WASHINGTON, DC — Iran’s narco-terrorist proxy Hezbollah has established “large caches of military equipment and explosives” in Bolivia and deployed jihadis to Peru, the U.S. Department of State’s (DOS) top counter-terrorism official Nathan Sales cautioned lawmakers on Wednesday.
The warning came a day after State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert revealed that Iran spends nearly $1 billion annually on terrorism, including $700 million on the Lebanese-based wing of Hezbollah, heavily involved in drug trafficking and money laundering activities in the Western Hemisphere, mainly Latin America.
This year, Forbes deemed Hezbollah the world’s richest terrorist organization with an annual income of $1.1 billion, generated primarily by “aid funding from Iran, drug manufacture and trade.”
U.S. military officials have long warned against the presence of Iran and Hezbollah in Latin America.
Iranian and Hizballah operatives have been arrested in the past several years in Europe, Africa, South America, Asia, and the United States – demonstrating the global reach of these networks.
Since 2012 alone, Hizballah has conducted a successful terrorist attack in Bulgaria that killed six, undertaken two separate plots in Cyprus, developed large caches of military equipment and explosives in Kuwait, Nigeria, and Bolivia, and sent terrorist operatives to Peru and Thailand.
In its annual Country Reports on Terrorism published this year, focused on terrorist activities in 2017, State further elaborated on the Shiite group’s activities in Peru and Bolivia, noting, “[B]olivian security services previously uncovered and disrupted a Hizballah cache of explosive precursors in the La Paz area. The Peruvian government’s prosecution of a Hizballah member arrested in 2015 is still ongoing, with the Peruvians successfully appealing a ruling acquitting this operative of terrorism charges.”
Consistent with its operations in Lebanon, Hezbollah registered as an official political party in Peru’s Abancay province, home to the largest concentration of the country’s small Muslim community, the Peruvian Latina news agency reported in 2016.
State also found that in 2017:
With the help of U.S. counterparts, Paraguayan law enforcement officials arrested multiple Lebanese Hizballah-linked suspects in the Ciudad del Este area who were engaged in money laundering and drug trafficking activities, some with links to the United States … Panama cooperated with U.S. law enforcement on various counterterrorism cases this year, including individuals linked to Hizballah.
Hezbollah “threatens” Americans in the U.S. homeland, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in April.
Last month, then-U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions designated Hezbollah one of the top transnational organized crime (TOC) threats against the U.S. stemming from Latin America, along with the MS-13 gang and Mexican cartels.
Emanuele Ottolenghi of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) think tank told a House panel in April that Iran has “converted and radicalized thousands of Latin Americans” throughout the years by dispatching imams to the region and establishing mosques and “cultural centers” that Hezbollah used as recruiting tools.
According to Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, the number of Iranian “cultural centers” in Latin America has proliferated in recent years, nearly tripling from 36 in 2012 to “more than 100” today.
U.S. military officials told Breitbart News that Hezbollah and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) are using the centers to recruit locals.
Despite the ongoing threat posed by Hezbollah in Latin America, Politico found last year that former U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration “derailed” a DEA operation targeting Hezbollah’s drug trafficking activities in Latin America to secure approval of the controversial Iran nuclear deal.
The Trump administration has taken a tough stance against Iran, designating it one of the top threats against the United States.
Sales told lawmakers, “The Iranian regime and its terrorist proxies have a truly global reach, and we must elevate our efforts to counter Iran’s destructive activities around the world.”
Last month, President Trump signed into law the Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Amendments Act of 2018, which reinforces his administration’s efforts to protect the international financial system by targeting Shiite group’s supporters, financial networks, and those who facilitate and enable its destabilizing activities across the world, the U.S. Treasury Department noted Tuesday.
“On November 5, 2018, in its largest ever single-day action targeting the Iranian regime, [Treasury] sanctioned over 700 individuals, entities, aircraft, and vessels,” the department noted, adding, “This action completed the re-imposition of U.S. nuclear-related sanctions that were lifted or waived under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).”