“Hundreds” of individuals from Latin America and the Caribbean have traveled to Syria and Iraq to join the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) and other Sunni extremist groups, according to U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM).
“I would say it’s in the hundreds, and right now, I want to be very, very careful to caveat the confirmed numbers that we continue to talk to is… between 100, 150 range,” he told reporters on March 10, referring to the number of individuals from Latin America and the Caribbean who have traveled to join ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
I would also say that we’ve got other people that have told us that the numbers they’re tracking for their country is higher than what we’ve had. I don’t want to get into numbers, that’s not the important piece. It is, they are providing foreign fighters. At this point, it’s [a] fighter flow from this region over to the main fights that ISIL is engaged in. I know that you are aware that one of the tactics that they’ve engaged in is to tell potential recruits if you can’t come here, conduct attacks locally.
The number cited by Adm. Tidd refers to the “estimated number of foreign terrorist fighters our experts assess have traveled or attempted to travel to conflict zones in the Middle East to support or fight on behalf of Sunni Extremist groups in that region, mainly ISIL but others as well,” Jose Ruiz, a SOUTHCOM spokesman, explained to Breitbart News.
Last year, Gen. John Kelly, then-SOUTHCOM commander, said that up to 100 individuals from his AOR had traveled to Iraq and Syria to join ISIS.
Regarding ISIS-inspired lone-wolf attack threats to the Latin America region, Adm. Tidd told reporters, “We have tracked in the theater a number of potential I would say, intents or aspirations at this point.”
“None of whom have borne out. But that’s the piece. Regretfully, in many instances, the first time that you have solid proof is after the fact,” he added.
On March 10, Adm. Tidd also warned the Senate Armed Services Committee that self-radicalization influenced by jihadist groups such as ISIS and Iran’s terror proxy Hezbollah was taking place in Latin America and the Caribbean.
He told lawmakers:
The greater concern that we’re beginning to see now is on the part of Islamist extremist groups. There is now a general recognition throughout the region. In meeting with senior security chiefs from across the Caribbean in particular, but also Central American countries, they recognize the risk of radicalization — self-radicalization occurring within their countries.
There have already been a number of fighters that have gone over to Iraq and Syria to fight. We have seen indications there have been a number of them that have been killed. I think we all saw the video of the 14-year-old from Trinidad and Tobago that was videotaped engaged in an act of terrorism, executing a Syrian combatant.
Both Hezbollah and ISIS maintain a presence in Iraq and Syria. Iran has established a “longstanding presence” in Latin America and the Caribbean through “one of the [its] principal surrogates,” the Shiite terrorist group Hezbollah, noted Tidd.
“Their activities have largely been involved in logistics support, providing funds back to Lebanon to Hezbollah itself,” the commander told lawmakers, referring to the Shiite group. “But it also is available as a potential to conduct other activities.”
“Lebanese Hezbollah maintains an extensive regional network of supporters and sympathizers… Lebanese Hezbollah also maintains an infrastructure with the capability to conduct or support terrorist attacks,” warned Tidd in a statement submitted to the Senate Armed Services Committee.