Terrorism Analysis

Hezbollah in Syria: Same Jihadists, Different Jihad

Not all jihadists are fighting the same jihad. Just ask the members of the Victory Front, a Sunni militant Islamist organization that has played an increasingly leading role in the battle for Syria. Their aim is to topple the Syrian government and establish an Islamic state. Their cause is liberation in the name of God. They are self-styled holy warriors. And oh yeah, they recently pledged allegiance to Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of al-Qaeda.

But their aims are diametrically opposed to those of another militant Islamist terrorist organization: Hezbollah. Under Hassan Nasrallah, the group has had an open relationship with Iran and historically strong ties with the Alawite government of Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. These ties persist.

With a firm footing in southern Lebanon and influence across the border in Syria, Hezbollah has come to augment the Syrian military in its efforts to quell the rebellion in that country. Most clearly and most recently, Hezbollah fighters are reported to have initiated an offensive around mid-April in the area surrounding the rebel-held city of Qusayr, located in Syria’s western province of Homs.

Hezbollah in Syria

And Sunni jihadists the world over don’t like this. In a post dated April 20 in the Sunni jihadi forum Ansar al-Mujahideen (“Supporters of the Holy Warriors”), the author extolls the Victory Front for an ambush against the “dogs” of Hezbollah in Homs, killing more than 20 of the “pigs”. Coming from Muslim fundamentalists, these insults are about as bad as they can get.

What jihadi forums are saying about Syria's jihadist Victory Front

In the Victory Front and Hezbollah there have two jihadists groups – the former Sunni, the latter Shiite – fighting two different jihads in Syria. Both of them are designated by the United States as terrorist organizations. In this case, the enemy of the enemy is not always a friend.


Did Killings of AQAP Operatives Precipitate Attacks on Embassies?

[Correction (September 13, 2012, 11:57am): It has been noted that there are two organizations named Ansar al-Sharia -- one is an arm of Al Qaeda in Yemen and the other is active in Benghazi. The Daily Beast has a thorough post disambiguating the two.]

As more details continue to emerge about the attacks on US embassies, one might wonder that if these strikes were planned, could they have been foreseen? Moreover, until a group takes responsibility, is it possible to identify potential attackers and leading indicators?

Analysis using Recorded Future indicates that attacks on embassies could be direct retaliation for American drone assassinations of Al Qaeda leadership. Although the attackers may not have targeted the US ambassador directly, use of the protests created a chaotic circumstance that lent itself to vulnerabilities and unpredictability in diplomatic protection.

Evaluating Potential Attackers

Some media reports have identified the perpetrators of the attack on the embassy in Benghazi as members of Ansar al-Sharia (جماعة أنصار الشريعة‎ in Arabic), an offshoot of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), mostly active in Yemen but has been operating in Libya recently. Here is a timeline of the past 12 months of Ansar al-Sharia:

Ansar Al-Sharia Timeline – Last 12 Months

Though much of the discussion about Ansar al-Sharia centers around Yemen, a connection emerges between US actions in Yemen to activity in Libya. On Monday, a US drone strike killed a senior AQAP leader in Yemen, Saad al-Shihri. In digging into this organization a bit more, there are strong linkages in the data between the Al Qaeda offshoot, its presence stretches beyond Yemen.

Network Map of Ansar al-Sharia

In using Recorded Future to quickly review the past several months of attacks in Benghazi, one event pops out: three months ago, CNN featured a story about an attack on the US embassy in Benghazi, with another organization, Imprisoned Omar Abdul Rehman Brigades, taking credit:

CNN Story on June 2012 Attack on Benghazi Embassy

As mentioned in the story, this group attacked the US embassy on the urging of Ayman al-Zawahiri, in retaliation for the killing of Abu Yahya al Libi, al Qaeda’s deputy commander in Libya. Furthermore, there was a significant political moment expected on September 12, 2012: Libya was holding a runoff election for prime minster. Disrupting this election could be a possible or additional motive of the attackers.

Though it is unclear if the attack on the embassy in Benghazi on September 11th is connected to the previous assault in June, it is difficult not to discern a pattern: both attacks happened after the assassination of an AQAP leader. Instead of retaliating in Yemen, however, where the targets had been hardened, perhaps the perpetrators determined it was easier to access American diplomats at softer targets in an ungoverned space such as Benghazi.

