WASHINGTON — Experts at a National Defense University (NDU) conference warned that the Iranian-backed narcoterrorist group Hezbollah, based in Lebanon, has expanded across Latin American and into the United States.
The Shiite movement group, which is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States, generates millions of dollars through drug trafficking, money laundering, and other criminal activities in the Americas, the experts said during a conference at NDU entitled, “Beyond Convergence: A World Without Order.”
Iran is considered a state-sponsor of terrorism by the U.S.
Nevertheless, the Obama administration has reportedly conceded to most demands in negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program.
In written testimony recently prepared for lawmakers, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) expressed concern about the movement of “special interest aliens” in Latin America.
Special interests aliens refers to immigrants from countries such as Iran, which have been officially linked to terrorism by the United States.
Breitbart News reported that U.S. Border Patrol agents apprehended at least 474 aliens from terrorism-linked countries attempting to sneak into the United States illegally last year.
“Outside actors are increasingly seeking to challenge the U.S. as the defense partner of choice in the [Latin American] region,” testified the defense intel agency.
Some speakers at the NDU conference identified Russia, Iran, and China as “outside actors” in Latin America.
The experts’ comments at the conference concerning Hezbollah’s spread in Latin America came on the heels of reports that an explosive device allegedly linked to an Iranian diplomat was found by the Israeli embassy in Uruguay.
Dr. Matt Levitt, director of the Washington Institute’s Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, pointed out that Iran has “created a foreign Shiite legion” that includes thousands of members of Hezbollah and the Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.
He compared the manpower behind Iran’s “Shiite foreign legion” to estimates of foreign militants fighting for the Sunni jihadist group Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL) in Iraq and Syria.
“We are completely fixated and for good reason on the Sunni foreign fighters — some 20,000 foreign fighters from around the world… and about 5,000 from the West,” said Dr. Levitt. “That should get your attention, but there are at least as many Shiite foreign fighters.”
“These guys are not going to simply hang up their coats and go back to being farmers or what not because, at the end of the day, this is something that Iran is going to have in its back pocket — that’s its network to leverage horrible kinds of things at the end of the day,” he continued.
Dr. David Asher, adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, explained that Hezbollah exemplifies a convergence between terrorism and criminal activities such as drug trafficking.
“Hezbollah has morphed from being a terrorist organization and resistance movement to becoming a transnational criminal resistance organization fueled by a huge illicit financial and business apparatus,” said Dr. Asher.
“I consider Hezbollah today to be one of the largest exporters of illicit narcotics from South America and certainly one of the largest facilitators of the export of illicit narcotics from South America to West Africa and into Europe,” he added. “And they are probably the world’s largest money laundering organization.”
U.S. officials had indicated that Hezbollah presence in South America was limited to the region’s tri-border area, which includes Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil.
However, Dr. Levitt said the group has expanded beyond that region to other parts in Latin America.
Dr. Asher added that Hezbollah draws part of its memberships from the Lebanese diaspora in Latin America and the United States, which includes thousands of individuals.
He cited illicit criminal activity linked to the group in U.S. courts.
“In Latin America, transnational threats such as drug- and arms-trafficking and special interest alien transit, coupled with porous borders, have increased insecurity and challenged stability and prosperity,” the U.S. defense intel agency told lawmakers.