House Homeland Security hearing on Hezbollah’s hyperbolized hemispheric shenanigans

Earlier this month, the House Homeland Security Committee‘s subcommittee on counterterrorism and intelligence held a hearing on the supposed Western Hemisphere operations of Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shi’ite militia and political party which is on the State Department’s list of “Foreign Terrorist Organizations.” Those testifying included Roger F. Noriega, a senior fellow of the American Enterprise Institute, and Douglas Farah, a senior fellow of the International Assessment and Strategy Center. Fears of Hezbollah collaboration with Mexican drug cartels were raised by a 2010 internal memo from the Tucson Police Department, leaked by the hacker group LulzSec, which raided a trove of documents from the Arizona Department of Public Safety. The memo apparently warns that Hezbollah has established operations and a large arms stockpile in Mexico.

As evidence, the memo points to the 2010 Tijuana arrest of accused Hezbollah militant Jameel Nasr, who was allegedly tasked with establishing a Hezbollah network in Mexico and South America. The memo also recalls the April 2009 arrest of one Jamal Yousef in New York, which exposed a huge cache of assault rifles, hand grenades, explosives and anti-tank munitions that were apparently stored in Mexico after being smuggled from Iraq. (The New York Times reported Aug. 19, 2009 that Yousef thought he was selling the weapons to Colombia’s FARC, but, as is usually the case in such stings, the supposed FARC representative was actually a DEA plant.)

The memo warned that consequences of partnerships between Hezbollah and Mexico’s drug cartels could be disastrous, given Hezbollah’s advanced weapons capabilities—specifically the organization’s expertise with improvised explosive devices (IEDs). It noted that some Mexican criminal organizations have started using IEDs and car bombs, a change in tactics that supposedly indicates a relationship with Islamic militants.

In addition to citing the speculative and slightly specious “evidence” in the leaked memo, Fraser and Noriega also took the opportunity for mere empty fear-mongering. “There are flights between Iran and Venezuela on a weekly basis and visas are not required for entrance into Venezuela or Bolivia or Nicaragua,” Fraser said. “So we don’t have a lot of visibility in who’s visiting and who isn’t, and that’s really where I see the concerns.” Fraser added that Iran’s growing influence in Latin America is a “potential risk” to the region, and “an issue we will continue to monitor for any increasing activity.” (Business Insider, July 14; AHN, July 6)

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