Emergence of An Al Qaeda Leader

Whichever group is responsible — and whether they eventually claim credit or not — it is clear that Al Qaeda had developed a strategy for building a foundation in Libya. In mapping AQ in Libya, a militant commander, Abdulbasit Azuz, appears as a key player:

Al Qaeda & Libya Network Map

The timeline of Azuz’s history shows that he was dispatched by al-Zawahiri from Pakistan to Libya in 2011 — and has been active for decades:

Azuz Historical Timeline

 

Conclusion

While we cannot definitely conclude that the attacks in Benghazi were planned, they were certainly preceded by previous attempts — and with two suspected organizations; it is difficult to ignore the cover provided by coinciding timing of protests in Cairo and political importance of de-stabilizing a nascent Libyan government. Either way, it is reasonable to expect increased drone activity in Yemen and Libya in attempt to thwart Al Qaeda’s operations.

We will continue to track these developments over the coming days and weeks.


From the Bin Laden Letters: Reactions in the Islamist Blogosphere

Following our initial analysis of the Osama bin Laden letters released by the Combating Terrorism Center (CTC) at West Point, we’ll more closely examine interesting moments from the letters and size them up against what was publicly reported as happening in the world in order to gain a deeper perspective on what was known or unknown at the time.

There was a frenzy of summarization and highlight reel reporting in the wake of the Abbottabad documents being publicly released. Some focused on the idea that Osama bin Laden was ostracized, some pointed to the seeming obsession with image in the media, and others simply took a chance to jab at Joe Biden for the suggestions made about his lack of preparedness for the presidency.

What we’ll do in this post is take a different approach, and rather than focus on analyst viewpoints we’ll compare reactions to the Abbottabad documents from a unique source – Islamist discussion forums.

There we find rebukes over the veracity of the documents released, support for the efforts of operatives such as Faisal Shahzad, and a little interest in the Arab Spring.

Looking into the Forums

We started this process in similar manner to our initial text analysis of the letters. Using Recorded Future technology, we harvested and processed text posted in response to the Abbottabad documents on four message boards: Islamic Awakening, As-Ansar, Hanein, and Muslm.net.

Forum Content in English and Arabic

Out of this text, we were able to extract and visualize several different slices of data using Recorded Future. The first area to examine dovetails off our previous link analysis done on Bin Laden’s network in Yemen, and provides an overview of the individuals and organizations mentioned in these discussion forum posts.

See below for a network detailing the people and organizations mentioned in forum posts reacting to release of the Abbottabad documents:

networkfromforums

Individuals and organizations mentioned in forums - click for full size

General Reaction

The most notable sentiment identifiable in the forums is that of disbelief and claims of a conspiracy.

Reactions from Islamic forums to Bin Laden letters

Operatives Mentioned in Documents and Forums

The large network shown above provides a broad overview describing who and what was mentioned on forums in reaction to the letters. But let’s do some comparative analysis and see which individuals related to al-Qaeda that were part of the letters (either as authors or reference in the communications) bubbled up in the forum chatter.

UBL Letters and Forum Overlap

UBL Letters and Forum Overlap

There are three names that stand out as being referenced in both sets of documents (the UBL letters and discussion forum reactions):

Adam Gadahn – American born media spokesman for Al-Qaeda.

  • Letters – Presumed to be the author of one document  that focuses on media strategy, and referenced by his kunya Azzam al-Amriki in two separate letters attributed to Bin Laden. In a 2006 letter, Bin Laden asks whether Gadahn has been arrested, and then in 2007 requests that Gadahn translate a Robert Fisk book and recommend a US media channel to deliver a taped al-Qaeda message.
  • Forums – he’s both lauded for his media analysis (one post suggesting that Gadahn’s description of the major U.S. network “seems pretty up to date on recent media news”) and criticized for his background (“a grandson of a member of the board of the ADL”) and trustworthiness.

