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US task force to probe Hizbollah ‘narcoterror’

By AFP - Jan 11,2018 - Last updated at Jan 11,2018

WASHINGTON — The US Justice Department announced Thursday creation of a special task force to investigate what it called “narcoterrorism” by the powerful Lebanese movement Hizbollah.

The unit will comprise specialists on money-laundering, drug trafficking, terrorism and organised crime, targeting Iran ally Hizbollah’s sprawling network, whose reach extends across Africa and into Central and South America, the department said.

“The Justice Department will leave no stone unturned in order to eliminate threats to our citizens from terrorist organisations and to stem the tide of the devastating drug crisis,” said Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

“The team will initiate prosecutions that will restrict the flow of money to foreign terrorist organisations as well as disrupt violent international drug trafficking operations.”

 The move comes amid a stepped-up effort to battle Iran’s growing influence in the Middle East and the expanded military capabilities of Hizbollah, a dominant force in Lebanese politics.

But Sessions said the creation of the Hizbollah financing and narcoterrorism team was also a response to criticisms that former president Barack Obama held back from cracking down on Hizbollah’s global networks, investigated under the previous Project Cassandra, in order to achieve the nuclear deal with Iran. 

“The HFNT will begin by assessing the evidence in existing investigations, including cases stemming from Project Cassandra, a law enforcement initiative targeting Hizbollah’s drug trafficking and related operations,” the department said.

Officials in Washington and US allies Saudi Arabia and Israel, have increasingly raised the alarm over Hizbollah’s growing power in Lebanon and around the world.

On Wednesday, former top Treasury Department sanctions official Juan Zarate told Congress that Hizbollah’s drug smuggling and money laundering operations are global in scale.

“Recent actions by the Drug Enforcement Administration [DEA] and Treasury to dismantle networks of Hizbollah’s ‘business affairs component’ have exposed financial and trade nodes that the Hizbollah operates and led to arrests and enforcement actions around the world,” he told a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.


Obama accused 

of holding back 


The US has long targeted Hizbollah with sanctions. A 2007 presidential order allowed the seizure of property of “persons undermining the sovereignty of Lebanon”, not naming the group but clearly aimed at it.

In 2011 the Obama administration unleashed a crackdown on the group’s far-flung associates, designating Beirut-based Lebanese Canadian Bank a “primary money laundering concern” for handling the funds of alleged Hizbollah drug kingpin Ayman Joumaa. 

The US Treasury and DEA later described a massive operation involving Colombia and Panama-based drug traffickers shipping multi-tonne amounts of cocaine to the United States, Europe and elsewhere.

The network laundered billions of dollars of their own money and that of other traffickers through Panama shell companies, various banks in Lebanon and elsewhere, and an operation that exported tens of thousands of used cars from the United States for sale in West Africa.


According to former DEA official Derek Maltz, Hizbollah most recently used the proceeds to buy weapons for the group’s operations in Syria, and some of the funds have also made their way to Yemen, where Iran-backed rebels are battling Saudi-supported government forces for control of the country.

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Saturday 19 January 2019


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