We already know there has been an Islamic terrorist presence in South America, but upon a new appointment by Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro, the possible progression of a terrorist threat in America’s backyard looms.
A new Vice President has joined Maduro’s administration—former Aragua state Governor Tareck El-Aissami. El-Aissami was born and raised in Venezuela, but he is of Syrian descent from his father (who allegedly had military ties to Saddam Hussein and headed the Venezuelan sect of the Iraqi Baath Party).
This new appointment is alarming to the U.S. for a slew of reasons. First, the U.S. Intel community has already had eyes on El-Aissami, who has apparent ties to drug traffickers, Iran, and Hezbollah. (The Venezuelan opposition refers to him as the “Narco of Aragua.”) When he was the head of Venezuela’s passport agency, he used that position to issue fake passports and identity documents to questionable Iranians. And even more, the opposition has announced a stronger front of late, dedicated to pushing Maduro out of office—whose term legally ends early 2019. With Maduro’s possible ousting comes an easy access for El-Aissami to assume dictatorship, and even stronger power for U.S. adversaries, including the possibility of a more facile passage to the homeland.
Under Hugo Chavez, Venezuela and Iran fostered close relations; Iran already receives support against UN sanctions from not only Venezuela, but also Nicaragua, Ecuador, and Bolivia. Further under Chavez, Hezbollah, Al-Qaida, and Hamas all utilized his country as a bridge to other regions. Now with El-Aissami in such a powerful position, the impending threat of Iran and South American socialist states is more important to assess than ever.
With President Trump, however, the issue hopefully won’t be as worrisome as under his predecessor, as we saw in a talk last Sunday with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, which facilitated conversation about tougher policy toward Iran—one of Trump’s most talked about goals.