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Hezbollah's International Reach

Posted December 7, 2004

Hezbollah, Arabic for "party of God," is a pro-Iranian, Shi'ite, south Lebanon-based terrorist organization. Headed by Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah was originally formed in 1982 to drive the Israeli military out of South Lebanon. Although it continues to claim that it is a legitimate resistance organization, Hezbollah's leaders routinely speak of Israel's "illegal existence," "the end and elimination of Israel from the region" and "death to America," Hezbollah views the creation of an Islamic state in Lebanon and the destruction of Israel as steps in the pan-Islamic struggle.

Over the decades, Hezbollah has grown into a sophisticated political and military network that engages in terrorist-related activity all over the world, perpetrates and plots attacks against Americans, westerners and Jews both inside and outside Lebanon, and cooperates with other international terrorist organizations.

Hezbollah is funded, armed and trained by Iran and given safe haven, logistical support and operational freedom by Syria. Its international network, according to terrorism analysts, is believed to include at least 15,000 operatives in cells in the U.S., Canada, Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil, Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Switzerland, Indonesia, Malaysia, and throughout Africa.

Western intelligence sources estimate Hezbollah's operational budget to be approximately $200-$500 million annually, including $100 million annually from Iran. Other sources of funding include Syria, charitable organizations, individual donations, legitimate business, and illegitimate businesses such as illegal arms trading, cigarette smuggling, currency counterfeiting, credit card fraud, theft, operating illegal telephone exchanges, and drug trafficking.

Hezbollah's growing international terrorist activity has raised concerns that the terrorist group may be emerging as a more serious threat than previously considered. Its global terrorist reach has serious policy implications for countries, regional groupings and international organizations that continue to insist that Hezbollah is a legitimate political organization in Lebanon that does not warrant designation as a terrorist group.

Hezbollah in the United States

According to U.S. intelligence officials, Hezbollah maintains agents and sleeper cells in the U.S. ready to attempt terrorist attacks should this become an objective of the group. The organization is considered to have an operational capacity in the U.S. similar to that of AI Qaeda. Detroit has been cited as the main center of Hezbollah's fundraising activity in the U.S.

The extent of Hezbollah activity in the U.S. was first exposed when two Charlotte, North Carolina, brothers, Mohamad and Chawki Hammoud, were convicted in June 2002 of providing material support to Hezbollah through a cigarette smuggling ring that knowingly directed money to the terrorist organization.

The terror cell reported directly back to a senior Hezbollah military commander in Lebanon and was part of a larger North American network responsible for raising funds and procuring dual-use technologies for Hezbollah. Items were purchased in both the U.S. and Canada and included goggles, global positioning systems, stun guns, naval equipment, nitrogen cutters and laser range finders.

"Hezbollah demonstrated twice in Argentina that it has global reach and can turn so-called support cells into action cells to carry out its trademark catastrophic bombings," said Tom Diaz, co-author of the forthcoming Lightning Out of Lebanon: Hezbollah Terrorists on American Soil. "It is absolutely clear that Hezbollah has similar cells in the United States right now. It is fully capable of making those cells operational if and when Hezbollah's or Iran's leaders decide to flip the switch."

The U.S. designated Hezbollah as a foreign terrorist organization in 1997 and listed it as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) in 2001. Three members of Hezbollah - Imad Mughniyeh, Hasan Izz-al-Din, and Ali Atwa - are on the FBI's "Most Wanted Terrorists" list for their role in the 1985 hijacking of TWA Flight 847 during which a U.S. Navy diver was brutally murdered.

Hezbollah in Europe

Hezbollah is known to maintain terror cells and a terror infrastructure throughout Europe. In particular, the organization uses Europe as an operational launching pad for Hezbollah operatives to enter Israel in order to conduct attacks, assist other operatives already there, or conduct surveillance and collect intelligence on Israeli targets. Operationally, traveling from Europe provides Hezbollah operatives with "cover" and a European logistical support cell provides operatives with information and resources for travel, including fraudulent travel documents.

In 2002, for example, Israeli forces in Hebron apprehended Fawzi Ayoub, a Canadian citizen of Lebanese descent who traveled from Lebanon to Europe on his Canadian passport. In Europe he is believed to have 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. The exact purpose of Ayoub's mission remains unclear.

A year earlier, Israeli authorities arrested Hezbollah operative Jihad (Gerard) Shuman, a Lebanese citizen with British nationality. Shuman flew from Lebanon to Britain on his Lebanese passport. After a briefing with a Hezbollah operative in Britain, he flew from Britain to Israel on his British passport and stayed in Jerusalem where he was later arrested. A search of his possessions, according to Israeli authorities, 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.

Germany has been identified as Hezbollah's main fund raising center in Europe. Most of the funds come from charitable organizations and are officially earmarked for Hezbollah's social welfare work. In 2002, Germany closed down two charitable organizations raising money for Hezbollah: the al-Shahid Social Relief Institution, which was the German branch of a Lebanese charitable organization, and the al-Aqsa Fund, a Hamas front that also raised funds for Hezbollah.

