Counter-Terrorism: The South American Arrangement

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September 10, 2011: The United States and most South American countries are having a growing problem with Islamic terrorists. The U.S. has identified an increasing number of individuals and groups in South America that are providing support (financial, media, recruiting) for Islamic terror groups.
But South American governments refuse to prosecute these individuals, at least not for terrorism. The terrorist supporters can be prosecuted for more common criminal behavior.
But South American governments like to point out that there have been very few Islamic terror attacks in their territory. That was also true for many European countries, for a long time, for the same reason; an unofficial truce with Islamic terrorists. The deal is simple. In return for no attacks within a particular country, Islamic terrorists would be given asylum, or otherwise allowed to set up shop as long as it was done quietly. Thus most South American countries don’t recognize the outlaw status of organizations considered international terrorist organizations in most of the world. The local governments will prosecute someone who is a notorious (easily identified and “very convictable”) Islamic terrorist, which is why Osama bin Laden didn’t head for South America. But a lot of lesser known Islamic terrorism supporters are hard at work down there.
The few times, in the last two decades, that this truce was violated, the reaction was very costly to Islamic radicals, and countries like Iran, that sponsored them. This just reinforced the determination of the terrorists to observe the truce, and not spoil a good thing.

For years the U.S. has been monitoring South America for signs of Islamic terrorism. Most of action is non-terrorist criminality. Moslem criminal gangs in the region have provided some support services for al Qaeda, but otherwise there is not a lot of support for Islamic radicalism in South America. Moslems are a very small minority down there, and they don’t want to trigger an anti-Islamic attitude because of al Qaeda terrorism in the region.

But a more threatening new base area for Islamic radicals is developing in Venezuela. There, leftist president Hugo Chavez has not only established close diplomatic relations with Iran (and Cuba, North Korea and radical groups throughout the region), but has allowed Iran to set up terrorist operations in South America. Regular commercial flights from Iran to Venezuela (via Syria, to accommodate Hezbollah) carry people, cash and whatever else Iran wants to move. No questions asked, no visas required.

Several U.S. counter-terrorism organizations have gone to work, trying to find out what Iran is up to, and how to block any terrorist activity. For example, the U.S. Treasury Department‘s Office of Foreign Assets Control sought to block attempts by Iran and Hezbollah to get around banking restrictions placed on their terrorist activities, by opening bank branches in Venezuela. Hezbollah is using its new base in Venezuela to support its fund raising, and purely criminal activities, in South America. Iran is looking to support attacks against South American Jews, plus any other mischief it can pull off, without being blamed.

Hezbollah has long been involved in the drug business in South America. That gives these Iran backed Islamic terrorists access to the narcotics smuggling routes that Mexican gangs use to smuggle drugs and people into the United States. The Iran-backed Lebanese group has long been involved in narcotics and people smuggling in South America’s tri-border (Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil) region. This area has long been a hotbed of illicit activity, and too many politicians and police commanders are on the take from gangsters to change this.

Thus, South America makes an excellent refuge and base. Particularly worrisome is the cooperation between leftist rebel movements there, and Islamic terrorist groups. So far, the United States says little of what it is doing down there to monitor, or cope, with Islamic terrorist activity. But something is up.

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