Hezbollah around the World
Posted: March 31, 2008
Hezbollah in Europe
Hezbollah maintains terror cells and an extensive infrastructure throughout Europe, which it uses as an operational launching pad for its members to enter Israel in order to assist other operatives, conduct surveillance on Israeli targets and carry out attacks.
In July 2008, for example, Khaled Kashkoush, an Israeli of Palestinian descent who studied medicine in Germany, was arrested in Israel for spying against the Jewish state on behalf of a Germany-based Hezbollah cell. After completing his studies in Germany, Kashkoush allegedly planned to work at a Haifa-based hospital in order to obtain information useful to Hezbollah from Israeli soldiers treated there. Kashkush also allegedly provided Hezbollah operatives with names of Israeli citizens studying abroad who could potentially be recruited to join the terrorist organization.
While in Germany, Kashkoush reportedly met on a biweekly basis with the head of the Orphans Project Lebanon, a German charity described by Israeli officials as a front organization for Hezbollah. In March 2010, a spokesman for Germany's Interior Minister confirmed that "the association Orphans Project Lebanon is linked with Hezbollah in many ways organizationally and through its staff. Its danger thus essentially corresponds to that of Hezbollah."
Hezbollah garners most of its funds in Germany from charitable organizations whose donations are officially earmarked for Hezbollah. In 2002, for example, Germany closed down two charitable organizations for raising money for Hezbollah: Al-Shahid Social Relief Institution, the German branch of a Lebanese charitable organization, and the al-Aqsa Fund, a Hamas front organization that also raised funds for Hezbollah.
Germany has become a hotbed for Hezbollah activity and a key fundraising center for the terrorist organization. German authorities have alleged that a handful of Hezbollah's approximately 900 members in Germany use proceeds from selling drugs to help finance the terrorist organization. In May 2008, German police recovered more than $13 million raised for Hezbollah, reportedly by selling cocaine throughout Europe.
Hezbollah also maintains cells in other locations in Europe that provide logistical and financial support to the terrorist organization and serve as launching pads for terrorist activities against Israel. In 2007, for example, the Swedish government shut down its branch of the al-Aqsa Foundation for facilitating terrorist activity for Hezbollah. That same year, the foundation's deputy chairman, Khaled al-Yousef, was charged with financing terrorism in Israel.
In 2003, Israeli police arrested Ghulam Mahmud Qawqa for his role in several bombings in Jerusalem. Qawqa, a member of Fatah's Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, admitted that he had been working with numerous Hezbollah cells in Europe to initiate a continent-wide campaign against Israeli and Jewish targets for Hezbollah leadership. Qawqa also allegedly planned Hezbollah attacks on Israeli interests in Asia and plotted to assassinate Israel's ambassador to China.
The previous year, Israeli forces in Hebron apprehended Fawzi Ayoub, a Lebanese citizen who traveled from Lebanon to Europe on his Canadian passport. In Europe Ayoub reportedly met with a Hezbollah operative who supplied him with a fake American passport for his entry into Israel. He stayed in Jerusalem and reportedly attempted to approach arms brokers.
In 2001, Israeli authorities arrested Jihad Shuman, a Lebanese citizen with British nationality who flew from Lebanon to Britain to meet with a Hezbollah operative. Shuman subsequently flew from Britain to Israel on his British passport under the name Gerard Shuman and stayed in Jerusalem, where he was later arrested for planning terrorist attacks inside Israel. A search of Shuman's possessions revealed a yarmulka, a timer, tourist maps of the Jerusalem area, a large sum of money, a video camera, disposable cameras and several cellular phones, according to Israeli authorities.
Hezbollah in Africa
Hezbollah has maintained an operational presence in Africa, which has a large Lebanese expatriate community, since the birth of the Lebanese-based terrorist organization in the 1980s. Hezbollah operatives in Africa raise and launder funds to support the organization's terrorist activities against Israeli and American interests, recruit local operatives and collect intelligence.
Hezbollah has garnered funds through front companies in Africa and the regional diamond trade. Two African-based diamond smugglers and supporters of Hezbollah, Kassim Tajideen and Abd Al Menhem Qubaysi, were designated by the U.S. Treasury Department in May 2009 for providing support to terrorists or acts of terrorism. Tajideen, who was previously arrested in Belgium for diamond smuggling and money laundering, allegedly operated cover companies for Hezbollah in Africa and contributed tens of millions of dollars to the Lebanese terrorist organization. According to the Treasury Department, Qubaysi serves as Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah's "personal representative," has hosted senior Hezbollah officials in the Ivory Coast and other parts of Africa and has sponsored meetings and Hezbollah fundraising events in the region.
