TCS Daily


Franchising Jihad

By J. Peter Pham & Michael I. Krauss - December 4, 2006 12:00 AM

In a forthcoming study for the Institute for Counter-Terrorism at Israel's Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, senior researcher Ely Karmon raises the alarming prospect of Hezbollah affiliated groups bringing the Lebanese terrorists' brand of violence to the Americas. While acknowledging that it is too soon to draw clear conclusions about the nature and objectives of these Hezbollah "franchisees," Karmon nonetheless notes that "successful campaigns of proselytism in the heart of poor indigene Indian tribes and populations by both Shi'a and Sunni preachers and activists" have contributed to the growing attraction of Islamist terrorist groups in Latin America. Karmon also observes that "there is a growing trend of solidarity between leftist, Marxist, anti-global and even rightist elements with the Islamists," citing inter alia the September 2004 "strategy conference" of anti-globalization groups hosted by Hezbollah in Beirut.

Evidence of this was already available in the Washington Post's front page coverage of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah's September 22 mass rally, which mentioned that among those in attendance was a Lebanese expatriate who had flown in from Venezuela for the event and that "[a]t the mention of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, a critic of America, cheers went up."

As it happens, one month after the demonstration in Beirut, on October 23, Venezuelan police discovered two explosive devices near the U.S. Embassy in Caracas. According to a statement in El Universal from the acting police commissioner of the Baruta district, law enforcement officials arrested a man carrying a "backpack containing one hundred black powder bases, pliers, adhesive tape, glue, and electric conductors" who "admitted that the explosives had been set to detonate within fifteen minutes." The man arrested was José Miguel Rojas Espinoza, a 26-year-old student at the Bolivarian University of Venezuela, a Chávez-founded institution whose website proclaims that it offers a free "practical and on the ground education" contributing to "a more just, united, and sustainable society, world peace, and a new progressive and pluralist civilization."

Two days after the failed bombing, a web posting by a group calling itself Venezuelan Hezbollah claimed -- "in the name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful" -- responsibility for the attack. The bombing was meant to publicize Venezuelan Hezbollah's existence and its mission to "build an Islamic nation in Venezuela and all the countries of America," under the guidance of "the ideology of the revolutionary Islam of the Imam Khomeini." (Without a hint of irony, the communiqué, signed by "Latin American Hezbollah," disparaged those who would present the suspect as "a lunatic and a madman in order to hide the truth that he is an Islamic mujahid, a man who has undertaken jihad through the call of our group.")

This episode, barely noticed in our preoccupation with the midterm elections, is not the first of its kind in the Americas. On November 9, a court in Argentina issued an arrest warrant for former Iranian president Hashemi Rafsanjani and eight other former Iranian officials for their part in the 1994 bombing of the a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, which killed 85 people and wounded hundreds. Prosecutors in the case formally accused Iran of ordering the terrorist attack and Hezbollah of carrying it out. Immediately after the judicial actions, Argentine Housing Minister Luis D'Elía, a self-professed follower of Chávez and a leftist demagogue on his own right (he is best known for organizing invasions of private property by piqueteros, unruly unemployed protesters), went to the Iranian embassy in Buenos Aires and read out a statement denouncing the legal proceedings as "American-Israeli military aggression against the Islamic Republic." (An embarrassed President Néstor Kirchner was forced to fire the minister.)

As Rachel Ehrenfeld spotlighted in an excellent National Review Online column back in 2003, exploiting its entrée with the Lebanese diaspora, Hezbollah has had a longstanding and profitable presence in South America. In the largely ungoverned jungles of the tri-border region of where Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay intersect, Hezbollah clerics have been active since the mid-1980s, seeking converts as well as recruiting new members and organizing cells among immigrant Muslim communities from the Middle East. In addition, Brazilian, Argentinean, and other Latin American intelligence sources report the existence of special Hezbollah-run weekend camps, where children and teenagers receive weapons and combat training, as well as indoctrination them in the anti-American and anti-Semitic ideologies of the Ayatollah Khomeini and his successors. Hezbollah is heavily involved in South America's thriving trade in illegal drugs, cultivating alliances with both drug cartels and narco-terrorist outfits with revolutionary aspirations like the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC) and National Liberation Army (ELN) in Colombia. Brazilian security agencies estimate that hundreds of millions in profits are sent annually from Islamist organizations operating in the tri-border region to the Middle East, most of it going to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Last summer, one week before a cross-border raid by Hezbollah precipitated open conflict between the terrorist group governing southern Lebanon and the State of Israel we warned in a contribution to TCS Daily that the Iranian-backed terrorists' build-up along that border was producing dangerous tensions. "Time is not on Israel's side here," we wrote. "Eventually, Israel may feel compelled to exercise its sovereign right to self-defense by preemptively attacking in a manner that not only eliminates the Fajr rockets, but also prevents Tehran from easily reestablishing them." We concluded by arguing: "For all our sakes, it's high time to bring Hezbollah back into the international limelight."

Then came the ceasefire mandated by United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701, at which point we noted in another TCS essay that "by setting his strategic objective so ridiculously low—at one point he declared that his group 'needs only to survive to win'—Hezbollah's Nasrallah had emerged from the ordeal that he imposed on Lebanon with bragging rights." We feared that Nasrallah would exercise these rights to the detriment not just of Israelis and Lebanese, but also of Americans and others who oppose his terrorist group and the revolutionary ideology of his Iranian mullah patrons. Even we, however, did not anticipate how quickly Hezbollah would be exploiting its strategic opportunity to significantly expand both the scope and magnitude of its nefarious activities—and right into our own backyard at that.

Five months ago, we warned of a dangerous nexus between Iranian revolutionary and geopolitical ambitions, Syrian irredentism, and Hezbollah terrorism north of Israel's borders. Now it appears that the combination of Chávez's anti-Americanism, Iran's well-financed expansion of the umma and Latin American radicalism is forming yet another front for Islamist fascism, this time in nominally Christian South America. Secretary of Defense-designate Robert Gates, a former CIA chief, would do well to insist that this new front for jihad become a priority for the administration's war on terror.

J. Peter Pham is director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University. Michael I. Krauss is professor of law at George Mason University School of Law. Both are adjunct fellows of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.


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