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Terror in the Americas backgrounder

The Most Dangerous Sleeper Cells? Hezbollah in North America

Beyond the the massive Iranian/Hezbollah presence throughout the western hemisphere, Hezbollah has operatives in America that can carryout attacks. In 2003, Former CIA director George Tenet declared that there were 12 Hezbollah cells operating in the US, and there have likely been more created or established since then.   Share this:

Cells in at least 15 American Cities

Hezbollah is present in “no fewer than fifteen metropolitan centers, stretching from New York to Los Angeles.”
–Ilan Berman, Vice President of the American Foreign Policy Council

New York, NY  |  Newark, NJ  |  Boston, MA  |  Chicago, IL  |  San Francisco, CA  |  Louisville, KY  |  Houston, TX  |   Miami, FL  |  Los Angeles, CA  |  Portland, OR  |  Atlanta, GA  |  Tampa, FL

This is of particular concern given the Obama administration’s 2010 description of Hezbollah as ‘the most technically capable terrorist group in the world.”

Clare Lopez, Vice President for Research and Analysis at the Center for Security Policy, indicates that Hezbollah’s objectives in North America include: pre-attack casing and surveillance; funding scams, intelligence collection, proscribed military equipment acquisition, and establishing sleeper cells.

Getting to America Through Fraud or the Porous Southern Border

Hezbollah members and supporters have in the past been able to take advantage of the porous southern border to sneak into our country.

Hezbollah cells and members also have a history of passport and visa fraud. These fake documents make it easier for Hezbollah supporters to enter North America.

In early September of 2012, Rafic Mohammad Labboun, who was allegedly linked to Hezbollah agents operating in the US and Central America, was apprehended in Mexico. In Belize, Labboun stole a deceased person’s identity, used it to obtain a passport and a driver’s license, and drove to Mexico where he was caught.

The Labboun example provides insight into how easy it can potentially be for the wrong people to gain access into America.

Operation Smokescreen: Illicit Profits

Once inside the US, Hezbollah forces can and do participate in numerous criminal activities.

Operation Smokescreen is a well-known case where a Hezbollah cell located in Charlotte, North Carolina was arrested, tried, and convicted for cigarette-related activity. In 1995, some of the cell members were observed and recorded purchasing massive amounts of cigarette cartons, always with cash. The members were buying cigarettes in North Carolina, where the taxes on cigarettes were relatively low, and transporting them to be sold in Michigan, where the cigarette taxes were much higher.

Years later at the end of this case, the list of criminal activities involved “copyright violation, cigarette tax violations, counterfeit violations…bank scams, bribery, credit card fraud, immigration fraud, identity theft, tax evasion, and money laundering.”


Other Operations

As mentioned, a Lebanese Canadian Bank used funds from Hezbollah drug trafficking operations. The money, however, was used to purchase used cars in the United States, transport them to West Africa to be sold, and then move the car sale funds back to Lebanon.

This is just one of the many examples of Hezbollah-funding incidents that has occurred with US borders.

In June 2006, Mahmoud Youssef Kourani pled guilty to conspiracy to provide material support to Hezbollah. He crossed the Mexican border illegally and was headed to Detroit. His brother was Hezbollah security chief in Lebanon.


Hezbollah in Mexico

Hezbollah operates in Mexico as well, conducting a wide array of criminal activities.

It provides cartels with explosives, smuggling expertise, and drug connections and actively facilitates the narcotics trade there to its own benefit.

The group has also carried out terror attacks to help solidify its influence and financial interests in the drug business.

In July 2010, Mexican authorities arrested Jameel Nasr, a Mexican national with Lebanese ties who traveled between the two countries as a Hezbollah operative. He also spent two months in Venezuela in the summer of 2008. Cartels and Hezbollah negotiate North American routes through the US to Mexico.