Mention of Gadahn in forums

Faisal Shahzad – Pakistani American, attempted attack in New York City in 2010

  • Forums – mentioned in a lengthy post that praises the efforts of those such as “Faisal” (as he’s referred in the comment), despite his failure, in attempting to strike against American targets. The post uses Shahzad as an example of a an attacker that the United States has physically seen and made an example of the failure before going on to suggest that the idea of “this jihad” facing “calamity after calamity” is wrong based upon the emergence and continued activity of groups in various areas of the world.
  • Letters – Shahzad is cited in several locations. One simple reference to his attempted attack in Times Square, and another is a rebuke from Bin Laden of Shahzad’s behavior when standing trial. You can see the reference as extracted from the original document below.

Reference in Letter from UBL

There is also an interesting comment on Shahzad’s failed operation in a letter from Bin Laden that reveal his insight into strategic shortcomings of al-Qaeda. In the network below, you can see a connection extracted from the letters by Recorded Future showing Shahzad tied to Waziristan, which comes from the following comment in a letter by Bin Laden:

So, for example, the operation of brother Faysal Shahrazad, Allah release his imprisonment, was possible to avoid his capture and the errors that happened easily by one who had experience in that area, so if a brother purchased the vehicle and then travelled from America to Waziristan before the operation, it would have made it difficult to capture the brother that fast… after which the Americans commented that the Mujahidin have become unable to conduct a large operation that is well planned.

UBL wanted US operatives to train in Waziristan

Ayman al-Zawahiri – Current leader of al-Qaeda.

  • Forums – mentions of Zawahari in the discussion threads that we analyzed generally refer to his role in past major events including his role as Bin Laden’s bodyguard and Zawahari’s role in the September 11, 2001 attacks.
  • Letters – Zawahiri is referred to directly as well as, according to the CTC’s report, by the alias Sheikh Abu Muhammad used by Bin Laden. Interestingly, aside from Bin Laden, the persons mentioned along with Zawahari in the letters (circled in blue) are both unknown accomplices although Sahib al-Tayyib appears to be related to activity in Saudi Arabia.
Zawahiri network from UBL letters

Zawahiri network from CTC documents

Places of Note

Another aspect of the letters that warrants comparison to forum reactions is the mention of locations. Remember that these letters are glimpses into the world as it was for UBL and correspondents between 2006 and 2011; the forums, while reactionary to the Abbottabad documents, instead provide the pulse for what’s in focus today.

Locations in UBL Letters

Locations mentioned in UBL letters vs discussion forums

Obviously, the discussion forums are heavy on mentions related to Abbottabad and Pakistan since we specifically sought out the threads discussing the CTC documents that highlight the location where Bin Laden was killed. There are also several references in these threads mentioning other locations in Pakistan although they so far consist of text excerpted directly from other media including:

  • a report published in October 2001 by French newspaper Le Figaro (pulled, but cited elsewhere) claiming that Bin Laden received medical attention in an American hospital and met with the CIA just months before the 9/11 attacks.
  • an Al Arabiya report on the release of the letters that cites senior advisor John Brennan saying Bin Laden “had urged the leaders to flee from the tribal areas (in the north-west Pakistan)” and that strikes from unmanned aircraft, “especially in Pakistan” had resulted in the death of “cadres of Al Qaeda” in recent years.

As for the letters, it’s easy to see that Abbottabad was never once mentioned in the subset of docs released by CTC and references to Pakistan were minimal. However, the mentions of Pakistan in the letters are intriguing.

As noted above we find discussion of operations in Waziristan with regards to Faisal Shahzad as well as the difficulties encountered by operatives in that region.

Even more interesting are the references to Peshawar (visible in the above table), a city just ~150 kilometers from Abbottabad. The letters tell us that Peshawar was a location for meetings between couriers as well as where al-Qaeda conducted kidnappings of Iranian and Afghan officials.

Peshawar Qaeda Timeline

Peshawar References from UBL Docs - Click for full size

There is a similar contrast between the letters and forums regarding references to countries enveloped in the Arab Spring uprisings. Egypt in particular was a primary subject of the letters most recently published in April 2011.

However, the discussion threads examined include no mention of that country, perhaps signifying a perceived loss of opportunity to leverage the protests and instability on behalf of al-Qaeda.