The European Union has refrained from including Hezbollah on its list of designated foreign terrorist organizations; however, in early November 2004 Dutch Foreign Minister Ben Bot called for Hezbollah to be added to the list. The EU does list senior Hezbollah terrorist Imad Mughniyah, but it does not list Hezbollah itself. Additionally, in September 2004, the EU's Representative in Lebanon, Patrick Renauld, met with Hezbollah head Hassan Nasrallah in Beirut regarding Euro-Med cooperation.

A resolution is currently making its way through the U.S. House of Representatives calling on the EU to include Hezbollah on its terrorist list.

Hezbollah in Canada

Hezbollah is believed to have an active presence in Canada. According to Canadian intelligence, Hezbollah raises money, recruits terrorists, purchases military supplies, and forges travel documents in Canada. Money is raised through credit card scams and counterfeit rings. In two cases, alleged Hezbollah agents wanted for terrorist activities overseas were found hiding in Canada. Hezbollah theft rings have stolen luxury cars in Canada and sent them to Lebanon for use by senior Hezbollah officials.

The North Carolina Hezbollah terror cell was part of a larger Hezbollah network that raised funds and procured dual-use technologies for Hezbollah. The Canadian part of the network was allegedly run by Mohammed Hassan Dbouk and his brother-in-law Ali Adham Amhaz, who allegedly received money from Hezbollah officials in Lebanon and engaged in credit card and banking scams in Canada in order to finance the purchase in Canada and the U.S. of military items which were then smuggled into Lebanon.

Amhaz was indicted in North Carolina in March 2001 on charges of providing material support to Hezbollah. In October 2001, Canadian authorities arrested him based on an American arrest warrant calling for his extradition. Amhaz was freed in December 2001 after the U.S. dropped the arrest warrant; the U.S. indictment against him still stands. Dbouk fled to Lebanon.

The Canadian government first argued that a distinction could be made between Hezbollah's military and political/humanitarian wings. It therefore listed Hezbollah's military wing as a banned terrorist organization but refused to include its political arm. After domestic and international pressure, Canada finally banned the entire Hezbollah organization in December 2002.

Hezbollah in South America

Hezbollah is widely considered to have an established presence in the lawless, corrupt, drug-ridden triple border region of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay. Hezbollah uses the area as a key locale for raising and laundering money, drug trafficking, weapons and people smuggling and document and currency fraud. It has been alleged that Hezbollah, Hamas and AI Qaeda also maintain terrorist training camps in the triborder region but the evidence to date is inconclusive.

Fundraising for Hezbollah is done through legitimate businesses, charities and shake-downs. U.S. officials believe that at least $1 00 million is funneled through the tri-border region each year, with Hezbollah receiving a large share of the funds.

The recent trial in Argentina for the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community building in Buenos Aires revealed an extensive Hezbollah operational presence in South America. Law enforcement officials are active in combating Hezbollah's increased activity in free trade zones in South America, hiding behind the cover of import-export companies.

Paraguayan authorities have identified Assad Ahmad Barakat as Hezbollah's leading operative and chief financier in the region. Barakat allegedly ran an extensive counterfeiting and money laundering operation in the area and sent $50 million to Hezbollah from 1995 until his arrest by Brazilian police in 2002. He was extradited to Paraguay where he is currently serving a prison term for tax evasion. In June 2004, the U.S. designated Barakat and two of his businesses, Casa Apollo and Barakat Import Export Ltd., as SDGTs.

Other major arrests in the tri-border region include the 2000 arrest of Ali Khalil Mehri, a Lebanese businessman who allegedly funneled millions of dollars to Hezbollah made from selling pirated software, and the 2001 arrest of Barakat's personal secretary, Sobhi Mahmoud Fayad, who allegedly coordinated Hezbollah's fund raising operations in the region with Barakat. Mehri was released on bail and fled to Syria, and Fayad is currently serving a prison sentence in Paraguay for tax evasion.

The Bush Administration allocated $1 million in counterterrorism assistance to the tri-border area to help eliminate the flow of terrorist money. The assistance is aimed at training financial investigators, improving intelligence sharing, enacting antiterrorism legislation and tightening border controls in the region. The U.S. also maintains a "Three Plus One" Counterterrorism Dialogue with Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay.

Hezbollah in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip

Hezbollah has developed a well-entrenched presence in the West Bank and Gaza. It is believed that Iran and Hezbollah officials in Lebanon began to recruit Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza and Israeli Arabs following Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon in May 2000 with the goal of developing Hezbollah-supported Palestinian terror cells in Israel and the territories.

Iran and Hezbollah are accomplishing these goals by sending money, weapons, weapons technology and expertise to the area and by providing Palestinian terrorists with access to Hezbollah terrorist training camps in Iran and southern Lebanon.

