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Jihadist Expansion in Latin America and What It Means for the United States

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Image by Robert Owen Wahl

Of course, it could be said that it was only a matter of time before radical Islamic jihadists found refuge and recruitment opportunities in Latin America; what’s more, it might likely to have been assumed that Latin America made for simpler access to Mexico and the United States. It is to be considered that, with the typical climate of Latin American countries, access to weapons, drugs, and anti-establishment rebels would only enhance the Jihadist capabilities all the while improving their ability to infiltrate their most loathed and highest-regarded offenders. “In the wake of the September 11 attacks, the possibility of al-Qaeda infiltrating Latin America became a priority for U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials,” says Chris Zambelis of The Jamestown Foundation; “Latin America have not been linked to al-Qaeda but instead to the Lebanese Shi’ite Hezbollah, which is ideologically and politically close to Iran,” he explains.

Between extremists from Iran, Iraq, and Syria, the impact to Latin America should be of priority to the United States, given the state of the region’s regimes and the environment for which their already violent protestors, drug dealers, and arms dealers proliferate. With varying estimates of how many Muslims reside in the region, it’s difficult to assess how a presence such as Hezbollah, Al Qaeda, or ISIS might impact others that share the religion — or others that simply seek destruction of non-Muslim beliefs. Some approximations suggest that nearly 6 million Muslims currently live in Latin America — while others suggest that there may be hundreds of thousands; Latin America remains, largely, unaffected by terrorism attacks — at least, terrorism attacks of Muslim Jihadism; “Lying at the epicenter of militant Islamist activity in Latin America is an area known as the Tri-Border Region, a veritable no-man’s land where the borders of Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina converge and where tens of thousands of illegal Muslim immigrants live,” Jeff Azarva describes the appeal of the region: “Surrounded by unpatrolled waterways and unregulated and hidden airfields, the area — known for its lax border security — has become the perfect hub for smuggling, document forgery, and weapons and narcotics trafficking… Radical Islamist outfits, including Hamas and Hezbollah, have been active across the region, exploiting its unregulated financial networks and free trade zones to engage in various money laundering schemes,” (Azarva, 2009).

Due to these ideal conditions, Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, and others, may be willing to look the other way regarding religious ideations to take advantage of developing relationships and exploit the region’s geography and resources. “Hezbollah’s terrorism finance operations are thriving across Latin America months after the Drug Enforcement Administration linked the Iran-backed Lebanese militant group to drug cartels in the region,” Guy Taylor of The Washington Times wrote, “intelligence reports have also tracked how smugglers managed to sneak illegal immigrants from the Middle Eastern and South Asia straight to the doorstep of the U.S. — including helping one Afghan who U.S. authorities say was part of an attack plot in North America,” (Taylor, 2016). Furthermore, it may be likely that the geography, loosely guarded ports, and a little bribery allows for terrorist groups to leverage the trafficking routes and ships to move their people (and potentially, explosives) from Latin America to Mexico and the U.S. — or, perhaps, anywhere else their Venezuelan passports are accepted.

An example of the exploitation in the Latin American countries’ governments can be summed up by the participation of leaders that are willing to trade, accept monetary bribes, and supply resources to known terrorist groups — Argentine President, Carlos Menem, was brought up on charges of corruption following his acceptance of $10 million US dollars to help cover the Iranian capital of Tehran’s involvement in terrorism attacks via Hezbollah, says Zambelis. Additionally, drug cartels are benefiting from the influx of Muslim Jihadist immigration to the continent; “Ecuadorian sources are emphatic that Rady Zaiter [Lebanese ringleader] had ties to Hezbollah and was in fact laundering money for the group” among the discovery of a drug cartel’s operations in the country. As if it weren’t enough that proximity to the United States and a lucrative drug operation to launder terrorist money are ideal conditions for Islamic Jihadists, the government of Venezuela has been alleged in providing documentation to Hezbollah.

To be specific, “one confidential intelligence document obtained by CNN links Venezuela’s new Vice President Tareck El Aissami to 173 Venezuelan passports and ID’s that were issued to individuals from the Middle East, including people connected to the terrorist group Hezbollah… The accusation that the country was issuing passports to people who are not Venezuelan first surfaced in the early 2000s when Hugo Chavez was the country’s president” reports CNN, (Griffin, Guerrero, Romo, & Zamost, 2017). “The Hugo Chavez government has promoted human trafficking worldwide with the illegal delivery of at least 10,000 Venezuelan passports to citizens of Syria, Iran, and other countries in the Middle East,” Sabrina Martin of the Panama Post reported. A Venezuelan passport allows entry to over 130 countries — though CNN does confirm that a visa is still required to enter the United States. A former legal advisor to the Venezuelan Embassy in Iraq caught wind of the transactions and repeatedly reported them to government officials, authorities that could have investigated and stopped the illegal acts — though, instead, they dismissed the advisor’s reports. Misael Lopez, the legal advisor that turned down offers to be a part of the scheme, told CNN that his life was in danger for disclosing his government’s secrets. CNN reports that a confidential intelligence report documents 173 unauthorized persons from the Middle East in possession of Venezuelan passports and IDs. Those passports and IDs were ordered to be provided by the Vice President of Venezuela, Tareck El Aissami. To boot, yet another high-profile representative of Venezuela has been linked to funding Hezbollah through fundraising efforts — Ghazi Nasr Al-Din, previously employed as a Venezuelan diplomat, provided financial services and transport to members of the group; “Venezuela has slowly become a haven for Islamic extremism in the continent, with the regime providing financial and logistical support to a host of terrorist groups,” Martin Rodil explained.

