National Intelligence office sees Islamic extremism in Bolivia

Fox News warns in a June 16 headline, “Bolivia Becoming a Hotbed of Islamic Extremism, Report Concludes”—citing the findings of a recent study by the Open Source Center (OSC) of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. “There’s a theory that they may believe—Latin America, particularly with its Leftist leanings in recent years, may be more receptive to the anti-American-type rhetoric that we’ve been accustomed to hearing from Iran,” an anonymous “US intelligence official” told Fox.

The report noted there are only some 1,000 Muslims in Bolivia, but revealed a number of Muslim organizations in the country whose leaders have “publicly denounced US foreign policy” and supposedly have “direct associations with extremists in the Middle East.” States Fox (links added):

One Muslim leader named in the OSC report is Mahmud Amer Abusharar, founder of the Centro Islamico Boliviano (CIB) in Santa Cruz. Abusharar emigrated from the Palestinian territories in 1974 and claims to have built Bolivia’s first mosque in 1994 so that he would not lose touch with his religion.

But public statements by Abusharar and other members of his mosque reveal clear anti-US sentiments. In a 2007 interview with a local Bolivian university, Abusharar told a student that he didn’t know Muslims in jail who weren’t there “especially due to the United States’ influence in Bolivian politics.” The CIB’s Web site also posts an article by its administrative director, Isa Amer Quevedo, that rebukes the U.S. for launching an attack on the Taliban after 9/11, stating: “Today we see the U.S. declaring armed Jihad against terrorism. They aim their bombs at UBL and Afghanistan, whom they financed and trained.”

The CIB is also the Bolivian headquarters for the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY), a Saudi-based major fundraiser for the Muslim community. According to U.S. State Department documents, one of its regional offices in Northern Virginia was raided by the FBI in connection with terrorist activities in 2004.

Another Muslim leader in Bolivia, Husayn Salgueiro, is a staunch supporter of the Palestinian government and a known critic of Israel. While there are no public records of Salgueiro speaking out against the U.S., a local news interview earlier this year shows him urging Palestinians to continue their armed struggle against the Israeli people.

Other leaders of Islamic groups in Bolivia, according to the OCS report, have shown evidence of sympathies with Islamic radicals. Fayez Rajab Khedeer Kannan, leader of the Asociacion Cultural Boliviana Musulmana (ACBM), has openly praised Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi and asked the wealthy Islamic organization, The Libyan International Center for Studies and Research of the Green Book, to heighten its missionary efforts in Bolivia. Roberto “Yusuf” Chambi Calle, president of the Fundacion Cultural Islamica Boliviana (FCIB) is friendly with a possible associate of Moshen Rabbani, a known Iranian terrorist and the former director of a Buenos Aires mosque.

Some Latin America analysts say religious organizations like these could provide cover for more radical groups.

“Clearly, jihadists, or potential jihadists, would look very intensely at ways of diversifying their sources of revenue, potential candidates for missions — intelligence missions, infiltration — people whose profile, whose point of origin leads people to be less suspicious,” said Ray Walser, a senior policy analyst specializing in Latin America at the Heritage Foundation. “I think there is a potential in these types of organizations — that may exist in Bolivia or elsewhere — of becoming the kind of points of diversification of radical groups in the Middle East.”

And so it goes for several more paragraphs, especially noting close relations between Evo Morales’ government and Iran. Only at the very end is a (very slightly) more moderate view presented (presumably in the interest of being “fair and balanced”):

But other foreign policy experts say that the warm relationship between Iran and Bolivia is based not on terror, but on trade.

“Iran certainly is one of many countries — and that includes Russia, India,South Africa — who are extremely anxious to lay their hands on South American commodities,” said Larry Birns, Director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs.

Still, Birns says, strong economic ties between Bolivia and Iran — with or without the spread of radical Islam ideology — could nonetheless pose a threat to U.S. interests.

“In terms of the pending worldwide shortage of commodities, there’s a real … the equivalent of an arms race,” Birns said. “But it’s a commodities race, to sew up as many commodities dealers as they can find. There’s a genuine fear in the United States of being left out.”

See our last posts on Bolivia and Iran’s Latin America strategy.

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