The New And Growing Islamist Threat From Latin America

By EMERSON VERMAAT

January 15, 2012 - San Francisco, CA - PipeLineNews.org - Iran is making a lot of trouble nowadays. Not only is Iran actively working on a nuclear weapons program, but also is this country threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz, a vital transit route of oil. Moreover, Iran is rapidly seeking to expand its influence in Latin America, at the expense of the United States. A recent visit by Iranian president and Holocaust denier Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to his friend and ally Hugo Chávez , the Marxist president of Venezuela, as well as to Cuba, Nicaragua and Ecuador, is indicative of this. Ahmadinejad's visit to Ecuador was the last stop on a five-day tour aimed at shoring up support in the region. "Here I want to declare very clearly from now on, Latin America will no longer be the backyard of the United States, the Iranian human rights violator was quoted by CNN.

It wasn't Ahmadinejad's first trip to Latin America and Hugo Chávez, in turn, also paid several visits to Tehran. Both countries concluded "a strategic alliance to end U.S. imperialism." "Imperialism" is an outdated Marxist ideological term used by the Marxists and their Iranian allies to accuse others of the very sins they are committing themselves. Meanwhile, crime is soaring in Venezuela and the Venezuelan government is providing a safe haven to known Latin American drug lords and Colombian Marxist FARC rebels as well as to Hamas and Hezbollah terrorists.

"Iran, Russia and China have all significantly increased their economic and political footprints in the region," writes Russell Crandell in Foreign Affairs. But it is the Iranian footprints that we should be worried about most. U.S. officials and Iran experts were quoted by the Washington Post as saying: "Iran has also dramatically expanded its diplomatic missions throughout the hemisphere and dispatched members of its elite Quds Force to serve in its embassies." Al Quds members are believed to have been involved in a foiled assassination plot in Washington. Mansour Arbabsiar, an Iranian immigrant in Texas, was arrested in October 2011 in connexion with an Iranian plot to kill Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Washington.

The so-called "Iranian footprints" in Latin America do have implications for U.S. border security, as Iranian and other Muslim extremists are seeking to enter the U.S. via Mexico. Some Muslim immigrants in Mexico, especially those with ties to Lebanon, pose a serious security risk. "Hizballah is setting up shop along the American border with Mexico," the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Seyassah was quoted by Steven Emerson's IPT News. "In an exclusive story, the Kuwaiti daily revealed that Mexican officials have arrested a Mexican national with ties to the Shiite terrorist group. The militant, Jameel Nasr, was reportedly under police surveillance for a while with authorities explaining he had traveled from Lebanon to countries thoughout South and Central America, eventually gaining citizenship and a job as a graphic engineer in Mexico. While in Mexico, Nasr reportedly traveled frequently to Lebanon to receive information and instructions from Hizballah commanders." The Kuwaiti newspaper "cited Mexican authorities as saying that Nasr had been 'entrusted with forming a base in South America and the United States to carry out operations against Israeli and Western targets.'"

Nasr paid a long visit to Venezuela in 2008 where he stayed two months, the Mexican police claims. In February 2010, a U.S, court in Miami indicted three men for raising funds for Hizballah. U.S. authorities told Fox News that "a book celebrating suicide bombers has been found in the Arizona desert just north of the U.S.-Mexican border. The book, "In memory of Our Martyrs," was published in Iran. "It consists of short biographies of Islamic militants who died carrying out attacks."

U.S. authorities warned that in recent years illegal immigrants have crossed the U.S.-Mexican border at alarming rates. FBI director Robert Mueller told the House Appropriations Committee in March 2005 that "there are individuals from countries with known Al-Qaeda connections who are changing their Islamic surnames to Hispanic sounding names and obtaining false Hispanic identities, learning to speak Spanish and pretending to be Hispanic." (Fox News). In 2010, "The Department of Homeland Security had in custody thousands of detainees from Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen."

"Border patrol agents have also recovered military-style patches on clothing near the border," ABC15 reported. "One patch contains the word 'martyr' in Arabic. Another depicts a plane appearing to fly into sky scrapers." "Officials also note the nightmarish scenario involved with returning detainees to their home countries. The Mexican government won't accept a border crosser if they aren't from Mexico, and many countries lack any diplomatic mechanism for repatriating a detainee." "There's is a procedure which takes place, where in effect, if we can't send them back, they're let go," (Arizona) Senator Jon Kyl said. "Obviously that creates an illegal immigration problem, but it could? create a problem of terrorism as well."

The extremists among the illegal immigrants are quite aware of this. They know that they will not be sent back to their home countries and ever more of them manage to stay and survive on U.S. territory. Most of them visit a local mosque where they will make new friends or train new recruits.

