even naturalized U.S. citizens who may have been involved in HLF activities before they naturalized may be subject to either criminal fraud prosecution and/or revocation of their citizenship status if they misrepresented their involvement with HLF or the nature of HLF activities while they were affiliated with the organization.

The Supreme Court decision finalizing the HLF appeals process firmly strengthens the position for law enforcement agencies, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and their ability to aggressively investigate and prosecute additional suspects who may have been involved with this organization.

Need to Know the Zakat Rules in Saudi Arabia? Just ask KPMG

Shariah Finance Watch:

It is widely known that much of the funding for Jihadist terrorist organizations, such as Al Qaeda, Hamas, Abu Sayyef and Jemaah Islamiyah come from private donations to Islamic charities through zakat payments, a system of tithing in Islam.

The Saudi government claims that they are virtually powerless to stop this activity, something that makes us incredulous, given the Shariah police state that is Saudi Arabia.

But that is the whole point. Wealthy Saudis and their charities participate in zakat because Shariah commands it.

And Shariah also mandates that one of the eight destinations for zakat are “those fighting in the way of allah.”

This is further defined as those who are engaged in Islamic military operations but who are not listed on an Army roster.

Muslims who are able to do so must donate 2.5% of their wealth (5% for Shia) toward zakat. Zakat is very important in Islam and is considered one of the five pillars of Islam.

And modern administration of zakat often involves Islamic charities and governments.

Zakat is a concern because, as the bipartisan 9-11 Commission Report detailed, it has in fact been used to fund Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups:

From page 170 of the 9/11 Commission Report:

Al Qaeda and its friends took advantage of Islam’s strong calls for charitable giving, zakat. These financial facilitators also appeared to rely heavily on certain imams at mosques who were willing to divert zakat donations to al Qaeda’s cause.

Al Qaeda also collected money from employees of corrupt charities. It took two approaches to using charities for fundraising.One was to rely on al Qaeda sympathizers in specific foreign branch offices of large, international charities–particularly those with lax external oversight and ineffective internal controls, such as the Saudi-based al Haramain Islamic Foundation. Smaller charities in various parts of the globe were funded by these large Gulf charities and had employees who would siphon the money to al Qaeda.

In addition, entire charities, such as the al Wafa organization may have wittingly participated in funneling money to al Qaeda. In those cases al Qaeda operatives controlled the entire organization, including access to bank accounts. Charities were a source of money and also provided significant cover, which enabled operatives to travel undetected under the guise of working for a humanitarian organization.

From page 372 of the 9/11 Commission Report:

Charitable giving, or zakat, is one of the five pillars of Islam. It is broader and more pervasive than Western ideas of charity–functioning also as a form of income tax, educational assistance, foreign aid, and a source of political influence. The Western notion of the separation of civic and religious duty does not exist in Islamic cultures. Funding charitable works is an integral function of the governments in the Islamic world. It is so ingrained in Islamic culture that in Saudi Arabia, for example, a department within the Saudi Ministry of Finance and National Economy collects zakat directly, much as the U.S. Internal Revenue Service collects payroll withholding tax. Closely tied to zakat is the dedication of the government to propagating the Islamic faith, particularly the Wahhabi sect that flourishes in Saudi Arabia.

Traditionally, throughout the Muslim world, there is no formal oversight mechanism for donations. As Saudi wealth increased, the amounts contributed by individuals and the state grew dramatically. Substantial sums went to finance Islamic charities of every kind. While Saudi domestic charities are regulated by the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare, charities and international relief agencies, such as the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY). are currently regulated by the Ministry of Islamic Affairs. This ministry uses zakat and government funds to spread Wahhabi beliefs throughout the world, including in mosques and schools. Often these schools provide the only education available; even in affluent countries, Saudi-funded Wahhabi schools are often the only Islamic schools. Some Wahhabi-funded organizations have been exploited by extremists to further their goal of violent jihad against non-Muslims.

In other words, Islamic charities have played an integral role in Al Qaeda’s funding structure, and in some cases Islamic charities have also played an operational role for Al Qaeda. Furthermore, the system of zakat has laid the foundation for violent jihad through the promotion of Wahhabi (Salafi) Islam, the religion of Al Qaeda.

Dhaka Ahsania Mission is a UN-affiliated NGO (non-governmental organization) that does relief work around the world. It also has a zakat fund called the Ahsania Mission Zakat Fund. The fund has offices around the globe including in New York City.

On the fund’s web site, it provides a complete primer on the Islamic system of zakat. Included in that primer is a listing of how zakat is distributed. Number 7 on the 8 destinations for zakat:

One who fights for the cause of Allah.

 
The most authoritative source for such information is a book which is available on Amazon called “The Reliance of the Traveler, A Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law.” That book has a whole section devoted to the rules of zakat, including “THE EIGHT CATEGORIES OF RECIPIENTS.”  On page 272, section h8.17, one category is labeled:

THOSE FIGHTING FOR ALLAH

The seventh category is those fighting for Allah, meaning people engaged in Islamic military operations for whom no salary has been allotted in the army roster (O: but who are volunteers for jihad without remuneration). They are given enough to suffice them for the operation, even if affluent; of weapons, mounts, clothing, and expenses (O: for the duration of the journey, round trip, and the time they spend there, even if prolonged. Though nothing has been mentioned here of the expense involved in supporting such people’s families during this period, it seems clear that they should also be given it).

This passage, from this widely-used Shariah text seems to have been written expressly about zakat payments to charities which have funded Al Qaeda, HAMAS, Hezbollah and the Taliban. Note from the passage that such payments are meant specifically for irregular forces who are not part of any army roster, which describes terrorist/guerilla/insurgent groups exactly. Note that they are meant for “Islamic” military operations and not secular groups (i.e. HAMAS and not the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command). Note that such payments are made even if the recipient is affluent…like Osama Bin Laden. And, finally, the families of fighters are to be taken care of, such as payments by Saddam Hussein and Saudi princes to families of Islamikaze bombers in Gaza and the West Bank.

All too often, the destinations of zakat payments are to Jihadists, simply because Shariah mandates it.

Maybe that is why so many Islamic charities have been implicated in terrorism financing:

Consider that the Treasury Department has designated the Saudi-based Union of Good as having ties to terror and British authorities have designated a charity in the UK a terrorist entity because it has ties to the Union of Good.

The Union of Good is an umbrella group of 53 charities. Yes, 53. By the way, it is headed by Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the most prominent Sunni shariah scholar in the world.

So, when the Union of Good was designated a terrorist entity, 53 Islamic charities were caught in the web. This hardly seems isolated to us.

Especially when you consider our detailed report on 27 other Islamic charities that have been tied to terrorism. That gives as a round number of 80 Islamic charities tied to Jihad. That is a lot of charities to be tied to terrorism. Why didn’t The Guardian uncover this same information?

 Go to Sharia Finance Watch to see a list of 27 Islamic Charity organizations that have been either indicted or designated by the Treasury under Executive Act 13224, as sponsors of terrorism.

All of this makes the KPMG report so disturbing. KPMG, one of the West’s leading accounting, auditing and consulting firms, publishes a guide to abiding by Saudi tax and zakat regulations.

Readers of SFW may wish to take this into account when making decisions about the firms with which you do business.