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Militant Islam Monitor > Articles > Iran and Hezbollah Increasingly Active In Latin America and Africa

Iran and Hezbollah Increasingly Active In Latin America and Africa

July 16, 2008

By Emerson Vermaat

The German newspaper "Die Welt" reported last month that Venezuela is becoming a safehaven for Islamic terrorists. The close friendship between the leftist Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez and his Iranian colleague Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a hardline Muslim radical, resulted into ever closer cooperation between the two countries. Western intelligence services have reason to believe that Iran's fundamentalist regime is sending terrorists and Muslim radicals to an increasing number of Latin American countries. Iran and its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah are also providing terrorist training to citizens from Latin American countries.

It was at Ahmadinejad's instigation that Iran's national airliner "Iran Air" established a direct flight between Tehran and Caracas although the weekly flight incurs losses of half a million dollars each flight.1 Iranian intelligence officials and security experts, members of Hezbollah or the Iranian "Revolutionary Guard" can now travel directly to Venezuela and from there on to other Latin American countries. Indeed, Hezbollah does already have a strong base in the country ruled by the leftist populist Hugo Chávez.

The United States "Office of Foreign Assets Control" [OFAC] recently ordered the freezing of the accounts of two Venezuelan Arabs, the businessman Fawzi Mustafa Kann'an and the diplomat Ghazi Nasr Al-Din [or Gahzi Nasserdine]. They were suspected of raising funds for Hezbollah and supporting its worldwide terrorist network. "It is very worrying that Venezuela has become a safehaven for people who support Hezbollah," OFAC-director Adam Szubin told "Die Welt." 2

Ghazi Nasr Al-Din was born in Lebanon in 1962. He became a Venezuelan national and later joined the diplomatic service of his newly adopted country. For quite a few years he was Chargé d'Affaires of the the Venezuelan Embassy in Damascus, Syria. Currently, he is "Director of political affairs" of Venezuela's Embassy in Lebanon. Fawzi Mustafa Kann'an was born in Lebanon in 1943. He, too, adopted Venezuelan nationality and is currently director of "Biblos Travel Agency" and "Hilal Travel Agency," both based in Caracas.

"Die Welt" quotes Venezuelan journalist Patricia Poleo who wrote that young Venezuelans of Arab ancestry and affiliated to the PSUV [Chávez' own Venezuelan Socialist Party] are being recruited under the auspices of Tarek Al-Ayssami, Venezuela's vice-Minister of the Interior, for combat training in Hezbollah camps in South-Lebanon. Ayssami's close associate is Ghazi Nasr Al-Din. Poleo writes that he and his brother Ghasan Atef Salameh Nasserdine recruited those Venezuelan Arabs whose eventual mission is to fight the United States. After concluding their training they return to Venezuela where they are subsequently being looked after by members of the "Centro Islámico de Venezuela" [Islamic Center of Venezuela] in El Paraiso. Via the holiday island of Isla Margarita the Center successfully smuggled Hezbollah Lebanese into Venezuela. A similar operation is going on in Brasil. According to Poleo, these groups and individuals "are closely affiliated with the Hezbollah Organization in Venezuela, along with Al-Qaeda Iraqis currently living in Venezuela." "They are also related to the Palestinian Democratic Front headed by Salid Ahmed Rahman, whose office is located in Caracas's Central Park." 4 Poleo claims that the Chávez government is fullly cooperating with Hezbollah.

Hamas and Hezbollah are believed to conduct significant fundraising activities in other Latin American countries as well, and quite often Lebanese immigrants are playing a key role in these activities. In June 2005 police broke up an international cocaine ring led by Lebanese restaurant owner Rady Zaiter who was accused of raising money for Hezbollah. The group smuggled cocaine to Europe and Asia in shipments valued at $ 1 million dollar each. According to an internal Ecuadorean police report, Zaiter "had organized a large narcoterrorist infrastructure," using his Arab food restaurant as a front. A Syrian national named Maher Hamajo was also among those who had been arrested. Hamajo allegedly used couriers who hid cocaine in suit cases and ingested it into their stomachs to smuggle the drugs into Europe, Asia and other South American countries. The group recruited Ecuadorean airport officials to evade security checks. 5

This is just an example of close cooperation between Muslim terrorists and the Latin American cocaine mafia. [In Lebanon Hezbollah is also involved in drugs to raise money and the resurgent Taliban do the same in Afghanistan.] Though fiction, Tom Clancy's book "The Teeth of the Tiger" similarly describes how Muslim terrorists form an alliance and combine all their assets and connections. These terrorists are being sheltered in "Christian" countries which have "a nearly suicidal opennes to strangers." "These people [the peoples of the Christian countries] were also self-destructively open, so afraid to offend those who would just as soon see them and their children dead and their entire cultures destroyed." This is what Mohammed, one of the characters in Clancy's novel, is thinking. 6 But today, such reflections are not fictitious at all. Indeed, this is precisely what many a Muslim terrorist is thinking as well – whether he [or she] belongs to Hamas, Hezbollah, Al-Qaeda or some other demonic group.

