Narco-Terror Concerns in Latin America
Amid New Concerns About a Possible Attack in Latin America, the US Designates Terror-Sponsors in Venezuela.
By RICHARD ESPOSITO, JASON RYAN, AND KIRIT RADIA
June 18, 2008
Amid growing concerns that Hezbollah is planning attacks outside the Middle East, perhaps in Latin America, the United States Treasury Department today accused Venezuela of harboring Hezbollah "facilitators and fundraisers."
The Treasury Department designated Ghazi Nasr al Din and Fawzi Kan'an, along with two travel agencies in Caracas owned by Kan'an as supporters of Hezbollah and froze all their assets that are under US jurisdiction. Al Din is a Venezuelan diplomat and runs an Islamic Center.
"It is extremely troubling to see the Government of Venezuela employing and providing safe harbor to Hezbollah facilitators and fundraisers," said Adam J. Szubin, Director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control.
Both men met with Hezbollah leaders in Lebanon and facilitated their travel to Venezuela, according to Treasury.
In response to Treasury's action, the Venezuelan government issued a statement saying that "Hezbollah is a political party legally operating in Lebanon".
"We do not have any formal complaint from Lebanon regarding this or other issues," said Andres Izarra, the Minister of People's Power for Communication and Information. "If they had any problem requiring investigations, they would have informed our country about it, and they have not."
This designation comes at the same time that intelligence officials tell ABC News they are concerned that Latin America could be a possible target of future Hezbollah attacks. The last major attack by the terror group that occurred outside the Middle East was in Argentina in 1994. Eighty-five people were killed and 300 injured in an attack on a Jewish Center in Buenos Aires.
In March Deputy Director of National Intelligence Don Kerr cited concerns over the nexus between Hezbollah and narcotics trafficking groups in Latin America.
"If I had to think of one thing that worries me, I had the opportunity to spend most of the last two weeks in Latin America. Of course there you see the conjunction of narcotics trafficking and terrorism and there may be a nexus forming between them," said Kerr. "They share the need for money laundering. In fact in Latin America you have a real presence of Hezbollah."
DEA officials say they have also been seeing a steady escalation of cocaine being shipped through Venezuelan airspace over the past two years according to radar air track data they monitor.