Conclusion

This analysis takes us from the correspondence of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda associates to the raw response to these documents on Islamist discussion forums. We were able to identify leaders and themes that either continue to resonate today or have perhaps declined in interest, leaving us with a number of strands to follow for further analysis. These include individuals whose actions and resonance we’ll want to follow, both in the media and on forums, and locations to examine more closely both historically and currently.

Persons of interest:

  • Adam Gadahn – Is his credibility and influence with leadership waning? He was clearly valued by Bin Laden, but what of the new al -Qaeda leadership?
  • Faisal Shahzad - Will Bin Laden’s criticism of his actions in court deter copycat attacks? Are we able to discover whether efforts to send al-Qaeda recruits to Waziristan or other strategic centers have been successful?
  • Ayman al-Zawahari - How is he being viewed in comparison to Bin Laden, and are his unique relationships (open alliance with Shabaab, for example) succeeding or alienating supporters?

Places of interest:

  • Peshawar – Is there more to discover about the individuals and activities in this city during the time of Bin Laden’s hiding in Abbottabad?
  • Egypt – Is the opportunity perceived to be lost by al-Qaeda or is there activity under the surface as the government is reorganized?

We’ll continue to share analysis on related issues in an attempt to connect the dots between the correspondence released by CTC and the vast public record we have on Al-Qaeda, but if you have questions or want to do a more comprehensive examination of these relationships, contact Recorded Future.


From the Bin Laden Letters: Mapping OBL’s Reach into Yemen

Following our initial analysis of the Osama bin Laden letters released by Combating Terrorism Center (CTC) at West Point, we’ll more closely examine interesting moments from the letters and size them up against what was publicly reported as happening in the world in order to gain a deeper perspective on what was known or unknown at the time.

Isolating and analyzing references to those in Yemen with relations to Osama bin Laden (OBL), as identified in the Combating Terrorism Center (CTC) letters, we find a few key al-Qaeda individuals associated with the country in the correspondence of OBL.

Bin Laden Yemen Social Network

Bin Laden’s Yemen connections from letters – Click for full size

Highlighted are several of the prominent actors, and below, we’ll examine the social network for several of those figures:

  1. Anwar al-Awlaki (senior AQAP spokesman and recruiter, killed September 2011)
  2. Saeed al-Shihri (deputy leader of AQAP, killed in February 2011)
  3. Nasir al-Wuhayshi (senior AQAP leader and OBL’s former secretary)

From “Closed Source” to Open Source

To do so, we’ll switch from the isolated instance of Recorded Future used for analysis of the letters (our separate repository to examine just the OBL documents) to the full Recorded Future index of events culled from more than 150,000 public sources. There we can look at relations for each of these three individuals during the same timeframe covered by the corpus of letters – 2006 to 2011. Here’s the big picture:

AQAP Social Network

AQAP Social Network from Public Sources – Click for Full Size

 

Connectors

In addition to OBL himself, there are several individuals that actually tie into all three of those highlighted above. One of the most prominent is Qasim al-Raymi, a high ranking member of the AQAP leadership and a prison escapee alongside al-Wuhayshi in 2006.

One item to to note in the network graph of al-Raymi’s connections shown below is the absence of a direct connection to Bin Laden.

Qasim al Raymi Network

Qasim al Raymi AQAP Network

The second name to link up with al-Wuhayshi, al-Shihri, and al-Awlaki is Yemeni journalist Abdul Elah Haidar Shaea, who was sentenced in early 2011 to five years for serving as a media advisor to AQAP. Court proceedings alleged that Shaea had high profile meetings with each of those AQAP head figures cited above as well as Qasim al-Raymi.

Haidar Shaea AQAP Network

Haidar Shaea AQAP Connections – Click for full size

The Haidar Shaea event is particularly interesting when adding context by way of the letters featured in the CTC release, paricularly  document 00000016 dated October 2010 to Nasir al-Wuhayshi that outlines the stance and value on image through the media: “We need to understand that a huge part of the battle is the media, and the cable channels today play a stronger role than the Hja‟in poets during the ignorant era.”

Text from letter to Abu Basir

Scanning the full network and the subsequent relations connected to Qasim al-Raymi there is a single Western name: Adam Gadahn.

Adam Gadahn Connection

Gadahn is an American born media spokesman for Al-Qaeda that shows close connections to each of the three highlighted OBL ties in Yemen. He is also presumed to be the author of one of the letters released by CTC, and in producing and appearing in a number of a propaganda videos during the last decade is tightly knit into this social network of AQAP.