Iran's courtship of leftist Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega

Iran's radical president Ahmadinejad is courting leftist Latin American presidents. It was in 2007 that highly interesting posters were on display at Iranian universities. These posters bore the heads of Ahmadinejad and four Latin American leaders: Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, Fidel Castro of Cuba, Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua and Juan Evo Morales of Bolivia. Below the five heads there was a slogan which read in English in bold letters: "Alliance for Justice."

In January 2007 Iranian president Ahmadinejad paid a visit to the poor Central American country of Nicaragua where Daniel Ortega had recently been sworn in as the new president. Ortega had been president of Nicaragua before, in the 1980's that is. He was then one of the leaders of the Marxist inspired Sandinist Front of National Liberation [FSLN] and he was also a known admirer of Fidel Castro's Cuba. 7

Both Hugo Chávez and Ahmadinejad hailed the return of Ortega as a positive event which strengthened the "anti-imperialist front." In Nicaragua's capital Managua Ahmadinejad praised his Nicaraguan colleage as "a symbol of justice, a brother and a friend." "Two brotherly revolutions and brotherly peoples are coming closer to each other." Ortega said that both "brotherly peoples" were struggling for justice and peace. 8 Both countries decided to open embasssies in each other's capitals, "because," as Ahmadinejad put it, "both countries have common interests and common foes." 9

In June 2007 Ortega paid a return visit to Iran. Both Ortega and Ahmadinejad embraced each other and agreed to increase political and economic cooperation between the two countries. Ortega stressed the "invincible unity" between the two countries and Ahmadinejad said that "the enemy" [the United States] is unable to do them any harm. In a speech at Tehran University, Ortega said: "The revolutions of Iran and Nicaragua are nearly identical. Both revolutions are based on justice, freedom, self-determination and the struggle against imperialism." 10

Never mind that Iran has sentenced 177 people under the age of 18 to death over the past decade. 11 Never mind that Ortega's "brother and friend" Ahmadinejad started his political career in Iran in 1979/80 by suppressing and persecuting communists, Marxists, socialists and liberal Muslims and still suppresses them today. 12 What kind of freedom and justice is a naive fool like Ortega – who does not know anything about Iran – really talking about?

Ortega and his wife also paid a visit to the mausoleum of Ayatollah Khomeini, another notorious suppressor of freedom and liberty. During their visit to Tehran, posters went up which showed Ortega and Ahmadinejad holding each other with one arm and raising clenched fists with the other. "Iranian socialists and leftists who had survived years of executions and persecutions in Islamic Iran were outraged," writes Iranian journalist Kasra Naji in his excellent biography on Ahmadinejad. [Absolutely a must read for people like Barak Obama who still naively believe in "dialogue" with the Iranian leaders.] "Mr. Ortega and the other so-called socialists should know that by coming to Iran they step into a land that has a horrific legacy of killing socialists," claimed Fariborz Raid-Dana, one of the few political activists in Iran who describes himself as a socialist. 13

Ahmadinejad, the "Aryans" and the Nazis

Ahmadinejad happens to have a lot in common not with socialists but with outright Nazis and fascists. He publicly embraces the irratic views of neo-Nazi Holocaust deniers. He once wrote a highly controversial letter to German chancellor Angela Merkel, saying that both Iran and Germany had been humiliated by "the wicked victors of World War II." Apparently, the Iranian president does not agree with the "wicked" allied victory over Nazi Germany. In the same letter he denied the Holocaust, saying it was "an excuse created by the victorious countries of World War II." 14 And at a press conference in Tehran in April 2006, Ahmadinejad proudly announced that Iranians and Germans were both part of a common "Aryan race." 15 The term "Aryan" had been used and misused by the Nazis who claimed to belong to a superior "Aryan" race. Heinrich Himmler, the head ["Reichsführer"] of the notorious Nazi SS or "Schutzstaffel," organized expeditions to the Middle East and Tibet to find traces of this very "Aryan race" because he believed these "Aryans" once brought civilization there. There were also plans for a Nazi SS "Ahnenerbe" [in search of Aryan ancestry] expedition to the gray and forbidding mountains of western Iran but these plans did not materialize. 16 Remember, it was Himmler's SS who ran all the death camps where six million Jews were murdered – a western "myth," according to Ahmadinejad.

