Jim Kouri
Hezbollah in Latin America -- Implications for homeland security
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By Jim Kouri
June 27, 2011

On Thursday, July 7, 2011 the Committee on Homeland Security's Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence will hold a hearing entitled "Hezbollah in Latin America — Implications for U.S. Homeland Security," according to Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-PA), the committee's chairman.

Iran and its proxy group Hezbollah continue to expand their presence in Central and South American taking advantage of their already close relationship with Venezuela's despot Presidente Hugo Chavez, a top U.S. general said as he described developments within the U.S. Southern Command to lawmakers.

Air Force General Douglas Fraser, commanding officer of the U.S. Southern Command, said Iran has significantly increased the number of Iranian embassies in the region while building "cultural centers" and mosques in more than 15 Latin American countries. Intelligence sources claim the Iranian built Mosques teach a radical brand of Islam to the impoverished people in Latin America.

Gen. Fraser has already reported to the Senate Armed Services Committee that military intelligence confirmed Iranians hosted heads of state from three countries: Bolivia, Guyana and Venezuela.

This was not the first time lawmakers from both parties are being warned about Latin America's vulnerability to radical Islam. In 2007, the Bush Administration's chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine General Peter Pace, warned members of the Armed Services Committee that elements of radical Islamic groups were active in South America recruiting and training terrorists.

Pace mentioned Hezbollah and al-Qaeda, yet the Democrat-controlled Senate ignored Gen. Pace's warning.

Gen. Fraser described a close relationship between Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. They have had at least nine visits during Chavez's 12 years in office. Fraser said the alliance remains largely for diplomatic and commercial purposes but said there still were too many unknowns.

"There are flights between Iran and Venezuela on a weekly basis, and visas are not required for entrance into Venezuela or Bolivia or Nicaragua. 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," said Gen. Fraser.

There have also been intelligence reports that allege the Iranian-supported terrorist group Hezbollah, is also a dangerous presence in Latin America. Fraser stated to that the ties between the two countries are based on several shared interests, such as access to military and petroleum technologies and avoiding international isolation.

Iran's growing influence in Latin America is a "potential risk" to the region, the head of the U.S. Southern Command continues to warn U.S. lawmakers and the Pentagon.

Fraser, who heads U.S. military operations in 31 countries across Latin America and the Caribbean, expressed "real concern" about the Islamic Republic's links with "extremist organizations" in the region. Fraser said, "It is a concern, and it is an issue we will continue to monitor for any increasing activity."

© Jim Kouri

 

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Jim Kouri

Jim Kouri, CPP is currently fifth vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police... (more)

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