Although U.S. officials cannot confirm reports of the arrest Jamel Nasr recently in Tijuana, they should acknowledge that the reports are consistent with increasing concern that Hezbollah is seeking an operational base in the Americas. Nasr was no ordinary tourist or would-be immigrant. He is a made member of the Lebanese-based terror group, Hezbollah.
Mexican authorities have released few details about his arrest, but they appear to have uncovered a network traceable back to the terrorist group’s headquarters in the Middle East.
The possible arrest is not the first incident indicating Hezbollah’s interest in establishing a beachhead in the Americas.
Last month, Paraguayan police arrested Moussa Ali Hamdan, a naturalized U.S. citizen. He had been sought by the U.S. since last November, when he was indicted for involvement in bogus passports, counterfeiting, and selling fake merchandise to finance Hezbollah operations.
South and Central America hold definite attractions for the terror crowd. For starters, there’s money. Profits from the region’s lucrative drug trade help fuel many international terrorists. Hezbollah craves a share of the action.
The Tri-Border region—the weakly-governed space where Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay join—has been an area of ongoing concern for, U.S. counter-terrorism experts since 9/11. It boasts a high density of inhabitants of Arab descent. That, coupled with a robust smuggling trade, makes the Tri-Border a lawless breeding ground ideal for fueling international terrorism.
More recently, Hezbollah seems to be finding convenient operating space in Venezuela. Hugo Chavez’s, Venezuela’s fiery, anti-American president, recently hosted Syrian President Hafez al-Assad.
Syria’s deep involvement in Lebanon, its border disputes with Israel and its backing of Hezbollah are of long-standing.
In Caracas, Chavez and Assad reaffirmed a united front against common enemies: the U.S. and Israel. Doubtless, finding ways to advance Hezbollah’s power and influence without being caught was a topic of private conversation as well.
Venezuela is also becoming a hub for international drug traffickers, with shipments to Europe and West Africa rising dramatically. The latter market is especially worrisome, as the narcotics trade is destabilizing West Africa, helping make it a target of opportunity for Islamic extremists.
Hezbollah also would have a natural interest in Mexico’s drug cartels, which account for 90% of the cocaine flowing to more than 240 U.S. cities. The cartels are all-purpose, amoral criminal organizations quick to engage in all things nefarious—from drug dealings to assassinations, kidnapping, and migrant smuggling—provided they’re profitable.
If Hezbollah bag men can do business with Mexico’s cartels, so can its trained terrorists. In the fluid, globalized struggle based on the principles of asymmetric warfare, terrorists constantly seek out our vulnerabilities and soft targets.
Congresswoman Sue Myrick (R-N.C.) is right to sound an alarm about the Hezbollah threat. The Obama administration must continue to work closely with Mexican authorities to track down any Hezbollah connections.
The U.S. should also help stand up Mexico’s professional law enforcement and intelligence collection capabilities. While we may disagree with our southern neighbor on many points, security should not be one of them.
Ray Walser is a senior policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation.
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