The December 2003 plane crash of a flight from Benin to Beirut also illustrates Hezbollah's use of Africa as a fundraising locale. A senior member of Hezbollah's African branch and two of his aides who were killed during the crash were reportedly carrying $2 million in contributions to Hezbollah's Beirut headquarters.
For nearly three decades, Hezbollah has utilized the drug routes across the porous borders in West Africa as a door to Europe and the Middle East. In April 2009, Interpol's secretary general confirmed that "authorities have dismantled cocaine-trafficking rings that used their proceeds to finance the activities of the FARC and Hezbollah, while drugs destined for European markets are increasingly being channeled through West African countries."
Hezbollah has also planned terrorist attacks against Israeli interests in Africa and has conducted training in various countries throughout the region. In April 2009, for example, Egypt announced that it had discovered a Hezbollah cell of approximately 50 people – at least one of whom is a Sudanese national and approximately 20 others are Egyptian – who were reportedly planning to attack tourist villages in the Sinai Peninsula frequented by Israeli and Western tourists. The Hezbollah operatives reportedly planned to send recruits to already-prepared areas in Libya, the Sudan and multiples countries in the Middle East to train in suicide bombing tactics and intelligence gathering. Egyptian authorities have also accused members of the Hezbollah cell of planning to smuggle arms and ammunition into Sinai from Somalia and the Sudan.
The Hezbollah plot in Egypt was seemingly designed to avenge the February 2008 death of Hezbollah Operations Chief Imad Mughniyah, whose assassination Hezbollah has repeatedly blamed on Israel. In the aftermath of Mughniyah's death, the Israeli government issued a warning to Israeli citizens that Hezbollah was plotting to attack Israeli and Jewish interests in Africa and that the terrorist organization was planning to kidnap Israelis in the region. A similar warning was issued in August 2009.
Hezbollah in Latin America
Hezbollah maintains an extensive operational presence in Latin America that helps fund its terrorist activities both in Lebanon and abroad. The group raises revenues throughout Central and South America through drug trafficking, money laundering and forging travel documents.
Hezbollah has also been tied to various Muslim extremist groups in Latin America that have proven threatening to both American and Israeli institutions and civilians throughout the region. A March 1992 Hezbollah suicide bombing at the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires killed 29 people and injured more than 240 others. In July two years later, a suicide bomber reportedly linked to Hezbollah detonated a bomb on a commuter plane in Colón, Panama, killing all 21 people aboard, including 12 Jewish businessmen, at least four of whom were Israeli, and three U.S. citizens.
A day before the Panama attack, Hezbollah affiliates bombed the Argentine Jewish Mutual Association (AMIA) building in Buenos Aires, killing 85 people and injuring approximately 300 others. Imad Mughniyah, a senior Hezbollah official allegedly involved in numerous Hezbollah attacks against American and Israeli interests in Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, allegedly orchestrated the Hezbollah bombings against the Jewish sites in Buenos Aires. Mughniyah was killed in a car bombing in Damascus in February 2008, five years after Argentina issued a warrant for his arrest related to the Buenos Aires attacks.
The investigations in Argentina for the 1992 and 1994 bombings not only detailed Hezbollah's involvement in the attacks, but also revealed the group's extensive history and activities in Latin America. Hezbollah has established a presence in the lawless and drug-ridden tri-border region of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay, which it uses as a key locale for raising and laundering money, drug trafficking, weapons and people smuggling and document and currency fraud.
Assad Ahmad Barakat, identified by U.S. authorities as "a key terrorist financier in South America who has used every financial crime in the book, including his business, to generate funding for Hezbollah,"allegedly ran an extensive counterfeiting and money laundering operation in the tri-border region and sent millions to Hezbollah in Lebanon and Iran. Barakat, who according to the U.S. Treasury Department attended a Hezbollah meeting in Brazil to discuss intentions to identify, locate and assassinate Israelis, was arrested by Brazilian authorities in June 2002 at the request of Paraguay, where he was released from prison in 2009 after serving a six-year prison sentence for tax evasion. The U.S. Treasury blocked Barakat's assets in 2004 and, two years later, designated nine others in the tri-border region for providing financial support to Barakat and Hezbollah.