A region infected with political sleaze, anti-Western/United States sentiment, persistent rebellion, and a security force as involved in crime as the expanding cartels from one country to the next, the United States faces great difficulty in reasoning with uncooperative governments and citizens. The transportation routes, alone, pose a significant threat to the U.S. via Central America and Mexico. From the drug trade, smuggling of terrorists, financing and money via cartels, access and placement to ports and ships, and the blessing of crooked governments, Hezbollah has the upper hand in dominating the Western Hemisphere from within the borders of our southernmost neighbors.

With a questionable number of already existing Muslim residents, an unrest among the residents and the government, anti-U.S. sentiment, and a criminal industry that is perpetuated by high-ranking officials and the regional law enforcement, a prosperous business opportunity exists between Latin America and terrorist groups — extended beyond even Hezbollah. The Lebanese/Iranian occupation is only the beginning of what may be yet to come.

Lucrative opportunities exist for the al-Qaeda long-game of expansion under a unified caliphate for all Muslims as well as robust potential for immediate small wins for ISIS. Waging war against terrorism in the Western Hemisphere should become a focal point for efforts made by the United States. Rather than the wars in the Middle East, the issue, though, with war in Latin America is that the civilians do not oppose the existence of criminal activity within their borders; for many, criminal activity sustains their very livelihood and allows them to provide for their families — “In El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua, former combatants, unskilled and lacking employment, are turning to crime,” (Arnson, 1999). The United States will only lose traction in the Global War on Terror if efforts are limited to primarily Middle Eastern regions as Jihadists are migrating, exploiting the available opportunities where they exist in such countries, and making their way through to Europe and the U.S.

Of course, it could be said that it was only a matter of time before radical Islamic jihadists found refuge and recruitment opportunities in Latin America; what’s more, it might likely to have been assumed that Latin America made for simpler access to Mexico and the United States. It is to be considered that, with the typical climate of Latin American countries, access to weapons, drugs, and anti-establishment rebels would only enhance the Jihadist capabilities all the while improving their ability to infiltrate their most loathed and highest-regarded offenders. “In the wake of the September 11 attacks, the possibility of al-Qaeda infiltrating Latin America became a priority for U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials,” says Chris Zambelis of The Jamestown Foundation; “Latin America have not been linked to al-Qaeda but instead to the Lebanese Shi’ite Hezbollah, which is ideologically and politically close to Iran,” he explains.

Between extremists from Iran, Iraq, and Syria, the impact to Latin America should be of priority to the United States, given the state of the region’s regimes and the environment for which their already violent protestors, drug dealers, and arms dealers proliferate. With varying estimates of how many Muslims reside in the region, it’s difficult to assess how a presence such as Hezbollah, Al Qaeda, or ISIS might impact others that share the religion — or others that simply seek destruction of non-Muslim beliefs. Some approximations suggest that nearly 6 million Muslims currently live in Latin America — while others suggest that there may be hundreds of thousands; Latin America remains, largely, unaffected by terrorism attacks — at least, terrorism attacks of Muslim Jihadism; “Lying at the epicenter of militant Islamist activity in Latin America is an area known as the Tri-Border Region, a veritable no-man’s land where the borders of Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina converge and where tens of thousands of illegal Muslim immigrants live,” Jeff Azarva describes the appeal of the region: “Surrounded by unpatrolled waterways and unregulated and hidden airfields, the area — known for its lax border security — has become the perfect hub for smuggling, document forgery, and weapons and narcotics trafficking… Radical Islamist outfits, including Hamas and Hezbollah, have been active across the region, exploiting its unregulated financial networks and free trade zones to engage in various money laundering schemes,” (Azarva, 2009).