Adam Gadahn AQAP Network

Adam Gadahn AQAP Connections – Click for Live View

Edges

Isolated edges in the broad network above also describe segmentation of responsibilities and unique relationships. Recently in the news AQAP bomb-maker Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri was linked to al-Awlaki, but not others, through their respective roles in setting in motion the attempted bombing of a flight to Detroit in December 2009; al-Asiri was, in fact, initially believed to be killed in attacks on al-Awlaki in May and September 2011. However, recent events show that al-Asiri is very much active in orchestrating strikes against the United States.

Awlaki and Asiri Connection

Anwar al-Awlaki and Ibrahim al Asiri Relation

One other standout name, in a network full of men, is Haylah al Qassir. She is connected to Saeed al-Shihri by way of a video released after her arrest calling for the kidnapping of Saudi officials as retribution. Al-Qassir was reportedly a main conduit of funding and recruiting for AQAP.

Haylah al Qassir AQAP Connections – Click for Full Size

Conclusion

This analysis provides an overview of the individuals in Yemen that were closely tied to Osama bin Laden during the period of his correspondence from Abbottabad, and then shifts to leverage the expanse of media coverage and discussion on AQAP to identify individuals tightly woven into that network that remain influential in AQAP today.

In doing so, we’re able to identify key people to track going forward:

  • Nasir al-Wuhayshi
  • Qasim al-Raymi
  • Abdul Elah Haidar Shaea
  • Adam Gadahn
  • Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri
  • Haylah al Qassir

 

Undoubtedly, we’re only scratching the surface, and there’s so much more to untangle even just from the relations above. We’ll continue to share analysis on related issues in an attempt to connect the dots between the correspondence released by CTC and the vast public record we have on Al-Qaeda, but if you have questions or want to do a more comprehensive examination of these relationships, contact Recorded Future.


Signs of Hezbollah Going Global

Warnings of Hezbollah  striking against United States interests have appeared sporadically over the last several years, but recent events around the globe seem to warrant real attention in considering the Iranian-sponsored group’s efforts to hit US and Israeli partners abroad and at home.

Using Recorded Future to look at the last four months related to attacks associated with Hezbollah, we find:

Click for interactive view

The timeline gives us a quick idea of when reported attacks really bubbled up, but even more interesting is to line up connections to Hezbollah for this initial timeframe compared to those with months prior. First, we’ll view a network of entities (locations, organizations, and people) associated with Hezbollah from December 2011 through March 2012:

Hezbollah Network - December 2011-March 2012

We find some of the very much expected locations – Israel, Iran, Lebanon, Syria, – but we also see targets from India to Thailand to Azerbaijan to French interests that were either confirmed or alleged to be targets of Hezbollah attacks that are drawing attention to the group’s expanding scope of influence.

Next, we’ll shift the timeframe to describe connections from June 2011 to November 2011.

Click for live view with time slider

The reference to China in the network above comes from a write up by the Heritage Foundation blog the Foundry that suggests China is actually in the same market as Hezbollah for acquiring Club-K cruise missiles. And we’ve reported before on the now well known activity of Hezbollah in Latin America, primarily associations with drug cartels in Mexico.

So, the shift in recent months really does appear notable in the sense that these targets are quite different than previous targets more closely located to the group’s home base in Lebanon. It’s not the first time that connections have appeared in some of the locations, say for Thailand, which back in 2009 picked up weapons in Bangkok being transported to Hezbollah and Hamas from North Korea, but to actually carry out attacks there changes the game.

Keep an eye on where events related to Hezbollah are happening around the globe (view requires a Google Earth plug-in) using Recorded Future and set up an alert to make sure you’re monitoring activity as it happens.


Iron Triangle of Terror: Iran, Hezbollah, and Los Zetas?