In November 2001, Sobhi Mahmoud Fayad, Barakat's personal secretary who operated as Hezbollah's military leader in the tri-border region, was arrested for allegedly coordinating Hezbollah's fundraising operations in the area and for funneling more than $50 million to the terrorist group. Fayad, who later went to prison for tax evasion, had previously been arrested for surveillance of the U.S. Embassy in Asunción, Paraguay. Another Lebanese businessman, Ali Khalil Mehri, was arrested in Paraguay in 2000 for allegedly funneling millions of dollars to Hezbollah raised from selling pirated software. Four months later, Mehri bribed his way out of prison and fled to Syria.
In addition to the group's activities in the tri-border region, Hezbollah has used other countries in Latin America as a base for its fundraising activities. Venezuela in particular has become a money-raising hub for Hezbollah due to the country's anti-American foreign policy and close relationship with Iran, which finances and arms the terrorist organization. In June 2008, the U.S. Treasury listed two Venezuelan citizens – Ghazi Nasr al Din and Fawzi Kanan – as Specially Designated Global Terrorists for allegedly raising funds for Hezbollah and for discussing possible kidnappings and terrorist attacks with senior Hezbollah officials.
Hezbollah and Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which allegedly provided extensive training and financial and logistical support to Hezbollah for the 1992 and 1994 attacks in Argentina, have also reportedly joined forces to kidnap Jewish businessmen in Latin America. According to media reports, Hezbollah operatives in Venezuela have recruited informants at the Caracas airport to gather intelligence on Jewish travelers for potential kidnappings. In August 2008 and 2009, the Israeli government issued a warning to Israeli citizens that Hezbollah may be planning to kidnap Israelis around the world, in particular in Latin America and West Africa.
Hezbollah has also formed alliances with the region's narco-terrorists and drug-trafficking rings, which use their proceeds to help finance the terrorist organization. According to a report prepared by the Professional Research Division of the Library of Congress at the behest of the Defense Department, Hezbollah bases its fundraising activities with Latin American drug rings on an Iranian fatwa issued in the 1980s, which reportedly states, "We are making these drugs for Satan – America and the Jews. If we cannot kill them with guns, so we will kill them with drugs."
Since the mid-1990s, a number of drug traffickers have been arrested throughout Latin America for their purported links to Hezbollah. In June 2005, for example, Ecuadorian police broke up an international cocaine ring whose members were suspected of raising money for Hezbollah, arresting 19 people in both Brazil and the U.S. More recently, 17 people were arrested in Curaçao in April 2009 for their suspected involvement in an international drug ring linked to Hezbollah.
Since the fall of 2008, at least 111 suspects of a Hezbollah-linked international network of drug traffickers and money launderers have been arrested as part of an international operation coordinated by the DEA. At least three of those arrested purportedly distributed money to sponsor Hezbollah, including Chekri Mahmoud Harb, who allegedly coordinated shipments of drugs to Lebanon and distributed the proceeds to the terrorist organization. Jose Alberto Henao Jaramillo, a Colombian drug trafficker who was detained in Bogota, Colombia in March 2009, is suspected of being one of the leaders of the Hezbollah-linked network. He was initially solicited by a U.S. court in south Florida for money laundering and drug activities before his detention in Colombia.
Jaramillo's arrest comes amid growing concerns that Hezbollah is utilizing Latin American drug routes to get closer to the American border. Former assistant administrator and chief of operations for the DEA, Michael Braun, stated that Hezbollah relies on "the same criminal weapons smugglers, document traffickers and transportation experts as the drug cartels…they'll leverage those relationships to their benefit, to smuggle contraband and humans into the U.S.; in fact, they already are."
Several Hezbollah supporters that have been arrested in the U.S. crossed the border from Mexico, including Mahmoud Youssef Kourani, who crossed the Mexican border into California and traveled to Dearborn, Michigan, where he was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison in June 2005 for conspiring to raise money for the terrorist group. Two years later, Texas's Homeland Security Director claimed that additional terrorists affiliated with Hezbollah had been captured trying to cross into the U.S. from Mexico.
Salim Boughader Mucharrafille, the owner of a Lebanese café in Tijuana, was arrested in 2002 for smuggling 200 people, including Hezbollah supporters, from Mexico into the U.S. Boughader reportedly admitted that one of the individuals he smuggled into the U.S. worked for Al-Manar, Hezbollah's television network.