Last October, a 28-year-old Lebanese man named Muhamed Amadar was arrested in Lima, Peru. He was alone and hadn’t left his apartment for weeks. A search of his apartment found TNT and other chemicals used for making explosives.
The Peruvian National Police analysed the chemicals and determined that they were similar to those by the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah.
“Based on conversations with Peruvian officials familiar with this investigation, what seems clear is that Amadar is an explosives expert, but not an operator,” said former Peruvian Interior Minister Dardo Lopez-Dos in testimony before the US House subcommittee on Foreign Affairs. “He was not going to be the individual who would carry out the attack that was presumably being prepared.”
That means Amadar had a network.
“The arrest in October 2014 of … [Amadar], who confessed to being a member of Hezbollah, with clear evidence of having handled explosives, indicates they seem to be ready to move into an offensive phase using terror,” Dardo Lopez-Dos added.
‘You get little alerts all the time’
Iran, Hezbollah’s state backer, has substantially grown its presence in Latin America over the last decade, and we are now seeing reminders of that infiltration.
“In the last few months… you would think that Hezbollah and Iran by extension have increased their activity in Latin America. But journalists are just picking it up more now,” Joseph Humire, executive director at The Center for a Secure Free Society, a think tank, told Business Insider. “You get little alerts all the time. “
The most recent and high-profile reminder was the death of Argentine prosecutor, Alberto Nisman.
Largely considered the foremost expert on Iran’s presence in the Western Hemisphere, the 51-year-old was about to testify to Argentina’s legislature that the Argentine government had made a deal with Iran to cover up Iran’s involvement in the 1994 bombing of a Buenos Aires Jewish center that killed 85 people. Nisman was found shot to the head in his apartment in January, it was made to look like a suicide.
If that was the case, Nisman left no note.
What he did leave are over a thousand pages of exhaustive research that he’d collected about Iran’s presence on his continent over the course of a decade — research that is now being given further treatment considering the suspicious circumstances of his death.
In his life, the Argentine government forbid Nisman from testifying before the US legislature on what he’d found in his investigation. After his death, more experts on the subject testified before both the House and the Senate. What those witnesses had to report is alarming. Dardos-Lopez said that Iranian activity in Peru “has advanced very rapidly [and] almost unnoticed.”
Brazilian officials did notice when violent Hezbollah agents were spotted in Brazil back in 2012. The individuals spotted were agents linked to attacks on Israeli government buildings in India and Georgia.
“These weren’t the regular money guys, these are the hardcore terrorists. They’re here,” said Humire.
Now, Brazilian news outlet O Globo is reporting that Hezbollah has formed a relationships with First Capital Command (PCC), Brazil’s most notorious gang.
Authorities have also noticed that Iran’s strengthening presence in Bolivia.
“Considering Iran’s extraordinarily large presence in neighbouring Bolivia, and the apparent closeness of Bolivia’s government to that of Peru — this presents the possibility that Iran could use its embassy in La Paz as a central hub to command and control operatives and agents in neighbouring countries,” Lopez-Dos said in his testimony.
‘The State Department owes the American people answers’
In the past, the US State Department has ignored questions about Iran’s inroads in the West, ignoring letters from concerned legislators. They have said that the Obama administration is on top of the situation. But in 2013, 19 legislators signed a letter slamming the administration for putting together a shoddy report on Iran’s involvement in the region — one that did not take Alberto Nisman’s work into account.
That’s when South Carolina Representative Jeff Duncan accused the State Department of obstruction.
“The State Department has chosen to obstruct Congressional oversight of Iran’s deepening relations with countries in Latin America by sending a letter that did not answer even a single question,” Duncan wrote. “The State Department owes the American people answers to these questions on whether they still believe Iran’s influence is ‘waning’ in the Western Hemisphere.
“Recent Congressional hearings on this issue uncovered disturbing evidence of Iran’s ability to recruit over a thousand students from Latin America to travel to Iran for training, obtain fraudulent passport documentation, exploit free trade zones and loose border security measures, and cooperate with drug cartels and criminal networks,” Duncan continued.
“In light of the events in Syria with ramifications for U.S. homeland security, the Administration should prioritise this issue of Iran’s deepening penetration within the Western Hemisphere and stop putting up road blocks to Congressional oversight.”
‘An attempt to win converts and sympathizers’
There are indications of how Iran is winning favour in Latin American countries. For example, Iranian agents have made it a point to connect with a militant Peruvian indigenous rights group called the Etnocaceristas founded by Peruvian President Ollanta Humala.
Humala’s brother, Antauro Humala, leads the
Etnocaceristas from jail, where he is serving out a sentence for sedition, homicide and kidnapping. On paper, that makes him sound like the perfect partner for a group like Hezbollah.
So Iran’s agents look for ways to strengthen the idea that Iran is a natural ally of Peru’s indigenous people.
“In an attempt to win converts and sympathizers, cultural memes are used to create parallels between seemingly disparate religions and cultures,” said Lopez-Dos. “Such concepts as the Shiite belief in the ‘return of the Mahdi’ can be translated closely to resemble the traditional Inkarri myth, believed by many indigenous in the Andes to represent the return of the Inca (God). Such parallels can be used to provide a certain cover of legitimacy to those otherwise thought of as ‘outsiders.'”
If Iran manages to pull that off successfully, these ‘little alerts’ might start getting too big for anyone to ignore.
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