by Ilan Berman
Testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence
July 7, 2011
Chairman Meehan, distinguished members of the Subcommittee:
Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to discuss the Hezbollah terrorist organization, its capabilities, and its activities in the Western Hemisphere. It is an issue of critical importance to the ongoing struggle against international terrorism, and to the safety and security of the U.S. homeland.
A year after the 9/11 attacks, then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, in contextualizing the terrorist threat facing the country, made a telling assessment. “Hezbollah may be the A-team of terrorists,” Mr. Armitage told an audience at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, DC, “and maybe al-Qaida is actually the B-team.”[i] The description was apt, and remains so. With a presence in an estimated forty countries on five different continents, the Lebanese Shi’ite militia represents one of the very few terrorist groups active today that possess a truly global presence and reach.
This footprint extends not only to the greater Middle East and Europe, but to the Western Hemisphere as well.[ii] Over the past quarter-century, Hezbollah has devoted considerable energy and resources to establishing an extensive network of operations throughout the Americas. Today, its web of activity in our hemisphere stretches from Canada to Argentina, and encompasses a wide range of illicit activities and criminal enterprises, from drug trafficking to recruitment to fundraising and training.
A STRONGHOLD SOUTH OF THE BORDER
It is something of a truism of American politics that policymakers in Washington pay only sporadic attention to the happenings in their own geopolitical backyard. The relatively low profile of Latin America in our national security policymaking is deeply counterintuitive, given the region’s proximity to the U.S. homeland. It is also potentially dangerous, because its political environment—marked by large ungoverned areas and typified by widespread anti-American sentiment—has created a fertile operating environment for a range of radical groups, including those from the greater Middle East. According to U.S. government estimates, no fewer than six Islamic terrorist groups (including al-Qaeda and the Palestinian Hamas movement) are now active in Latin America.[iii]
Hezbollah, however, is far and away the most prominent. Its presence in the region stretches back to the 1980s, when operatives—taking advantage of weak regional governance and with support from Iran—began to expand the organization’s already-substantial international drug-trafficking and smuggling activities from Lebanon’s Beka’a Valley to the “Tri-Border Region” at the intersection of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay.[iv] Hezbollah’s regional presence and capabilities were dramatically demonstrated in March of 1992, when the organization carried out a suicide bombing against Israel’s embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina, killing 29 and injuring 242 others. Two years later, in July 1994, the group struck again, bombing the Argentine-Israel Mutual Association (known as AMIA) in Buenos Aires. These attacks, which still rank as the most devastating in South American history, led U.S. officials to conclude that Hezbollah had become “the major international terrorist threat” in the region.[v]
More than a decade-and-a-half later, Hezbollah’s footprint in the region remains extensive. It encompasses:
The Tri-Border Region. The lawless territory where Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil meet continues to serve as the epicenter of Hezbollah activity in Latin America. Since the 1980s, the organization has exploited the region’s permissive political atmosphere and lack of governmental controls for a broad range of illicit activities, including smuggling, extortion and narcotics trafficking. These enterprises are highly lucrative; the RAND Corporation has estimated that Hezbollah cumulatively nets some $20 million annually from the Tri-Border Region alone.[vi] As a result, experts say, the area constitutes the organization’s most significant source of independent funding.[vii]
Colombia. In 2008, U.S. and Columbian investigators capped a two-year investigation by successfully dismantling a major transnational cocaine smuggling and money laundering ring originating out of Bogota, Columbia. The illicit network, run by Lebanese national Chekry Harb, was found to have funneled at least part of its profits to Hezbollah.[viii] Columbia, however, is more than simply a fundraising hub for Hezbollah; the organization is also known to have formed cells in the country, exploiting the sizeable Shi’ite Muslim community there.[ix] And, as a result of its narcotics trafficking activities, Hezbollah is also believed to have forged close and collaborative ties to the country’s premier terrorist group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia, or FARC.[x]
This document is quite extensive and detailed. Please click over to the source for all of it. However I felt it was worth posting a section on Canada here below, as well as the first part above:
Hezbollah also has succeeded in establishing a significant base of operations in Canada. An investigation by the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) in the late 1990s and early 2000s found that a Hezbollah network in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal had laundered tens of thousands of dollars through Canadian banks, and shipped equipment to the Middle East for use by Hezbollah militants in operations against Israeli targets.[xxiv] A far greater level of activity came to light earlier this year, when the U.S. Treasury Department targeted the Lebanese Canadian Bank, a former subsidiary of the Royal Bank of Canada with offices in Montreal, as a “primary money laundering concern” for its role in helping an international criminal syndicate wash hundreds of millions of dollars in narcotics revenue. At least a portion of the proceeds from this criminal enterprise, a five-year task force headed by Treasury and the Drug Enforcement Administration found, were used as “financial support” for Hezbollah.[xxv] Hezbollah is also believed to have a fundraising presence in the Canadian capital, Ottawa, as well as in towns surrounding Toronto, in part because of that area’s sizeable Shi’ite community and its proximity to the U.S. border.[xxvi]