Suspected Hezbollah Financier Arrested in Paraguay

“Whether we call it operational or not, Hezbollah is deeply rooted in the tri-border region.”
-Ryan C. Crocker, career Ambassador within the United States Foreign Service

Discussion over the activities of Hezbollah in the TBA prompted a great deal of discourse between members of a panel taking part in a recent hearing sponsored by the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee. Testimony provided by Daniel Benjamin, the State Department’s coordinator for counterterrorism, argued that “no credible information” has been collected “to indicate that Hezbollah has an operational presence in Latin America.”1 It was Benjamin’s use of “operational” that prompted Mr. Crocker’s statement that is featured above. Since 9/11, the methods that terrorist organizations employ to raise funds for future activities have been closely monitored. To enhance this process efforts have been made by Argentina, Paraguay, and the United States to improve the regional intelligence center established in Foz do Iguacu, which is an extension of the 3+1 Group. Former coordinator for counterterrorism, Henry Crumpton, has suggested that cooperation is “uneven” between each of these nations, but that signs of progress are taking shape.2

Lebanese national Moussa Ali Hamdan is escorted to trial in Paraguay

Signs that multilateral efforts are paying off are evident in the arrest of Moussa Ali Hamdan a well-known financier of Hezbollah. Agents of the Paraguayan affiliate of Interpol apprehended Hamdan in downtown Ciudad del Este following a request from the United States government. The United States’ desire to have Hamdan extradited from Paraguay stems from a 2008 indictment of twenty-six suspected Hezbollah operatives. In that case charges were framed around Hamdan’s support of Hezbollah, which included a provision of 1,500 cell phones and a bevy of computer electronics.3

The presence of Hezbollah in the TBA is increasingly troublesome for United States officials on many fronts:

  • As the relationship between Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez develops, so do fears of their allegiance to an “Axis of Unity” against the United States.
  • The use of proxies by Iran (Hezbollah) and Venezuela (the FARC) creates more tension in the region, while speculation over whether or not these groups are collaborating still fills the air.4
  • Chávez has expressed his full endorsement of Iran’s decision to pursue nuclear technology, and now seeks to construct a nuclear complex of his own.

As long as the TBA continues to provide the largest source of financial support for Hezbollah outside of the Middle East (est. $20 million annually) it will represent a potential challenge to the national security interests of the United States.5 Now, with the emergence of the Chávez-Ahmadinejad regime it is important that the Latin American community monitor the relationship between Hezbollah and the FARC.

Updated by Joshua T. Hoffman

  1. U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. “Assessing the Strength of Hezbollah.” Subcommittee Hearing, June 8, 2010. 39:19-39:45.
  2. Crumpton, Henry A. Reviewing the State Department’s Annual Report on Terrorism. Subcommittee on International Terrorism and Nonproliferation. May 11, 2006. 72.
  3. United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania . United States of America v. Moussa Ali Hamdan. November 24, 2009. 14.
  4. “Clinton takes questions on Hezbollah-FARC ‘nexus.'” Palestine Note, June 12, 2010.
  5. Treverton, Gregory F. and Carl Matthies. Film Piracy, Organized Crime, and Terrorism. RAND Safety and Justice Program and the Global Risk and Security Center, 2009. xi.

The Equation for Disaster: Terror in the TBA?

Author: Joshua T. Hoffman

Map with the Tri-Border Area Highlighted
Map with the Tri-Border Area Highlighted

The Tri-Border Area (TBA), enclosed by Puerto Iguazu, Argentina; Ciudad del Este, Paraguay; and Foz do Iguacu, Brazil, is recognized throughout the world as the “largest illicit economy in the Western Hemisphere.”1 Encompassing a relentless cycle of corruption, chaos, and commerce, the TBA has developed a myriad of conditions allowing for the emergence of a safe haven for terrorist fund-raising and collaboration. Weak governance and widespread poverty combine with a geographical backdrop that frames an environment highly conducive to illicit activities. This analysis examines the environment of the TBA and concludes that in spite of enhanced intelligence, stronger regional cooperation, and small-scale law enforcement success, the TBA still holds the potential to threaten United States security.

Continue reading