Just like the Muslim fundamentalist Taliban in Afghanistan, Hizballah (also frequently spelled as Hizbollah or Hezbollah), an Iranian sponsored Lebanese terror network, is heavily involved in the international drug trade, with a view to generating money. IPT News reported in December 2011 that "prosecutors in Virginia unsealed an indictment charging a Lebanese man, Ayman Joumaa, with smuggling more than 100 tons of Colombian cocaine with the Los Zetas Mexican drug cartel. Hizballah, an Iranian proxy in Lebanon, 'derived financial support from the criminal activities of Joumaa's network,' the U.S. Treasury Department claimed earlier this year."

Similarly, Michael Braun, former Chief of Operations for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) writes: "Hizballah relies on the same criminal weapons smugglers, document traffickers and transportation experts as the drug cartel? They work together; they rely on the same shadow facilitators. One way or another they are all connected." Braun claims that Hizballah "is rubbing shoulders with drug cartels around the globe." "As one contact told me, 'Mexico knows the seriousness of a cartel connection with Hizboallah and the threat to their national security.'"

Congressman Connie Mack, who chairs the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee, was quoted by Fox News as follows: "I think the question that we all have to ask is, when the terrorists come into Latin America, when they move into Mexico, how many have come into the United States? Our government doesn't know the answer to that question. That should make all of us very fearful." "What are we going to do to secure our border step one and step two what are we going to do to confront the drug cartels in Hezbollah from continuing to create a force inside Mexico that will destabilize the United States?"

A former U.S. intelligence agent "who has spent years deep undercover in Mexico, said Hezbollah is partnering with drug organizations," 10News (San Diego News) reported on May 4, 2011. 'The group receives cartel cash and protection in exchange for Hezbollah expertise." "From money laundering to firearms training and explosives training." the agent said. "He tracked, along with Mexican intelligence, two Hezbollah operatives in safe houses in Tijuana and Durango. 'I confirmed the participation of cartel members as well as other Hezbollah individuals living and operating out of there,' he said." "Tunnels the cartels have built that cross from Mexico into the U.S. have grown increasingly sophisticated. It is a learned skill, the agent said (and) points to Hezbollah involvement." "The agent said the real concern is the group's long-term goal of radicalizing Muslim communities. 'They are focussing on developing? infiltrating communities within North America,' the agent told 10News."

Last December, Anna Mahjar-Barducci quoted the Spanish "Univision" TV documentary "La Amenaza Iran" ("The Iranian Threat") according to which Iran is preparing a serious cyber attack against the U.S. from Mexico. Mohammad Hassan Ghadiri, a former ambassador of Iran to Mexico, "is shown in the documentary as accepting a plan to launch from Mexico a cyber war on the U.S." He also wants to open an Iranian consulate in Tijuana, the Mexican border town that has a notorious reputation for its high crime rate (drug smuggling, migrant trafficking, gang violence, etc.).

A secret summit of Islamist terrorist leaders in Venezuela

Roger Noriega, former Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, published a highly interesting article in the Washington Post in March 2011. The heading is posed as a question: "Is there a Chávez terror network on America's doorstep?" He believes there is.

"On August 22, 2010, at Iran's suggestion, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez 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 leader, Hassan Nasrallah, when the Iranian suggested that the three meet Chávez in Caracas. That these infamous criminals left their traditional havens demonstrates their confidance in Chávez and their determination to cultivate a terror network on America's doorstep."

Roger Noriega writes that "arrangements for the August conclave were made by Chávez'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." There are indications "that Nassereddine does business with four companies operated by Walid Makled, a cocaine smuggler indicted in the United Stated and detained in Colombia." (Unfortunately, Colombia decided last year to extradite the Lebanese born Makled to Venezuela rather than to the U.S., although he is believed to have shipped about 10 tons of cocaine into the U.S. each month.)

In another article, "The Mounting Hezbollah Threat in Latin America," Roger Noriega provides more information on Nassereddine. He is "the most prominent Hezbollah supporter in Venezuela, because of his diplomatic role and his close relationship with Chávez confidante Tarek El Aissami. Along with at least two of his brothers, Nassereddine manages a network to expand Hezbollah's influence in Venezuela and throughout Latin America. Using his diplomatic status, Nassereddine has built and consolidated relationships with Hezbollah officials, first in Lebanon and now in Syria."

"The immediate U.S. national security concern related to Hezbollah activity in Latin America is Mexico, where the terrorist group has ready access to the U.S. border. Nassereddine's brother Abdallah, a former member of the Venezuelan legislature, uses his position as the former vice president of the Federation of Arab and American Entities in Latin America and the president of its local chapter in Venezuela to maintain ties with Islamic communities throughout the region. He currently resides on Margarita Island, where he runs various money-laundering operations and manages much of the business dealings of Hezbollah in Latin America." Margarita Island now is "the principal safe haven and center of Hezbollah operations in the Americas."

And in his Washington Post article Roger Noriega writes: "A Venezuelan government source has told me that two Iranian terrorist trainers are on Venezuela's Margarita Island instructing operatives who have assembled from around the region." This shows how under Chávez a paradise for tourists can be transformed into an operational base for hardline Iranian terrorists.

