Hezbollah and other Islamic terrorist groups are joining forces with “violent drug lords” in Latin America to raise money to fund their nefarious activities, posing a “grave threat” to U.S. national security, warned Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-NC) during an international forum on the nexus between drug cartels and Islamic extremists.
“Hezbollah is partnering with Latin American drug lords to raise money for terrorist activity. This includes participation in drug trafficking, gun running, and trade-based money laundering,” declared the North Carolina Republican before traveling to Buenos Aires, Argentina, to lead the ninth Parliamentary Intelligence-Security Forum on Tuesday. “The combination of radical Islamic terrorists and violent drug lords is a serious threat to national security.”
The U.S. State Department and the American military have conceded that Shiite Hezbollah militants and to a lesser extent Sunni Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) jihadists maintain a presence in Latin America.
As chief of U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) in charge of American military operations in most of Latin America and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) secretary, retired Gen. John Kelly highlighted the ongoing threat against the United States posed by the relationship between drug cartels and Islamic terrorist groups.
Echoing Kelly at the Argentina-based forum attended by 200 lawmakers and security officials from 15 Latin American nations, Rep. Pittenger, the chairman of the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, stressed:
South America is quickly emerging as a front line in the fight against terrorist organizations and organized crime. Hezbollah and other Middle Eastern Islamic terrorist organizations are partnering with Latin American drug cartels in order to raise money to fund their terrorist objectives. Their activities include drug trafficking, gun running, and money laundering.
Islamic Terrorist are teaming up with violent drug lords located in America’s backyard. While their collaboration has intentionally been discreet, nevertheless their nefarious activities pose a grave threat to our national security and that of our democratic partners across the globe.
Late last year, the House Financial Services Committee Task Force to Investigate Terrorism Financing reported that Iran’s narco-terrorist proxy Hezbollah is operating a “virtually unopposed drug trafficking operation” in South America, adding that the jihadi group uses its lucrative proceeds estimated in the hundreds of millions to fund its operations in the Middle East.
Rep. Pittenger is the vice chairman of the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Terrorism and Illicit Finance.
“The nexus between criminal networks and terrorist networks is real, and I will predict it will get more sophisticated,” proclaimed then-DHS Secretary John Kelly in April.
Adm. Kurt Tidd, Kelly’s successor as SOUTHCOM commander, noted that radical Islamists and Latin American transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) working together, perhaps unwittingly, is “not totally impossible” as previously thought.
Tidd warned that their collaboration is not limited to drug trafficking, noting that jihadist groups like ISIS are seeking to “radicalize and recruit” people in Latin American regions where the violent street gang MS-13 operates.
Retired Gen. Kelly, who now serves as U.S. President Trump’s chief of staff, has cautioned that ISIS-affiliate Boko Haram and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) are allowing Latin American drug cartels to traffic cocaine into Europe with the help of Hezbollah.
Joseph Humire, an expert on Iranian influence in Latin America and director at the Center for a Secure Free Society (SFS), told Breitbart News that Latin American cartels are paying Hezbollah a “tax” to move people, narcotics, weapons and other contraband in and out of the Western Hemisphere.
Boko Haram has also been affiliated with smuggling Afghanistan-based heroin into Europe.
ISIS’s top stronghold in Afghanistan, Nangarhar, is one of the top-poppy producing provinces in the country, the world’s top supplier of opium and its heroin derivative.
Although experts believe Hezbollah is the most prominent jihadist group in Latin America, Kelly has warned that Sunni extremists are radicalizing converts and other Muslims in Latin America, adding that ISIS may exploit trafficking organizations in the region to infiltrate the United States.