A Growing Terror Threat: Hezbollah in Latin America

Posted: Jul 08, 2011 12:01 AM

When Americans think of terrorist activity, we think of Yemen, Pakistan, Palestine and other places in the Middle East, but we overlook the rapidly increasing terrorism threat coming from Hezbollah operations taking place in Latin America.

“This is a very important issue we pay too little attention to,” Senior Fellow for the International Assessment and Strategy Center Douglas Farah told lawmakers on Capitol Hill yesterday during a counterterrorism hearing.

According to testimony given on Capitol Hill yesterday, Hezbollah, the most extensive terrorist organization in the world, is operating along the U.S.-Mexico border and has vast influence in Latin America. Hezbollah is anti-American and anti-Israeli, and the United States has been concerned about the group since the 1980s.

Before 9/11, Hezbollah, not Al Qaeda, was responsible for the majority of U.S. terrorism deaths, including the 1983 bombings of U.S. Marine barracks and U.S. embassy in Beirut, in addition to a series of attacks in the '80s. Hezbollah is also responsible for countless attacks on Israel. In 1992, Hezbollah, with help from Iran, bombed the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires. In 1994 they bombed the Jewish community center in the same South American city. Those are just a handful of examples that don’t even account for the thousands of rockets Hezbollah has launched into Israel throughout the years.

“Hezbollah makes Al Qaeda look like a minor league team,” Chairman of the Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.) said.

Hezbollah was created by Iran and has close ties to Syria. The group is also backed by Venezuelan Dictator Hugo Chavez, who has a cozy relationship with Iran.

“Hezbollah, backed by Iran and Venezuela, is a determined enemy of the United States that has made substantial progress in Latin America,” Ambassador and American Enterprise Institute visiting fellow Roger Noriega said during the hearing, adding that he believes there will be an attack on U.S. personnel if nothing is done soon to counter Hezbollah in Latin America.

Hezbollah is the most prevalent terrorist organization in the world. The group operates in over 40 countries and on 5 continents, including operations in at least 15 U.S. cities and four major Canadian cities. In South America specifically, the group operates in the region where Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay meet. Brazil is used as a major terrorism hub and cocaine is exchanged for weapons in Colombia.

“Hezbollah remains the premium terrorist organization in the world,” Farah said in testimony.

Hezbollah is a very sophisticated terrorist group, with activity beyond criminal. Intelligence shows the group started pushing its terrorism initiative into South America a decade ago but upped its efforts in 2005, a new approach that is a threat to the United States. Testimony showed Hezbollah is strategically positioning itself in order to possibly launch a response to an Iranian attack either from the U.S. or Isreal on their nuclear program. Intelligence cited during the hearing also shows the group is interested in obtaining weapons of mass destruction, which should be taken seriously since the group has published entire books about how to build and use WMDs and terrorist operations are justified by Hezbollah’s belief in Islam’s ongoing struggle with the West through violent jihad.

Hezbollah has also been supplying explosives training to Mexican drug cartels operating along the U.S.-Mexico border, and tunnels used in the area are near replicas of weapons-smuggling tunnels built by Hezbollah and used in Lebanon. Since 2006, violence in Mexico has rapidly escaladed and cartels have become more ruthless. In addition, Mexican cartels are serving as source of financing and easy entrance for the organization into the United States.

“Hezbollah members have used the porous U.S.-Mexico border as an entrance to the United States,” Vice President of the American Foreign Policy Council Ilan Berman said.

Farah agreed, saying that some gang members, who entered the U.S. through the southern border with Mexico, have been arrested in the U.S. proudly displaying Farsi tattoos. He also said these groups together have access to hundreds of millions of dollars and that money funneled back to the Middle East is used to purchase weapons for attacks on Israel.

GOP NewYork Rep. Pete King has called for Mexican drug cartels to be classified by the Department of Homeland Security as terrorist groups in order to better track finances and operations, and, knowing Mexican cartels are being trained to build tunnels and to use explosives by Hezbollah, a new classification for Mexican drug cartels would be appropriate. Hezbollah and drug cartels are actively exchanging technology and training.

It was also revealed during the hearing that unstable political atmospheres in the Middle East could make Hezbollah an even larger threat to U.S. national security. Hezbollah also has the potential to gain even more power through the rise of Iran’s nuclear program.

“As the events in the Middle East and with the Arab spring continue to unfold, we must keep a close eye on Hezbollah,” Democrat Rep. Jackie Speier  of California said.