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June 21, 2016

Where’s the Coverage? Hezbollah Works with Drug Cartels

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Hezbollah, the Lebanese-based, Iranian-backed Shi’ite Muslim terror group, has—in partnership with drug cartels—developed “the most sophisticated money laundering scheme or schemes that we have ever witnessed,” a former top Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) official told members of the U.S. House of Representatives Financial Services Committee. Yet, the June 8, 2016 testimony by previous DEA operations chief, Michael Braun, received little coverage by U.S. news media.

The Washington Times (“Cartels aid Hezbollah with mass drug scheme,” June 9) reported Braun told lawmakers that Hezbollah—a U.S. designated terrorist organization—is “moving [multiple] tons of cocaine from South America to Europe.” A Lexis-Nexis search of major U.S. print news outlets, including The Washington Post, USA Today, The New York Times, among others, showed that only The Washington Times noted Braun’s testimony about expanding Hezbollah-drug cartel ties.

Hezbollah (“Party of God”) is a virulently anti-Western, antisemitic terrorist group that was responsible for the Oct. 23, 1983 Marine barracks bombing in Lebanon killing 241 American personnel. Prior to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack by al-Qaeda, Hezbollah had killed more U.S. citizens than any other terrorist organization.

Washington Times correspondent Guy Taylor pointed out that prior to Braun’s testimony, there has been “a backdrop of rising fears in Washington about smuggling connections between Middle East terrorist groups and the Western Hemisphere.” Hezbollah, Braun warned lawmakers, has “metastasized into a hydra with international connections that the likes of [the Islamic State] and groups like al-Qaeda could only hope to have.”

As CAMERA has noted, the DEA announced in February 2016 that it had arrested Hezbollah members (“DEA Uncovers Hezbollah Drug and Money Laundering,” Feb. 3, 2016). The arrests were made as part of DEA’s Project Cassandra, an effort to clamp down on Hezbollah’s External Security Organization Business Affairs Component (BAC), which traffics cocaine in the United States and Europe. Over the past year, U.S. Department of Justice investigations into Hezbollah financing have resulted in the indictments of individuals living in Columbia, Lithuania, France and the United States.

Taylor said that after the February arrests, “The DEA said several of the BAC’s Europe-based operatives had been arrested on charges of trafficking drugs and laundering money from South America to purchase weapons and finance the group’s military activities in Syria. The agency described an intricate network of money couriers who collect and transport millions of euros in drug proceeds from Europe to the Middle East.”

In addition to Braun, lawmakers also heard from Emanuele Ottolenghi, an Iran analyst with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington D.C.-based think tank. Ottolenghi told the House committee that Hezbollah has a “vast network of support” in Latin America, particularly in Brazil, which is home to an estimate 7 million people of Lebanese descent. Ottolenghi cited a 2014 report by the Brazilian newspaper O Globo, which outlined a connection between Hezbollah and a Sao Paulo-based prison gang called Primeiro Comando da Capital.

The Washington Times observed that “the full scale of Hezbollah’s operations has long been a subject of debate in Washington.” In 2013, the U.S. State Department conducted a probe into the extent of Hezbollah’s activities in Latin America and later claimed that Iran was not supporting any active terrorist cells in the region. The congressional testimony offered by Braun and Ottolenghi seem to contradict the State Department’s previous claim.

Media largely failed to note an apparently newsworthy fact: a U.S.-designated terrorist group with a history of attacking Americans was named in congressional testimony as taking part in “the most sophisticated money laundering scheme” in the Western hemisphere in order to finance terrorist operations. Where was the coverage?


Posted by SD at June 21, 2016 04:07 PM

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