The chairman of the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, in an interview with Breitbart News after meeting with various government officials in South America last weekend, warns that the nexus between radical Islamic terrorists and criminal groups in Latin America is “growing” and poses a major threat to the United States.
Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-NC), the chairman, also told Breitbart News that the jihadist group Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) has established training camps in countries south of the United States.
“There are [ISIS] training camps that we know are down there, in Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America,” declared the North Carolina Republican. “So, it’s clear to us that we need to have a focus and active understanding of their intent… which is to put the world under the domination of the Islamic State.”
“The Islamic State has lost territory in Iraq, but expanded in other countries. There is an awareness that the terrorist group may be trying to expand in Latin America, particularly as the Islamic State moves more towards the drug/criminal activity,” he added.
Pittenger, who has referred to the presence of Islamic terrorists in Latin America as a “diabolical evil within our hemisphere,” pointed out that Islamic terrorists, like criminals, are motivated by money.
“Certainly, that’s why there are concerns about this growing nexus between the criminal element in Latin American and Islamic terrorist groups, like ISIS,” he said.
“The reason why the United States should take the Islamic terrorism threat in Latin America seriously is because of the porous southwest border,” added the North Carolina Republican. “When you look and see who is coming across the border today, it’s by a much greater measure people who are not from Latin America, they’re from countries in the Middle East linked to terrorism.”
Besides Mexico, the congressman did not identify any other Latin American country where ISIS is believed to have established training camps.
Pittenger’s comments come nearly a week after Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), in a letter to President Barack Obama, warned that ISIS is infiltrating Latin America as it loses territory in the Middle East, saying the group is “growing more overt” in the region.
The warnings from Sen. Ernst and Rep. Pittenger echo concerns expressed by the Pentagon’s Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) and the U.S. State Department that activities linked to both ISIS and Hezbollah are taking place in Latin America.
SOUTHCOM has reported that Islamic terrorist groups may be taking advantage of criminal trafficking networks to infiltrate the United States, adding that individuals from terror-linked countries in the Middle East and Africa are moving along with the illegal immigrant flow into the United States.
Last weekend, Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-NC), who also serves as vice-chair of the House Financial Services Committee’s bipartisan Task Force to Investigate Terrorism Financing, traveled to South America to host a major international forum with members of parliament and other government officials from 10 countries in the region: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela.
Pittenger and the Latin American officials discussed collaborative efforts to combat radical Islamic terrorist groups operating in Latin America, namely Shiite Iran’s narco-terrorist proxy Hezbollah and Sunni ISIS.
“The Islamic terrorism threat in Latin America is growing. Hezbollah has been in the region for some time,” the North Carolina lawmaker told Breitbart News. “They have been able to capitalize on a relationship with a number of drug cartels.”
Consistent with previous assessments from SOUTHCOM, the congressman noted that Latin American countries are ill-prepared to combat Islamic terrorist groups.
“We also learned that while there was good spirit and commitment to be resourceful in addressing this concern, these countries were lacking in capability,” acknowledged Pittenger. “We are determined to develop these relationships more.”
The congressman said the United States should increase funding to boost Latin America’s ability to combat radical Islamic terrorists.
During his trip to South America, Pittenger was accompanied by experts from the U.S. Treasury Department, international anti-money laundering agencies within the U.S. government, as well as relevant private-sector technology and global financial firms.
The congressman expressed support towards increasing U.S. government-private sector collaboration to deter and prevent terrorist funding in Latin America.
Despite the warnings from American lawmakers, the U.S. military, and his own State Department, President Barack Obama has ignored the radical Islamic terrorism threat to the United States stemming from its backyard, Latin America, noted Pittenger.