What would the ultimate border security nightmare look like? Might it involve drug cartels, rogue special forces soldiers, or transnational terrorists? How about all three? This scenario sounds like something out of a Hollywood movie. The problem is that for the United States this nightmare may have come true.Zetas OSINT

On December 15th it was revealed in an indictment that Hezbollah has a substantial drug connection to the Mexican drug cartel Los Zetas. The Lebanese druglord Ayman Joumaa was indicted in absentia for, “conspiring to smuggle over 90,000 tons of cocaine into America and laundering over $250 million for the cartels”. The druglord has close ties to Hezbollah and functioned as a middle man between the terrorist organization and the cartels.  In terms of raw numbers, the amount of cocaine that he tried to smuggle was equivalent to a cargo of 2,250 eighteen wheelers. The sheer volume of this transaction is cause for concern, but the fact that Hezbollah and Los Zetas are working together is far worse.

 

So why is this new development so significant to US border security? We must first consider the history and background of these groups. Hezbollah is one of the world’s largest terrorist groups and is based in southern Lebanon. The Shiite organization receives funding from Iran and engaged in a proxy war with Israel in 2005. It is responsible for some of the worst terrorist attacks of the last two decades, including the 1983 Beirut bombing that killed 241 Americans. Hezbollah may be the most influential organization preventing stability in the Middle East.

 

Los Zetas are the cartel equivalent of Hezbollah in Latin America. The Zetas are described as, “ highly trained, highly motivated commandos formerly with the Mexican military…[that] represent law enforcement’s worst nightmare come true”. The Zetas began as a group of paramilitary soldiers that were turned by the Gulf cartel. After falling out with the cartel, the Zetas formed their own. They are considered to be the “most dangerous drug cartel” and the second most powerful in Mexico. The organization has participated in a number of hideous acts including the 2011 Tamaulipas massacrethat killed some 200 civilians. Los Zetas is considered to be one of the best trained and violent groups in Latin America.

 

What is the regional significance of Hezbollah working with the drug cartels? Let’s consider Hezbollah’s cell activity in Latin America and examine its relationship with the cartels.

Hezbollah’s influence in the region dates back several years. Click here to see the interactive timeline.
Hezbollah has been involved in the drug trade in Latin America since the mid-1980s. The group is primarily located in the tri-border area Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay. Its primary functions are to launder money and receive profits from the drug trade. Hezbollah had an, “estimated 460 operatives in the TBA by mid-2000” and this number has probably increased dramatically. Profits from criminal activity in the region are estimated to be in the millions of dollars. Over the past 25 years, Hezbollah has carefully trained its top operatives to form cells and set up shop in North and South America.
If Hezbollah were a drug cartel or a separatist movement, it would not be as much of a threat to the United States. However, Hezbollah is a very connected organization that has killed hundreds of Americans and fought a war with Israel. The most important fact about Hezbollah is that it is a  state sponsored terrorist organization, “Hezbollah clearly acts as a proxy for Iran—specifically, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps Qods Force—globally and in Latin America. Thus, Hezbollah’s escalating presence in the Western Hemisphere can be understood only in the context of its patron Iran’s pursuit of its strategic objectives”. The fact that Iran is a state sponsor of Hezbollah means that the organization has the finances and the expertise to commit substantial acts of terrorism.
In July, members of Congress were briefed on the growing influence of Hezbollah in the region. One report indicated that the threat to the US border is already here, “operatives were already infiltrating the southern border with Mexico as well as Canada. In July 2010, the first improvised explosive device exploded in the U.S.-Mexico border town of Ciudad Juarez”. This problem seems to have been severely overlooked by the mainstream media. It is quite surprising because Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega even made a statement saying that, ” I believe there will be an attack on U.S. personnel, installations or interests in the Americas as soon as Hizbullah operatives believe that they are capable of such an operation without implicating their Iranian sponsors in the crime”. It is highly significant that a former top US official has come out and said that an attack by Hezbollah is likely.
However, it appears that the salience of the issue has grown over the past few months:

The issue has increased in momentum over the past few months

US websites dedicated to border issues and even one of the Republican presidential candidates mentioned the “significant and imminent threat of the Iran-Latin America nexus”. Others have indicated that Hezbollah functions as a sort of insurance policy for Iran in those regions. The state can fund the terrorist group and still exercise plausible deniability in the event of a major attack. Iran perceives its support of Hezbollah as a way to pressure the United States within its strategic sphere of influence in the Americas.

