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Hezbollah Operatives in the Bay Area

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Part I of our expose by ClarionProject.org’s investigative reporter detailed Hezbollah TV in the Bay Area. The following is Part II:

Nabi Raza Mir is the mullah in charge of the Shia Association Bay Area (SABA) Mosque in San Jose, California. Mir was enough of a threat to Washington to try and keep him out of the US because of his Hezbollah connections (see Part I of this series).

However, Mir’s predecessor at the SABA mosque is a Shiite imam named Rafic Labboun, who was just released from prison after being convicted in 2010 for credit card and check fraud that may be linked to fundraising for Hezbollah. 

Certain security sources have considered Labboun to be a high-level Hezbollah operative in the United States, even more dangerous than Mir, but as a naturalized US citizen it is difficult to prosecute or deport him as such.

The SABA Islamic Center is said to have several Iranian regime and Hezbollah agents who are in the US to report back on Iranian Lebanese expatriates to the mullah-led dictatorships back home. What is even more frightening are the Facebook pages of the Mosque’s young people, even those of Nabi Raza, Mir’s son, that are festooned with Hezbollah images and calls to kill "Zionists" and Sunni Muslims (considered by Iran as Allies of the United States.

How Labboun Landed in Prison

The story of how Labboun landed in US prison would give any religious congregation pause about hiring him again, not only to head one mosque, but all the regional ones of the same faith as well as a foreign language television station that reaches the entire Shiite community. Yet, he is being received with open arms by the congregants at SABA who rallied behind him during his trial.

Labboun left his position as imam in San Jose in 2002 and briefly returned in 2006 for two weeks ostensibly to devote his efforts toward building up the Khomeinist Shiite community in Northern California.

To understand what originally landed Labboun in prison, one has to understand a concept in Shia Islam known as al-maal al-majhool, which means “money of an unknown source.” According to the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who began the Iranian revolution against the US and the Shah back in 1979, if someone is considered an “oppressor,” it is a religious obligation to take away their money.

Labboun landed in prison for exercising his “Islamic” obligation to steal money from the US and Saudi Arabia, enemies of the Shiites.  (Rumors among the local Shiite community circulated that he used the money to purchase a luxury condominium in Dahieih, a Shiite suburb of Beirut where Hezbollah is headquartered. The most upscale neighborhood in Dahieih, Bir Hassan, is where a number of high-level Hezbollah leaders live. Many of them have amassed money through drug trafficking, fraud, gun running, among other criminal enterprises in the Middle East and abroad.)

Labboun earned a college degree from the University of California at Santa Cruz. He is by training a mathematician but, besides working as the SABA Center’s imam, he would travel back and forth to Lebanon allegedly exporting goods bought at Costco to a mini-mall in Lebanon he set up with funds obtained from local Shiite congregants. (Good question: Did the money he made go to Hezbollah?)

What put Labboun in prison was a “bust out” credit card and check scam that defrauded seven U.S. banks.  “Bust outs” have been one of many scams perpetrated by Hezbollah cells in the United States to send funding to Hezbollah to continue its terrorism operations around the world. Hezbollah operatives used the same tactic in Dearborn, Michigan, considered another Hezbollah stronghold by the government.

How the Scam Worked

Court records show Labboun went to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia for the Haj, where he purchased $51,000 in gold from a dealer as a liquid asset using seven credit cards from US banks. He then ostensibly “paid” the debts to the banks (by phone) with electronic checks that were no good. He did this by supplying his US Social Security number and bank routing numbers. Upon receiving “payment,” the banks immediately re-extended the credit limits on credit cards which he took advantage of to buy another $51,000 in gold from the Saudi supplier, an “oppressor,” who he paid with imaginary funds from the other “oppressor,” the Great Satan, America.

According to the US attorney who prosecuted the case, whenever Labboun came into the US he did something illegal. For example, when he returned in 2006 from two weeks from Lebanon, he defrauded Enron  in Oregon of $10,000. Few Americans realize Hezbollah is not so much a self-proclaimed liberation movement as it says, but a sophisticated criminal enterprise that encourages its members to engage in illegal behavior for personal gain all over the world.

One intelligence source for this article has said Labboun even participated in attacks against Israeli soldiers when he was back in Lebanon and that he may be considered one of Hezbollah’s highest operatives here in the US.  Still, the FBI was probably being very cagey in following his activities. To this day, on entering the SABA Mosque one can find brochures urging the congregants to not talk to or cooperate with the FBI and, in the eyes of Labboun and his minions, this is for good reason.

Prosecuting Labboun

Prosecuting Labboun for Hezbollah activities would have been difficult since he is an American citizen, and the funds that were stolen were fungible. It would have been hard to prove they were for Hezbollah.  Indeed, an ACLU attorney who represented Guantanamo terrorists took up his defense much as National Lawyers Guild lawyers did for Mir. When Labboun returned to the US in 2006, he did not find himself questioned by law enforcement about the “bust out” scheme. He was so cocky he even engaged in fraud against Enron during the two week visit. In 2008, he returned to the Bay Area apparently feeling the coast was clear since nobody questioned him about the bust out scheme done earlier on his last visit.

After a grand jury found enough evidence to indict him for credit card and check bank fraud, the SABA congregation did all they could to try and free him. He was ultimately convicted and given a 27 month prison term with three years’ probation. That prison term ended only a few days ago and the SABA Mosque is now celebrating his return as its Imam.

Converted Convicts: Labboun's Followers

Many congregants protested his guilt since robbing from the oppressor is, after all, a religious obligation. While in prison, Labboun told one fan he felt liberated being in jail because it gave him a chance to preach to the convicts inside and convert them to his cause.  Before going to prison, Labboun frequently associated with and was invited to speak with American convert imams who were former Farrakhan followers like Amir Abdel Malik Ali from Oakland, who has called for exterminating Jews, or former Black Panther, convict and pimp Abdul Alim Musa who spent many years in Iran under Khomeini and now leads Jew-hating mosques in Oakland, California and Washington D.C.

Under Mir’s substitute leadership, this association continued. The mosque arranged for speaking appearances by Malcolm Shabazz, the grandson of the late Malcolm X. At one Husayn Day “Peace” Walk in Oakland, California, Malcolm Shabazz spoke to a large audience and urged them to support Hezbollah. Through his connections with the mosque, Shabazz, a high school dropout,  has even managed to speak at colleges to postgraduate level audiences where he discusses how he “turned his life around” by his acceptance of the Shiite Islamic faith as an oppressed victim who spent time in an American prison. What he doesn’t tell the bright-eyed students and professors who listen to him is that he was imprisoned for burning his grandmother to death.

A music video (below) dispensed on YouTube by supporters of Labboun while he was in prison should be viewed by all Americans concerned with national security.  Aside from religious invocations and condemnations against the United States, the end of the video features words from Malcolm X calling for violent militant action and features armed men with hoods over their heads and machine guns like terrorists. This came as Labboun was sentenced to prison.

Americans should take heed of the threat to our national security with Labboun out of prison, leading the Shia community on behalf of Iran in the mosques and on television. 

 

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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Meira Svirsky

Meira Svirsky is the editor of ClarionProject.org