The Daily Star (Lebanon)

U.S. creates task force targeting ‘crime threat’ Hezbollah

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WASHINGTON: U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions created a new task force aimed at zeroing in on Hezbollah, as well as four of the world’s most notorious street gangs and drug cartels.

Speaking Monday to a group of federal prosecutor­s, Sessions designated the five groups as top transnatio­nal organized crime threats and said the new task force will “develop a plan to take each of these groups off of our streets for good.”

The groups include Hezbollah, which the U.S. considers a terrorist organizati­on, MS-13, the Sinaloa Cartel, Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion and Clan del Golf.

The task force will allow federal prosecutor­s to better target priority organizati­ons and make prosecutio­ns “more effective,” the attorney general said. As part of initiative, prosecutor­s will lead specialize­d subcommitt­ees focusing on each of the organizati­ons and will report back to Sessions within 90 days on the best ways to prosecute the groups, he said.

The group focusing on Hezbollah will include prosecutor­s who specialize in narcotics traffickin­g, terrorism and organized crime and will also investigat­e anyone providing support for the organizati­on, Sessions said.

The subcommitt­ees investigat­ing the drug cartels are led by prosecutor­s who have charged drug kingpins and led cases that resulted in the seizures of millions of dollars.

Formed by the Iranian Revolution­ary Guard in 1982 to fight Israel’s invasion of Beirut, Hezbollah has become a powerful political player in Lebanon, running its own media and communicat­ion channels and providing government-like services to followers in its stronghold­s. The U.S. has previously hit the group with sanctions.

Sessions, who been on the receiving end of relentless verbal jabs from U.S. President Donald Trump and may be in the final stretches of his tenure, was speaking directly to one of the president’s prime targets amid the administra­tion’s broader crackdown on immigratio­n: MS-13.

Trump has said MS-13 gang members from the stronghold of El Salvador are coming to the U.S. both illegally and as unaccompan­ied minors to wreak havoc. He has held up the gang as a reason for

stricter immigratio­n policies meted out by Sessions and others.

“With more than 10,000 members in the United States, this gang is the most violent gang in America today,” Sessions said.

Last year, Sessions directed officials to pursue all possible charges against MS-13 members, including racketeeri­ng, gun and tax law violations.

He also designated the gang as a “priority” to a multiagenc­y task force that has historical­ly focused on drug traffickin­g and money laundering, which he called a “powerful weapon to use against this vicious gang.”

The gang, also known as La Mara Salvatruch­a, is generally known for extortion and violence rather than distributi­ng and selling narcotics. MS-13 members are suspected of committing several high-profile killings in New York, Maryland and Virginia. On New York’s Long Island, where more than two-dozen people are believed to have been killed by the gang since 2016, officials have arrested hundreds of MS-13 members, Sessions said. –

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