Iran’s terror proxy Hezbollah is ramping up south of the US border, as witnessed by arrests of its operatives in Bolivia and Peru.
Information revealed by the State Department’s top counter terror official Nathan Sales confirmed the increased presence of Iran and Hezbollah in Latin and South America.
In Bolivia, “large caches of military equipment and explosives” belonging to Hezbollah jihadis were found in the La Paz area. Jihads have also been dispatched to Peru, where prosecutions of operatives by the government is ongoing.
Last year in Paraguay, a number of Hezbollah-linked individuals – some with connections to the U.S. were arrested for money laundering and drug trafficking, according to the State Department. Panama also worked with the U.S. on a number of counter-terror efforts with suspects linked to Hezbollah.
A House panel last spring heard testimony that Iran has “converted and radicalized thousands of Latin Americans” over the years through sending imams to the region and establishing mosques and “cultural centers.”
It is in these “cultural centers” that Hezbollah and the Iran’s Revolutionary Guards do their recruiting. Breitbart News reported that Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, noted these centers numbered 36 in 2012 yet “more than 100” today.
Last October, then-attorney-general Jeff Sessions created a task force to specifically zero in on Hezbollah after declaring the designated terror organization one of the top five transnational threats to the U.S.
The State Department recently revealed Iran spent close to $1 billion per year on terrorism, including $700 million which the Islamic Republic gives annually to Hezbollah.
Hezbollah, named the world’s richest terror organization by Forbes, has an annual income of $1.1 billion, making up the rest of its funds through drug trafficking and money laundering, primarily in Latin America.
Meanwhile, a trial began in Paris this week of 15 suspected members of an enormous crime ring accused of laundering Colombian drug money through Lebanese middlemen.
The prime defendant in the trial, Mohamad Noureddine, has been sanctioned by the U.S. for his alleged links to Hezbollah. The U.S. says Noureddine ran a network spanning from South America to Europe and the Middle East since 2012.
The head of the network is suspected to be Mohammed Ammar, who was arrested in Florida shortly after Noureddine’s arrest in 2016, for illegally moving hundreds of thousands of dollars into banks in Miami. Ammar regularly traveled between California and Colombia and admitted his ties to Colombian drug cartels, according to prosecutors.