Hizballah in America

By Alex Joffe
Thursday, August 4, 2011

Hizballah is a Shiite Muslim movement, Iranian-created and -funded, which strongarms Lebanon through threats and violence, assaults Israel with rockets obtained through Syria in contravention of UN resolutions, and is funded through massive criminal enterprises. And it has arrived in the Americas. 

Evidence for Hizballah's criminal and terrorist activities in the Western hemisphere continues to build. The implications for the U.S., for Israel, and for Jews globally are ominous. Why, then, is so little attention paid?


• In early July, two men were arrested in Bucharest and two more in the Maldive Islands in a U.S.-orchestrated sting operation. Their purpose: purchasing surface-to-air missiles and other munitions for Hizballah and the Taliban in exchange for hundreds of kilos of heroin. And whence the heroin? In 2001, the U.S. Treasury Department added the Hizballah-linked Lebanese businessman Ayman Joumma to its list of known drug smugglers and money launderers. He and others are accused of laundering up to $200 million per month through Lebanon, West Africa, Colombia, and Panama. Today, Hizballah's role in drug smuggling is expanding, especially as Iranian funding for the organization has dropped.

• Also on the increase are attempts to purchase weapons and funding within the U.S. Weapons cases were uncovered in Philadelphia and New York City in 2009. Three Yemeni men in Rochester were convicted of illegally transferring money to Hizballah in 2009, and cigarette smuggling rings that raised millions of dollars were busted in North Carolina in 2002 and New York in 2003. An Ohio couple, Hor and Amera Akl, pled guilty in 2011 to charges of conspiracy to support Hizballah, including through insurance fraud.

• In July, federal prosecutors unsealed an indictment against Faouzi Ayoub, formerly of Dearborn, Michigan, accusing him of using a forged U.S. passport in 2000 to travel to Israel at the direction of Hizballah to attempt a terrorist attack. Now on the FBI's most wanted list, he was arrested by Israel in 2001 and exchanged in 2004 along with 436 other prisoners for kidnapped Israeli drug smuggler Elhanan Tannenbaum.

• Again in July, Roger Noriega, former U.S. ambassador to the Organization of American States, testified before Congress about Hizballah's operations in Latin America. These activities include drug smuggling, money laundering, and proselytizing, as well as radicalizing the region's large Muslim population. Hizballah has long been implicated in the Iranian bombings of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires in 1992 and the Jewish community center there in 1994. Noriega also documented Iranian and Hizballah connections to the Chavez regime in Venezuela, including the weapons ship Francop, which was intercepted by Israeli naval commandos in 2009 carrying munitions for Hizballah to Syria.

• Also in July, the hacker group LulzSec released a confidential report by the Tucson police department pointing to the 2010 arrest in Mexico of Jameel Nasr, allegedly tasked with creating a Hizballah network in that country. The report noted the recent introduction of vehicle-born improvised explosive devices (a Hizballah trademark), by Mexican drug gangs. Border agents across the American Southwest continue to arrest illegal immigrants deemed "Other Than Mexicans," some of whom sport tattoos of Hizballah symbols.

One can point to countless other examples of Hizballah activities. Two sisters, Nada Nadim El Aouar and Elfat El Aouar, failed to return to Lebanon after their student visas expired. Nada entered into a sham marriage that allowed her to gain U.S. citizenship, during which she worked as a waitress for a man (later her brother-in-law) who is now a fugitive accused of sending more than $20 million to Lebanon.  After two more marriages (to a U.S. Marine, and then to a Foreign Service officer), she ended up as an FBI agent working on terror cases, and then as a CIA case officer in Iraq. Accused of looking up names, including her own, her sister's, and her brother-in-law's, in secret U.S. government databases, she entered a guilty plea in 2007.

Only a handful of these cases and testimonies have been discussed in the New York Times or the Washington Post. The only outlets covering Hizballah are rightward-leaning national organs like the Washington Times and a variety of bloggers.  As far as the Times columnist Thomas Friedman is concerned, the only "Hizballah faction" in American life is the Tea Party.  This is perverse.  Fortunately, U.S. law enforcement, at least at the operational level, appears well aware of the threats.

Why aren't the facts regarding Hizballah taken seriously, even when they come in the form of guilty pleas and convictions? At least three explanations may be offered. First is the fiction that Hizballah has morphed from a Lebanese "resistance group" into a legitimate political party that just happens to maintain a "militia." To acknowledge the true facts would mean opposing Hizballah at every turn, a far more difficult policy than pretending the organization might "moderate." 

Similarly conducive to inaction are other convenient myths: that there is no radicalization of American Muslims, and demonstrating otherwise is "Islamophobic"; that there is no cross-border threat from Mexico, and demonstrating otherwise is "racist"; and that pointing to these problems is evidence of a disqualifying right-wing agenda. 

Hizballah is here in the Americas. But a decade after 9/11, fatigue with the Middle East and terrorism, and a manufactured backlash against counter-terrorism, have made the American public, and American Jews, passive. Only more aggressive reporting of the facts, and a campaign of public education, will diminish the surprise when we wake up to find terrorists in our midst.   

Alex Joffe is a research scholar with the Institute for Jewish and Community Research.

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