Car­tels aid Hezbol­lah with drug scheme

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY GUY TAY­LOR

Hezbol­lah’s ter­ror­ism fi­nance op­er­a­tions are thriv­ing across Latin Amer­ica months af­ter the Drug En­force­ment Ad­min­is­tra­tion linked the Iran-backed Lebanese mil­i­tant group to drug car­tels in the re­gion, U.S. law­mak­ers were told last week.

For­mer DEA op­er­a­tions chief Michael Braun said Hezbol­lah is “mov­ing [mul­ti­ple] tons of co­caine” from South Amer­ica to Eu­rope and has de­vel­oped “the most so­phis­ti­cated money laun­der­ing scheme or schemes that we have ever wit­nessed.”

The agency an­nounced in Fe­bru­ary that it had ar­rested sev­eral Hezbol­lah op­er­a­tives ac­cused of work­ing with a ma­jor Colom­bian drug car­tel to traf­fic drugs to Eu­rope and laun­der money through Lebanon. Those ar­rests come against a back­drop of ris­ing fears in Wash­ing­ton about smug­gling con­nec­tions be­tween Mid­dle East ter­ror­ist groups and the Western Hemi­sphere.

Hezbol­lah has “metas­ta­sized into a hy­dra with in­ter­na­tional con­nec­tions that the likes of [the Is­lamic State] and groups like al Qaeda could only hope to have,” Mr. Braun told the House Fi­nan­cial Ser­vices Com­mit­tee.

Adding to con­cerns about se­cu­rity threats from Cen­tral and South Amer­ica, in­tel­li­gence re­ports have also tracked how smug­glers man­aged to sneak il­le­gal im­mi­grants from the Mid­dle East­ern and South Asia straight to the doorstep of the U.S. — in­clud­ing help­ing one Afghan who U.S. au­thor­i­ties say was part of an at­tack plot in North Amer­ica.

Im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cials iden­ti­fied at least a dozen Mid­dle East­ern men smug­gled into the Western Hemi­sphere by a Brazil­ian­based net­work that con­nected them with Mex­i­cans who guided them to the U.S. bor­der, ac­cord­ing to in­ter­nal gov­ern­ment doc­u­ments re­viewed this month by The Wash­ing­ton Times.

Those smug­gled in­cluded Pales­tini­ans, Pak­ista­nis and the Afghan man who Home­land Se­cu­rity of­fi­cials said had fam­ily ties to the Tal­iban and was “in­volved in a plot to con­duct an at­tack in the U.S. and/or Canada.”

Con­cerns about Hezbol­lah’s ac­tiv­i­ties in Latin Amer­ica have surged the DEA’s an­nounce­ment in Fe­bru­ary that top op­er­a­tives from the group’s so-called Busi­ness Af­fairs Com­po­nent, or BAC, “have es­tab­lished busi­ness re­la­tion­ships” with South Amer­i­can drug car­tels such as the Colom­bia-based Ofic­ina de En­vi­gado, a crime syn­di­cate “re­spon­si­ble for sup­ply­ing large quan­ti­ties of co­caine to the Eu­ro­pean and United States drug mar­kets.”

The DEA said sev­eral of the BAC’s Eu­rope-based op­er­a­tives had been ar­rested on charges of traf­fick­ing drugs and laun­der­ing money from South Amer­ica to pur­chase weapons and fi­nance the group’s mil­i­tary ac­tiv­i­ties in Syria. The agency de­scribed an in­tri­cate net­work of money couri­ers who col­lect and trans­port mil­lions of eu­ros in drug pro­ceeds from Eu­rope to the Mid­dle East.

“The cur­rency is then paid in Colom­bia to drug traf­fick­ers,” it said, adding that “a large por­tion of the drug pro­ceeds was found to tran­sit through Lebanon, and a sig­nif­i­cant per­cent­age of these pro­ceeds are ben­e­fit­ing ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tions, namely Hezbol­lah.”

The DEA said seven coun­tries, in­clud­ing France, Ger­many, Italy and Bel­gium, were in­volved in an on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion. But few de­tails were pro­vided about how many sus­pects had been ap­pre­hended or where they are be­ing held.

Of­fi­cials said the most sig­nif­i­cant ar­rest was of Mo­hamad Noured­dine, whom the DEA ac­cused of be­ing a Lebanese money laun­derer for Hezbol­lah. A week prior to the an­nounce­ment, the Trea­sury De­part­ment had im­posed sanc­tions freez­ing any U.S. ac­counts tied to Mr. Noured­dine as well as to Hamdi Za­her El Dine, an­other sus­pected money laun­derer.

Stephen Dinan con­trib­uted to this ar­ti­cle.

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