Tarek Zaidan El Aissami is of Syrian descent. He is Venezuela's current Interior Minister and Justice Minister (as of 2009). "His father," Roger Noriega writes in The Washington Post, "is known for having publicly praised Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden; and his brother, Firaz, is an associate of cocaine smuggler Makled." Acccording to Roger Noriega, El Aissama is "one of the officials accused of issuing Venezuelan identity documents to suspicious foreigners."

It is not just Iran and Hezbollah that pose a serious security threat to U.S. interests in Latin America. Al-Qaeda seeks to gain foothold, too. Roger Noriega: "Last May (2010), Muhammed Saif-ur-Rehm Khan, a Pakistani applying for a U.S. visa at the American Embassy in Santiago, Chile, was detained after guards detected traces of bomb-making materials in his hands. U.S. officials discovered Khan's link to the Islamist group Jamaat Al-Tabligh? A high ranking Chilean source informed me that, before his arrest, Khan lived and associated with persons of Egyptian, Saudi and Lebanese background ? many of whom carried Venezuelan passports." Khan was released in January 2011.

The Spanish newspaper El Pais reported in September 2005 that the Spanish intelligence services "warned Argentina against the arrival of Al-Qaeda radicals." These radicals also belonged to Jamaat Al-Tabligh, a Pakistani group linked to Al-Qaeda. After the Spanish warning at least 26 persons belonging to Jamaat Al-Tabligh were arrested in Argentina. They were possibly planning to recruit terrorists to commit terrorist attacks abroad.

Members of this group were also under investigation after the terrorist attacks in Madrid on March 11, 2004, El Pais claims. Talking to the "March 11" investigation committee Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Zapatero specifically warned against the dangers posed by Jamaat Al-Tabligh. He called it "a fundamentalist and integrist movement" which deserves to be monitored closely.

Concluding comments: the alliance of evildoers

What has been shown above is only the tip of the iceberg. Muslim extremists operating in Latin America and Mexico do pose a serious threat to U.S. security. All too often they are immigrants from Iran, Syria, Lebanon or Pakistan. Not so few of them received Venezuelan passports. Under Hugo Chávez, Venezuela has evolved into state sponsoring and facilitating narcotrafficking and terrorism. What we see here an alliance between evil people. "The enemy of my enemy is my friend," is the dictum of these evildoers. No longer is Tom Clancy's 2003 novel "The Teeth of the Tiger" based on fiction, it is, most unfortunately, an accurate description of today's reality. Tom Clancy decribes a Muslim terrorist named Mohammed who "has a strong network of agents and sympathizers throughout Europe and the Middle East," and his Colombian friend who "has an equally strong drug network throughout America." They "form an alliance, to combine all their assets and connections." It is the alliance of evildoers?


Emerson Vermaat is an investigative reporter in the Netherlands. Website: emersonvermaat.com.

Sources:

CNN, January 12, 2012 ("Iran defends nuclear program on last leg of Latin America trip").

Russell Crandall, The Post-American Hemisphere, in: Foreign Affairs, May/June 2011, p. 92.

The Washington Post, Januari 1, 2012 ("Iran seeking to expand influence in Latin America").

IPT News, December 27, 2011 ("Hizballah Fundraising and Operations in the U.S. and Latin America").

IPT News July 7, 2010 ("Mexican Arrest Indicates Hizballah Seeking Foothold"). Also quote from Michael Braun.Haaretz, July 6, 2010 ("Mexico thwarts Hezbollah bid to set up South American network"). Nasr's previous stay in Venezuela.

Fox News, January 27, 2011 ("Iranian Book Celebrating Suicide Bombers Found in Arizona Desert"). Also quotes from Arziona Senator Jon Kyl.

ABC15, June 21, 2010 ("Terrorists crossing AZ border into U.S.?").

Fox News, February 21, 2011 ("Hezbollah Working with Cartels"). Quote from Mike Braun: "Hezbollah rubbing shoulders with drug cartels." Quote from Congressman Connie Mack.

10News.com/San Diego News, May 4, 2011 ("Terrorist Group Setting Up Operations Near Border").

Anna Mahjar-Barducci, Iran Preparing Cyber Attack Against the U.S. from Latin America, www.hudson-ny-org/2662/iran?cyber?attack?against?us.

Roger Noriega, Is there a Chavez terror network on America's doorstep? in: The Washington Post, March 21, 2011.

Walid Makled extradited to Venezuela, in: PJMedia, May 10, 2011.Roger F. Noriega and José R. Cárdenas, The Mounting Hezbollah Threat in Latin America, www.aei.org/outlook/101082.

El País (Madrid), September 3, 2005, p. 21 ("España alertó a Argentina de la llegada de radicales de Al Qaeda").

Tom Clancy, The Teeth of the Tiger. A Novel (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2003).

©2012 Emerson Vermaat. All rights reserved.