Some sources have said that the strengthening relationship between Iran and Venezuela has increased Hezbollah’s influence in the region. Both leaders are staunchly anti-American, and it is reasonable to think that they would pursue activities that would undermine US interests. Roger Noreiga, the same official that warned of an attack by Hezbollah, indicates that Venezuela, “has allowed Iran to mine uranium” and that Venezuela’s Margarita Island has eclipsed the infamous TBA as the principal safe haven and center of Hezbollah operations in the Americas”. This is particularly disturbing as Iran is suspected of pursuing a nuclear weapon while simultaneously funding Hezbollah close to the US border. Therefore, there major concerns that if Iran obtains a nuclear weapon it might share the weapon with Hezbollah.

There are two major Hezbollah networks operating in the Americas under the direction of the Iranian Quds Force. The first is the Nassereddine network, operated by a former Lebanese citizen that became a Venezuelan and is now the second-ranking diplomatic official to Syria. He currently resides on Margarita Island and runs money laundering operations for the group. The other network is purportedly run by Hojjat al-Eslam Mohsen Rabbani, a culutral attaché from Iran who is involved in various recruitment activities and frequently travels under false papers in Latin America. The two networks together make up the majority of Hezbollah’s activity in the Americas.

Now back to the cartels. Why is the link between Hezbollah and Los Zetas so important? The main concern is that if Hezbollah and Los Zetas are cooperating on drugs (which they are to the tune of hundreds of millions), then why would they not cooperate on weapons? Hezbollah and other extremists may be willing to export their knowledge of IEDs to the cartels. The relationship between Hezbollah and Los Zetas appears to have already expanded beyond drugs. In October 2011, the US authorities revealed that there was an attempt made by Iran to assassinate the Saudi ambassador on US soil.

It looks like Los Zetas was intricately involved with Iran in this and other related plots, “The alleged plot also included plans to pay the cartel, Los Zetas, to bomb the Israeli Embassy in Washington and the Saudi and Israeli Embassies in Argentina, according to a law enforcement official…The plotters also discussed a side deal between the Quds Force, part of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, and Los Zetas to funnel tons of opium from the Middle East to Mexico”. Other information that we have found would corroborate the existence of a relationship between Hezbollah and Los Zetas.

 

Is the relationship between Hezbollah and Los Zetas merely hearsay?

 

There are also some analysts that think that the entire relationship should be played down and that Hezbollah’s influence is overplayed. James Bowsworth of the Christian Science Monitor downplays the relationship saying,

“The case is notable for having all the key words that people get excited about: Hezbollah! Terrorist-financing! Cocaine! Zetas! Venezuela! And all of that appears to be true. At the same time, in spite of all the red flag key words, the details within these articles and the indictment show how the US government can deal with the issue of Hezbollah in the hemisphere without panic and over-reaction”
He also quotes one US official that stated the exact opposite of what other sources said, “”It’s not like there’s a sit-down between the leaders of Hezbollah and the Zetas. Nor is this about Presidents Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran plotting together. It should not be portrayed as such”. This is interesting in light of the fact that there are extensive Hezbollah networks in the Americas and that Los Zetas may have been complicit with Iran in plotting to bomb the United States. A blog post called “Debunking the Iran Terror Plot” may provide a counterpoint to the theory that Hezbollah and Los Zetas are coordinating. The report takes an in-depth look at the FBI report and finds that there are many holes within the indictment. The author in that piece concluded that the plot did not match Iranian interests and that Los Zetas was likely not involved.

 

Conclusion

 

Are Hezbollah and Los Zetas actively coordinating to undermine US interests in the Americas? There is good reason to believe that the groups are coordinating on narcotics activities. Both stand to gain substantially from money laundering and drug trafficking. The December 15th indictment appears to clearly establish these links and the report has not been questioned as much as the FBI report on the Iranian plot.The data on drug activity between Hezbollah and Los Zetas is more convincing than the plotting charges.

 

The Iranian plot may have been true and if so it is particularly disturbing for US security. If these two groups are indeed plotting together then an attack at the border may be an imminent threat. Despite this there are no conclusive links to show an iron triangle between Iran, Hezbollah, and Los Zetas. The three may be casually linked to one another in plotting terrorist attacks, but at present this coordination does not seem to be widespread.
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