President Obama’s trip to South America has showcased promising partnerships in Brazil and elsewhere. His visit, however, should also focus attention in the region and within his administration on the fact that Iran and Venezuela are conspiring to sow Tehran’s brand of proxy terrorism in the Western Hemisphere.
On Aug. 22, 2010, at Iran’s suggestion, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez hosted senior leaders of Hamas, Hezbollah and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) in a secret summit at military intelligence headquarters at the Fuerte Tiuna compound in southern Caracas. Among those present were Palestinian Islamic Jihad Secretary General Ramadan Abdullah Mohammad Shallah, who is on the FBI’s list of most-wanted terrorists; Hamas’s “supreme leader,” Khaled Meshal; and Hezbollah’s “chief of operations,” whose identity is a closely guarded secret.
The idea for this summit sprang from a meeting between Iran’s ambassador to Syria, Ahmad Mousavi, and his Venezuelan counterpart, Imad Saab Saab, at the Venezuelan embassy in Damascus on May 10, 2010. According to the report received by Venezuela’s foreign minister, the two envoys were discussing a meeting between their presidents and Hezbollah’s leader, Hasan Nasrallah, when the Iranian suggested that the three meet Chavez in Caracas. That these infamous criminals left their traditional havens demonstrates their confidence in Chavez and their determination to cultivate a terror network on America’s doorstep.
According to information from within the Venezuelan regime, arrangements for the August conclave were made by Chavez’s No. 2 diplomat in Syria, Ghazi Nassereddine Atef Salame. Nassereddine is a naturalized Venezuelan of Lebanese origin who runs Hezbollah’s growing network in South America — which includes terror operatives and drug traffickers. A document obtained recently from a senior Venezuelan diplomat indicates that Nassereddine does business with four companies operated by Walid Makled, a cocaine smuggler indicted in the United States and detained in Colombia.
Makled has admitted his ties to the drug trade in a series of media interviews from jail. He claims to have documents and videotapes proving the complicity of Chavez’s military commander, Henry Rangel Silva, and other Chavista cronies in cocaine smuggling. Colombian authorities say they must return Makled to his native Venezuela to face a murder charge, and U.S. diplomats have concluded it is pointless to continue pressing for his extradition to face drug charges in New York. Yet the revelation that Makled can cast light on Nassereddine’s Hezbollah network should spur U.S. diplomats to renew their push for Makled’s extradition to the United States.