Le Stampa, Italy
Jihad in South America: A New Nightmare for the United States
The Caracas-Tehran axis supports the alliance between drugs and Al-Qaeda. Warning signs of Hezbollah in Venezuela.
By Maurizio Molinari
Translated by Michael Devine
January 18, 2007
Washington – “The alliance of drug traffickers and Islamic extremists threatens to have a disastrous effect.” Admiral James Stravridis is the top commander of all US Armed Forces of the southern division, responsible for the ‘checkerboard’ that stretches from Mexico to the Straight of Magellan, but he chooses an audience of experts at CSIS (Center for Strategic and International Studies) to illustrate the extent of “a grave and growing threat to national security.”
Here is what he discusses: “The arrival of foreign actors on the continent, such as Iran, makes us fearful that ‘narco-terrorism’ might be capable of supporting the rise of radical Islam.” Although the first alarm from the Pentagon arose in 2004, the year 2007 signaled an escalation of Muslim penetration in Latin America that for the most part centers on the privileged relations between Caracas and Tehran. The danger comes from the converging of interests among drug-dealers and Islamic terrorists which, mirroring a model of the existing alliance between similar operatives in Afghanistan, would be capable of giving life to a network capable of sustaining itself and committing devastating attacks against the shared American enemy.
Western intelligence memos making the rounds in Washington complete Stravridis’ analysis: last October the US Embassy in Venezuela was targeted by two ‘paper bombs’ and near one of them were flyers that sang the praises of Hezbollah; in the Guajira peninsula Muslim groups carrying the symbols of Hezbollah infiltrated the area of the Colombian-Venezuelan border in the territory of the ancient native Wayuu tribe declaring “war against the corrupt and the sex industry” with the goal of “changing Venezuela.” The Caracas airport has become a free port-of-passage for Islamic extremists thanks to the fact that the recent agreement on free movement of people negotiated with Tehran does not require arrivals from Iran to possess entrance visas anymore; and from 2002 to 2005 Venezuelan police detained without cause dissident Iranian journalist Manuchehr Honarmand, who is now in exile in the Netherlands.
To the audience at CSIS Admiral Stravridis shows photographs of the repeated meetings of Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad and his Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chavez, explaining that “Tehran has found an important ally and aims to open embassies in every Latin American country” in order to consolidate its presence. Chavez himself has asked Bolivian leader Evo Morales to quickly establish diplomatic relations with the Islamic Republic. And Ecuador could follow.
Another sign of Iranian objectives in the region has come from the announcement of Mahdi Mostafavi, director of the Organization of Islamic Culture in Tehran, of wanting “to coordinate all activity in the region” with the input of Iranian representatives located in every single capital. Washington fears that this might be the genesis of a network of Islamic extremists also capable of facilitating the entrance of groups like Al Qaeda into the region. “Latin America is becoming an arena of open competition between us and Islamic extremism – adds the U.S. Admiral – and we must commit ourselves to showing that our ideas are better and produce real results, from capitalism to free trade, from human rights to democracy and liberty.”
Chavez’s ambiguity with regard to Muslim infiltration of his country is the basis for the State Department’s choice to declare Venezuela a “country not fully cooperative” in the fight against terrorism, a label that brings Venezuela close to – but does not equate them with – the ‘state-sponsors of terror’ like Syria and Iran. The latest report on international terrorism published by Washington points the finger at the question of Venezuelan identity documents: “They are easy to obtain, making Venezuela an attractive point of transit for terrorists, and international authorities are suspicious of the integrity of these documents and how they are issued.” As if to say that there is doubt that it might be Chavez’s own government that is allowing extremists to possess documents altered for free movement throughout Latin America.
The warning signs are so much that Silvestre Reyes, Democratic Representative from Texas and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, has warned of the risk of “Hezbollah militants with South American passports presenting themselves at our border with Mexico and being mistaken for Hispanic tourists.” Reyes also considers that beyond Venezuela the other Achilles’ heel on the continent might be the geographic area of the “Three Frontiers,” located at the common borders of Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay and home to about 25,000 Arabs: it is the same region that the kamikazes behind the attacks of 1992 and 1994 – which destroyed the first Israeli Embassy and the ‘Amir’ Jewish Center in Buenos Aires and claimed over 100 victims – came out of. For the 1994 attack Interpol has issued extradition orders to Argentina for the super-terrorist Imad Mugnyeh and five Iranians, including the ex-Minister of Intelligence Ali Fallahian.