Over the past several years, Hezbollah has reportedly provided Palestinian terrorist groups with $750,000 to $1.5 million annually. Money is funneled to Palestinians through moneychangers, bank transfers and couriers coming in from abroad. Hezbollah funds Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah's AI Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and it is believed that Hezbollah is involved in up to 80 percent of terrorist attacks emanating from the West Bank. According to Israeli security authorities, since 2003, six Hezbollah cells have been uncovered among Israeli Arabs.

In 2003, Israeli forces arrested Ghulam Mahmud Qawqa, a Palestinian member of Fatah's al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and a Hezbollah operative. He reportedly had been planning attacks on Israeli targets in Europe on behalf of Hezbollah.

Regarding its weapons smuggling efforts, Hezbollah was heavily involved in the failed January 2002 effort to smuggle 50 tons of weapons to Palestinian terrorists aboard the Karine-A weapons ship, intercepted by Israeli authorities.

The operation was reportedly overseen by senior Hezbollah operative Hajj Bassem. Following the Karine-A affair, Hezbollah head Nasrallah was quoted as saying, "transferring weapons to the Palestinians is one of [Hezbollah's] greatest and most important obligations." In October 2004, an Israeli court sentenced three terrorists involved in the affair to lengthy prison terms.

Al-Manar Television

Hezbollah maintains its own television station, al-Manar ("the beacon"), which broadcasts Hezbollah's messages of hate and violence worldwide. Hezbollah owns and operates the station, staffing it with members of Hezbollah and directing its programming and communications. Founded in 1991 and funded by Iran, Shi'ite communities abroad, and, reportedly, Muslim communities in Europe, the United States and Canada, the station is now a major satellite network transmitting in Europe, North and South America, Asia and Africa. It broadcasts 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

AI-Manar is more than Hezbollah's mouthpiece; it is its tool for incitement to terror against Americans and Israelis. It broadcasts images of Iraqi devastation attributed to the U.S.-led action with voiceovers calling for "death to America," glorifies suicide bombings and calls for the recruitment of Palestinian "martyrs" to kill Jews.

AI-Manar appears to be the source of the conspiracy theory that claimed that 4,000 Israelis were absent from their jobs at the World Trade Center on September 11, thereby implying that Israel was in some way behind the attack. The story was posted on its Web site on September 17, 2001 and picked up by extremists around the world.

AI-Manar's messages of hate and violence are also often accompanied by anti-Semitic themes, such as the medieval blood libel. AIManar is also a conduit to channel money to Hezbollah - openly and actively soliciting funds on the air and on its Web site.

AI-Manar uses American and European communications infrastructures; several western satellite companies distribute al-Manar, including the U.S.-based IntelSat, which distributes al-Manar to North America, and France-based Eutelsat, which distributes al-Manar to Europe and North Africa. Furthermore, Lebanese subsidiaries of major European corporations advertise on the satellite station.

Several American companies, including Pepsi, Coke, Proctor and Gamble and Western Union have recently ceased their al-Manar advertising following negative media coverage.

In his recently published monograph, Beacon of Hatred: Inside HizbaJ/ah's al-Manar Television (Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 2004), Avi Jorisch offers several policy recommendations for the U.S. vis-a-vis alManar. They include:

  • Adding al-Manar to the Treasury Department's terrorism sanctions list.

  • Asking the four Lebanese banks that currently hold Hezbollah bank accounts to freeze those accounts and if the banks refuse, the Treasury Department should designate them as institutions harboring accounts of a terrorist organization.

  • Enforcing existing laws or passing new legislation prohibiting U.S. companies from advertising on al-Manar and beginning a dialogue with European Union officials regarding European companies that advertise on al-Manar.

  • Enforcing existing laws or passing new legislation prohibiting U.S. media from purchasing footage from, or providing footage to, al-Manar.

  • Closing down al-Manar's Washington bureau.

  • Forcing IntelSat, a U.S.-based provider, to cease offering al-Manar, and encouraging foreign satellite package providers to remove al-Manar from their networks.

Major Hezbollah Acts of Terrorism and Violence
  • Bombing of Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia killing 19 U.S. servicemen (1996)

  • Bombing of Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires killing 96 (1994)

  • Bombing of Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires killing 29 (1992)

  • Abduction, torture and death of CIA Station Chief in Lebanon (1985)

  • Hijacking of TWA Flight 847 killing one U.S. Navy diver (1985)

  • Bombing outside U.S. Embassy annex in Beirut killing 24 (1984)

  • Car bombing of U.S. Marine Barracks in Beirut killing 241 U.S. servicemen (1983)

  • Car bombing of U.S. Embassy in Beirut killing 63 people, including 17 Americans (1983)

  • Car bombing of French military barracks in Beirut killing 58 French paratroopers (1983)

Copyright 2004, Anti-Defamation League