Bay Area Imam Nabbed With Hezbollah Cell in Mexico

Rafic Labboun, an imam from the Shiite Association Bay Area (SABA) Mosque in San Jose, California, has been arrested in Mexico by Mexican immigration authorities working in cooperation with the FBI and Homeland Security.

Labboun was taken into custody with the two known Hezbollah agents from Belize, Justin George Abdallah Elders and Yasser Safa in Merida, a Mexican city located in the Yucatan peninsula. Both men are citizens of Belize. Intelligence agencies in the United States were tracking this group as part of a cell of Hezbollah-linked Arab terrorists who were operating in Mexico and Central America.

ClarionProject.org had previously exposed Labboun’s Hezbollah connections in the US.

Labboun was released this summer from a federal prison, where he had served  27 months for credit card fraud that authorities suspected was linked to fundraising for Hezbollah here in the US. In that case, Labboun kited $102,000 in credit card purchases of gold in Saudi Arabia which involved defrauding several U.S. banks by creating a false line of credit between the banks.

The money made its way to Lebanon and has never been returned, even though Labboun was required to pay back the money as per the agreement of release and subsequent his three year probationary term. Instead, Labboun fled to Mexico on a false passport from Belize. It is believev he was helped by the alleged Hezbollah agents with whom he was arrested.

At the time of Labbooun’s trials, prosecutors were only able to convict Labboun on credit card fraud as his connection with Hezbollah could not be conclusively proven at the time.  However, as ClarionProject.org reported at the time, the SABA Mosque where Labboun is still considered an imam openly supports Hezbollah and the pro-Khomeinist regime in Iran.

Mexican news reports stated that Labboun identified himself to Mexican immigration authorities with a false passport from the government of Belize. The news reports also confirm that   he was accompanied by other five people, two of whom are known by the FBI and Homeland Security to be Hezbollah agents in Belize. A tank or armored vehicle of some kind was also allegedly used in the operation.

Intelligence agencies in the U. S. were tracking this group as part of a cell of Hezbollah-linked Arab terrorists  operating in Mexico and Central America.

Some security sources have even mentioned that since the cell’s capture, information is emerging that Labboun may even be linked to the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center, however, law enforcement authorities are still in the process of sifting through evidence captured during the raid that could confirm this link.

However, it is presumed that the fact that Labboun entered Mexico with two Hezbollah agents from Belize on a fake Belize passport while on parole in the U.S. provides the missing evidence of his direct link to Hezbollah.  Moreover, Yasser Safa, one of the two Hezbollah agents accompanying him may be related to Wafik Safa, who was Hezbollah’s top security chief in Lebanon and is married to Hezbollah Chief Hassan Nasrallah’s sister. One security source has said this may indicate that Nasrallah personally authorized this escape attempt for Labboun.

Labboun has been remanded to El Paso, Texas, by the FBI for further investigation. Labboun has an American wife, a Muslim convert and three daughters back in Lebanon, who he has not seen for three years. Some police sources believe he may not want them to come to the United States because his wife would be able to shed light on his relationship with Hezbollah as well as other illegal activities. This might account for his attempt to flee the U.S. in violation of his parole. Still others maintain he was always a Hezbollah financial courier who simply wanted to escape.

As ClarionProject.org reported, the SABA Mosque in San Jose supported Labboun throughout his trial, claiming he was innocent of any wrongdoing and giving him money and food during his trial in a federal court. Once Labboun was freed on probation, the mosque held a welcome home party for him. During his incarceration, a music video was released, referring to Labboun a “peace activist” and calling for his release from prison.

The SABA Mosque maintains it reaches out to the non-Shiite and non-Muslim community for interfaith dialog but undercover recordings and even the mosque’s own website have shown preaching against Jews and Christians is done within the mosque’s walls.

Despite this, the SABA Mosque is still enjoying political assistance from politicians like Democratic candidate for the House of Representatives Mike Honda, who is scheduled to appear at the Mosque for a gathering on September 15 as part of his election campaign.  Calls by this reporter to Honda’s office to inquire if he still plans on attending were not returned.

American citizens should be glad the FBI and Homeland Security were on top of this case, but Labboun and the SABA Mosque are just the tip of the iceberg that needs to be watched very carefully as a possible war with Iran over nuclear weapons looms on the horizon.

Lee Kaplan is an investigative journalist and intelligence analyst. Kaplan also heads Defending America for Knowledge and Action (DAFKA). He appears frequently in the US media. He is currently working on a book about America's colleges in the War on Terror and the International Solidarity Movement.

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