It was in Nazi Germany that Hitler was obligatorily referred to as the "Führer" or leader. But there is a similar concept in the Iranian Shia Islam. Iranian Shia Muslims believe there must be some kind of spiritual and political leader who provides guidance to the masses and is adored by them. 17 Khomeini played this role in the 1980s, and today Ahmadinejad portrays himself "as divinely appointed leader." 18

Hitler frequently invoked the "Almighty Creator," the "Lord" or "Providence." 19 He believed it was his sacred mission to save Germany. Today, Iranian president Ahmadinejad similarly believes he is led and inspired by the "Mahdi," or "Twelfth Imam," a kind of mythical supernatural force in Iranian Shia Islam, comparable to Hitler's concept of "Providence." 20 In one of his many speeches Ahmadinejad claimed that the "Madhi" was inspiring his government. A critical member of parliament commented that he hoped this were not the case. The Mahdi "would never approve of 20 percent inflation, nor would he of the many other problems this country is facing," he said. 21

Africa, Hezbollah and criminal African migrant trafficking networks

Radical Muslims from the Middle East, Asia and Africa use the existing migration channels to the West and Latin America to strengthen their own position in these "Christian" countries. Ordinary crime and terrorism often converge. In July 2000 federal and local law enforcement agencies broke up a cigarette smuggling operation in Charlotte, North Carolina. Part of the proceeds of the smuggling ring were sent to the Middle East to support the activities of Hezbollah. Ring leader Mohammed Youssef Hammoud met frequently with Hezbollah members in the Charlotte area, including Mohamad Harb, a Lebanese born naturalized U.S. citizen. Harb was raising money and purchasing supplies for Hezbollah. "The materials that Harb sent to Hezbollah included night-vision goggles, cameras and scopes, surveying equipment, global positioning systems, mine and metal dectection equipment, video equipment, advanced aircraft analysis and design software, laptop computers, stun guns, radio and laser range finders. Federal agents believed these supplies were purchased with profits from the cigarette smuggling business." 22

African smuggling rings pose a serious security risk. Increasingly large numbers of African Muslims from Mali, Sudan, Somalia, Erithrea, and Nigeria are entering Europe, the United States and Latin America as illegal immigrants. Some of them have links to terrorist networks like Hezbollah or Al-Qaeda. A Ghanian Muslim named Mohammed Kamel Ibrahim was the leader of an East African migrant trafficking ring operating from Mexico. The ring smuggled hundreds East Africans into the United States via Brasil, Venezuela, Bolivia, Cuba and Mexico. Many of them came from Somalia, Sudan, Eritrea and Djibouti – known havens for terrorists including Al-Qaeda. 23

Both Hezbollah and Iran have stepped up their activities in Africa. Hezbollah moved large quatities of money by courier from West Africa. Senegal is regarded as "the secondary center for Hezbollah fundraising in Africa, second only to Ivory Coast." 24 When Ahmadinejad visited several West Arfrican countries in 2006, "he returned to Tehran to declare excitedly that the continent had many resources Iran could use." 25

Huge migrant trafficking operations are also going on in Europe with the bulk of illegal immigrants coming from Africa and Asia. Spain, for example, faced an unprecedented influx of illegal immigrants from Senegal who arrived in the Canary Islands. Tourists now traveling to southern France, Italy, Spain, Malta or Greece will see tens of thousands of illegal African immigrants who roam the streets or try to sell cheap immitation "Gucci" handbags and immitation sunglasses. There are illegal "factories" in France, Spain, Italy and Greece where these commodities are being produced. African criminal networks are in charge of distribution and coordination. African street sellers work in day and night shifts. Quite a number of these illegal immigrants have mobile phones. Those who come from the Horn of Africa [Somalia, Erithrea] seem to be better off than the sub-Saharan Africans. 26 [They have a strong clan structure and rely on family members who already are in Europe].

Tourists visiting South European beaches are now being harassed constantly by sometimes aggressive African sellers who somehow try make money. When one discusses this problem with local police officials they make gestures of desparation. "We can't do anything about it," they usually say.

As soon these illegal immigrants are arrested they suddenly pretend not to know anything about their country of origin. They also often pretend not to speak any western language and start talking in some unknown and irretracable African dialect. [In Nigeria alone there are thousands of dialects.] It is almost impossible to deport these illegal immigrants. Police and deportation officials claim that especially the young males display violent behavior as soon as serious efforts are being made to detain or deport them. Police sources in southern Europe claim that a number of sub-Saharan immigrants are deeply involved in drugs trafficking, fraud and prostitution. I was attacked myself by a young African male after I had taken pictures of the fake commodities he was selling in the street. [And in Hamburg, Germany, I was threatened by a Nigerian drug dealer when I was doing a television report on drugs, crime and migrant trafficking; a leading Hamburg police investigator named Thomas Menzel told me in 2001 that more than 300 African drug dealers were operating in his city, who were working in day and night shifts.]