Due to these ideal conditions, Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, and others, may be willing to look the other way regarding religious ideations to take advantage of developing relationships and exploit the region’s geography and resources. “Hezbollah’s terrorism finance operations are thriving across Latin America months after the Drug Enforcement Administration linked the Iran-backed Lebanese militant group to drug cartels in the region,” Guy Taylor of The Washington Times wrote, “intelligence reports have also tracked how smugglers managed to sneak illegal immigrants from the Middle Eastern and South Asia straight to the doorstep of the U.S. — including helping one Afghan who U.S. authorities say was part of an attack plot in North America,” (Taylor, 2016). Furthermore, it may be likely that the geography, loosely guarded ports, and a little bribery allows for terrorist groups to leverage the trafficking routes and ships to move their people (and potentially, explosives) from Latin America to Mexico and the U.S. — or, perhaps, anywhere else their Venezuelan passports are accepted.

An example of the exploitation in the Latin American countries’ governments can be summed up by the participation of leaders that are willing to trade, accept monetary bribes, and supply resources to known terrorist groups — Argentine President, Carlos Menem, was brought up on charges of corruption following his acceptance of $10 million US dollars to help cover the Iranian capital of Tehran’s involvement in terrorism attacks via Hezbollah, says Zambelis. Additionally, drug cartels are benefiting from the influx of Muslim Jihadist immigration to the continent; “Ecuadorian sources are emphatic that Rady Zaiter [Lebanese ringleader] had ties to Hezbollah and was in fact laundering money for the group” among the discovery of a drug cartel’s operations in the country. As if it weren’t enough that proximity to the United States and a lucrative drug operation to launder terrorist money are ideal conditions for Islamic Jihadists, the government of Venezuela has been alleged in providing documentation to Hezbollah.

To be specific, “one confidential intelligence document obtained by CNN links Venezuela’s new Vice President Tareck El Aissami to 173 Venezuelan passports and ID’s that were issued to individuals from the Middle East, including people connected to the terrorist group Hezbollah… The accusation that the country was issuing passports to people who are not Venezuelan first surfaced in the early 2000s when Hugo Chavez was the country’s president” reports CNN, (Griffin, Guerrero, Romo, & Zamost, 2017). “The Hugo Chavez government has promoted human trafficking worldwide with the illegal delivery of at least 10,000 Venezuelan passports to citizens of Syria, Iran, and other countries in the Middle East,” Sabrina Martin of the Panama Post reported. A Venezuelan passport allows entry to over 130 countries — though CNN does confirm that a visa is still required to enter the United States. A former legal advisor to the Venezuelan Embassy in Iraq caught wind of the transactions and repeatedly reported them to government officials, authorities that could have investigated and stopped the illegal acts — though, instead, they dismissed the advisor’s reports. Misael Lopez, the legal advisor that turned down offers to be a part of the scheme, told CNN that his life was in danger for disclosing his government’s secrets. CNN reports that a confidential intelligence report documents 173 unauthorized persons from the Middle East in possession of Venezuelan passports and IDs. Those passports and IDs were ordered to be provided by the Vice President of Venezuela, Tareck El Aissami. To boot, yet another high-profile representative of Venezuela has been linked to funding Hezbollah through fundraising efforts — Ghazi Nasr Al-Din, previously employed as a Venezuelan diplomat, provided financial services and transport to members of the group; “Venezuela has slowly become a haven for Islamic extremism in the continent, with the regime providing financial and logistical support to a host of terrorist groups,” Martin Rodil explained.

A region infected with political sleaze, anti-Western/United States sentiment, persistent rebellion, and a security force as involved in crime as the expanding cartels from one country to the next, the United States faces great difficulty in reasoning with uncooperative governments and citizens. The transportation routes, alone, pose a significant threat to the U.S. via Central America and Mexico. From the drug trade, smuggling of terrorists, financing and money via cartels, access and placement to ports and ships, and the blessing of crooked governments, Hezbollah has the upper hand in dominating the Western Hemisphere from within the borders of our southernmost neighbors.

With a questionable number of already existing Muslim residents, an unrest among the residents and the government, anti-U.S. sentiment, and a criminal industry that is perpetuated by high-ranking officials and the regional law enforcement, a prosperous business opportunity exists between Latin America and terrorist groups — extended beyond even Hezbollah. The Lebanese/Iranian occupation is only the beginning of what may be yet to come.

Lucrative opportunities exist for the al-Qaeda long-game of expansion under a unified caliphate for all Muslims as well as robust potential for immediate small wins for ISIS. Waging war against terrorism in the Western Hemisphere should become a focal point for efforts made by the United States. Rather than the wars in the Middle East, the issue, though, with war in Latin America is that the civilians do not oppose the existence of criminal activity within their borders; for many, criminal activity sustains their very livelihood and allows them to provide for their families — “In El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua, former combatants, unskilled and lacking employment, are turning to crime,” (Arnson, 1999). The United States will only lose traction in the Global War on Terror if efforts are limited to primarily Middle Eastern regions as Jihadists are migrating, exploiting the available opportunities where they exist in such countries, and making their way through to Europe and the U.S.



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Thanks !

Thanks for sharing this, you are awesome !