via MAICAO, Colombia: Hezbollah financing evolves beyond Colombia’s Muslim communities – MiamiHerald.com.
MAICAO, Colombia — Samira Hajj Ahmad flew to Maicao from Beirut in 1982 for her honeymoon. She didn’t intend to stay for 31 years. Nor did she expect Hezbollah to follow her.
During her two days of flying to Colombia, war broke out in southern Lebanon, with some of the largest troop movements in her native Beqaa Valley. Israel had invaded southern Lebanon to root out a nascent Shiite extremist group known as Hezbollah that had been using the country as a base from which to attack northern Israel. Her family encouraged her to stay in Maicao, a dusty border town with a free trade zone that is home to Colombia’s largest Muslim population.
Today, Hezbollah is the most powerful political movement in Lebanon — and its influence stretches all the way to Maicao. Each year, millions of dollars of drug money are laundered in Maicao, where some community members openly proclaim their support for Hezbollah. Recent U.S. Treasury Department actions have slowed the flow of cash to terrorist groups, but financiers have fled and new networks have reconstituted that are harder to identify. Meanwhile, the usual suspects — Lebanese descendant Colombians — are tired of taking the blame.
Hajj Ahmad, 49, occasionally reads with shock the Maicao newspaper reports of neighbors blacklisted by the U.S. Treasury Department for financing the terrorist group. Such was the case for a young woman with a pretty face and black hijab or headscarf who lived alone with her sons and tended nearby family shops.
The woman, Fatima Fadlallath Cheaitilly, was cited in a December 2011 Treasury report as a key associate in a criminal network of drug traffickers and money launderers. The family shops were fronts for money laundering, and around the time of the action, U.S. law enforcement sources believe Cheaitilly was dating Hezbollah financier Mohamad Zoubein El Khansa.
Ahmad said she had often spent time with Cheaitilly at parties and functions at the Colombian-Arab school that her children attended. “Never would you think that this woman, as fragile as she was, would be involved in something so monstrous,” she said. “When this came out and they named the people involved, we were left thinking ‘Wow, what happened there?’”
While Ahmad and many of her Sunni friends denounce Hezbollah, many of Maicao’s minority Shiite population are in favor of the organization´s political and military objectives in their homeland.
Lebanese descendant community members may support the group ideologically, while sympathizing money launderers and terrorism financiers funnel cash back to Lebanon to support the group financially.
Ali Yalili, 35, a member of the Shiite community in Maicao, said he believes they are unfairly targeted as financiers of terrorism.
“If you are Shiite, have money and your business is going well, they make your out to be a money launderer, Hezbollah supporter, terrorist and cause you problems,” Yalili said. “Here, no one comes to fight, to be a terrorist, or to kill anyone. People come in search of their daily bread to eat, to live.””
But Many Lebanese descendants also come to Maicao to launder drug money to the tune of millions of dollars per year, according to law enforcement sources. In December 2011, Treasury named five family groups of Lebanese descent and first generation Colombians whose laundering proceeds found their way back to Hezbollah.
Terrorism financing investigations are currently active in Maicao, Salazar said, in an effort by Colombia to stop drug violence and stem the activity of terrorist cells to keep Colombians safe.
“They are growing even though we are trying to halt the activity,” he said of the launderers and terrorism financiers. “They have many facades and collaborate a great deal among themselves.”
Read it all and read, Hezbollah threatens Latin America
One of the challenges related to tracking Hezbollah’s involvement in illegal activities in Latin America is that the organization usually isn’t the target of investigations.
The link between local criminals and Hezbollah usually comes to light only when a U.S. court requests the extradition of a suspect, according to local authorities.
“Our investigation team, which is the Central Authority for drug trafficking matters, is oriented toward the criminal structure, not one specific group or party to which the criminals might belong,” said Luis Rojas, head of operations for Paraguay’s National Anti-Drug Secretariat (SENAD).
This explains cases such as that of the Lebanese-Paraguayan citizen Wassim el Abd Fadel, who was arrested on human- and drug-trafficking charges in Paraguay in December 2012. Since Fadel had no warrants or extradition requests, officials didn’t investigate whether he financed Hezbollah.
The same thing is happening with Hamze Barakat, the man arrested on charges of embezzlement in Brazil, who is suspected of financing the Lebanese militia.
“Brazil sees Hezbollah as a political party – not as a terrorist group,” Alfiero said. “Therefore, under Brazilian law, sending money to Hezbollah isn’t a crime. Theoretically, it would be a crime to send money to Hezbollah only if it is acquired illegally in Brazil.”
All that said, the timing of the U.S. now turning on the Saudi’s in favor of the Iranians is curious. It was preceded by this June 2013 declaration from the State Dept: No Active Al Qaeda, Hezbollah Terror Cells in Western Hemisphere. None. Nada. Zero. Someone is lying.
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