Other African immigrants visit fundamentalist mosques and join the cause of radical Islam. These mosques and the Muslim community provide protection and security. An immigrant from the Horn of Africa living in Britain joined a terrorist cell but when the terrorist operation he was involved in proved to be a failure, he fled to Somali relatives in Italy who protected him. Eventually he was deported to Britain and tried.

In the Greek capital of Athens a sub-Saharan illegal immigrant told me: "You in the West have exploited us for ages. Now we have a right to be here. If you dare to criticize us I'll stuck a knife in your body." 27 The young African was speaking Greek, athough he understood English perfectly well. Apparently, he took me for a tourist who did not understand what he was saying, but a colleague of mine translated everything. "Be careful, this is not an idle threat," my colleague – a wellknown reporter who sympathisizes with these illegal immigrants – said. "They've done it before," he warned. Another African man produced a mobile phone and began to make phone calls.

In the Bavarian capital of Munich there are African networks who do not sell anything in the street. Instead, they are specialized in seducing lonely middle-aged German women with a view to arranging a marriage. 28 As soon as these African men have their residence status, they abandon their German wives, and send family members from Africa over to Germany. -In many cases these men already have one or two wives in Africa.

Emerson Vermaat is a Dutch investigative reporter specialized in crime and terrorism. His website is: www.emersonvermaat.com.


1. Kasra Naji, Ahmadinejad. The secret history of Iran's radical leader [Londen/New York: I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd.], p. 223.
2. De Welt [German newspaper], 20 June 2008, p. 7 ["Hisbollahs Freunde in Südamerika"].
3. Patricia Poleo, El Nuevo País, Spanish article translated in: Jewishinfonews, June 11, 2008; Die Welt, op. cit.
4. MSNBC.com, June 22, 2005 ["Police link Ecuador drug ring to Hezbollah"].
5. Tom Clancy, The Teeth of the Tiger [New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2003], p. 91.
6. Kasra Naji, op. cit., p. 223 [see also the last photograph page].
7. Giron Manuel Giron, Quién es quién en Nicaragua [San José: Dairio La Prensa Libre/Radio Amor, 1986], p. 293.
8. El Nuevo Diario [Managua], January 14, 2007 ["Ahmadinejad: Ortega es simbolo de Justicia"].
9. Voanews.com, 15 januari 2007 ["Iran y Nicaragua tienen enemigos comunes"].
10. BBC Mundo, 11 juni 2007, 15:22 GMT ["Nicaragua e Irán, unión invencible"]; see also: BBC Mundo, 11 juni 2007, 22:08 GMT [Managua-Teherán: enemigo en común?"].
11. Katarina Kratovac, Report: Iran minors sentenced to death, Associated Press, June 17, 2008 [WTOPnews.com].
12. Kasra Naji, op. cit., p. 16.
13. Ibid., op. cit.. p. 224.
14. Ibid., p. 181, 182.
15. Ibid., p. 179, 180.
16. Heather Pringle, The Masterplan. Himmler's scholars and the Holocaust [London: Harper Perennial, 2006], p. 27-36, 109-120, 145-176, 183-185, 195. Excellent study on the Holocaust.
17. Friedrich W. Doucet, Im Banne des Mythos. Die Psychologie des Dritten Reiches [Esslingen am Neckar: Bechtle Verlag, 1979], p. 109, 110. ["Was Hitler äussert stammt aus der geheimen Esoterik des islamitischen Schiismus, in dem das Führerprinzip eine besondere spirituelle Rolle spielt. [...] Wer die Gabe der prophetischen Erkenntnis besitzt, wird Führer. Er is ein von Gott Geführter, der die Formen und Pläne der Vorbewusstheit in die Realität überführt."]
18. Kasra Naji, op. cit., p. 210.
19. See for example Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf [London: Radius Book/Hutchinson, 1972], p. 60.
20. Kasra Naji, op. cit., p. 69, 92-94, 107, 109, 210.
21. NRC Handelsblad, 8 mei 2008, p. 5 ["Geestelijken boos op Ahmadinejad"].
22. Sheldon X. Zhang, Smuggling and Trafficking in Human Beings. All Roads Lead to America [Westport, Connecticut/London: Praeger Publishers, 2007], p. 127.
23. Eileen Sullivan, African smuggling rings possible US terror threat, Associated Press, July 7, 2008.
24. Douglas Farah, Hezbollah's external support network in West Africa and Latin America, August 4, 2006 [International Assessment and Strategy Center].
25. Kasra Naji, op. cit., p. 269.
26. Author's investigations into African migrant traffickking networks, France, Germany [Hamburg, 2001, Munich, 2007/2008], Italy [2008], Spain/Canary Islands [2000/2001], Greece [2008].
27. Author's investigations into African migrant trafficking networks, Athens [2008].
28. Author's investigations into African migrant trafficking networks, Munich [2007/2008]

©2008 Emerson Vermaat. All rights reserved.

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