As the administration of President George W. Bush weighs an attack against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, international terrorist groups are taking firm hold in South America – often referred to as “America’s backyard” – according to recent testimony given to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Both Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida and the Palestinian terrorist group Hezbollah are active in Latin America, with Hezbollah having “broader penetration in the Western Hemisphere than any other terrorist organization,” stated the U.S. State Department’s acting coordinator for counterterrorism, Mark F. Wong, in testimony before the U.S. House International Relations Committee.
Hezbollah “is a multi-faceted, multinational” organization that “has a presence in virtually every country in North and South America. …” Wong reported.
Addressing the problem of “international terrorist threats to Americans and American interests” in South America, Wong described a “collaboration among terrorist groups,” which included the apparent cooperation between the Irish Republican Army, or IRA, and the communist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.
The IRA and FARC have had “established links … since at least 1998,” according to the summary of findings regarding links between the IRA and FARC issued by the majority staff of the House International Relations Committee.
The Marxist FARC’s “ability to carry out terrorist bombings” in Colombia is linked directly by that nation’s government to “the IRA’s activity,” according to the committee report.
In addition to ties with the IRA, the FARC also has close relations with the communist Cuban government of Fidel Castro, which, in turn, hosts an IRA liaison office on the island.
The government of Colombia includes Iran in the mix of foreign entities operating in FARC-controlled areas and supporting the FARC movement.
Both al-Qaida and Hezbollah are active in the common border area of Colombia, Peru and Ecuador, according to an earlier statement of Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage in hearings before the Foreign Appropriations Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, cited in a report from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
The activities of the Irish Republican Army, Iran, Cuba and various international terrorist networks operating in Colombia may turn that Latin American nation into a “breeding ground for international terror equaled perhaps only by Afghanistan,” according to the committee report.
Further to the south in Latin America, Hezbollah and the terrorist Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) are operating in the tri-border region of Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil. The suspected activities of these groups include counterfeiting U.S. currency and drug smuggling, with the area in which they function described as a “haven for Islamic extremists” by the administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Asa Hutchinson, in testimony before the House International Relations Committee.
“The situation in the tri-border area [of Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil] highlights the ease with which terrorist organizations can infiltrate and assimilate in other countries and go relatively undetected for an extended period of time,” Hutchinson stated.
The linkage among various terrorist groups and nations associated with support of terrorism in Latin America combines considerable financial resources and technological expertise.
In addition to the vast oil wealth of Iran, the South American terrorist network can rely upon South American drug money to finance its activities. Colombia alone produces 90 percent of the cocaine and “at least” 70 percent of the heroin sold in the U.S., according to estimates of the House International Relations Committee.
FARC reaps about $2 million per day in illegal drug profits, according to the committee.
Sophisticated techniques in the fields of weapons development and use, espionage and infiltration are readily available to terrorist organizations operating in South America.
Cuba possesses one of the most well-equipped and well-trained intelligence services in the world, and it has only one target – the United States.
Like Cuba, Iran has a sharply honed intelligence capability, and, as with Cuba, Iran has close ties – including technological and military ties – with China and Russia.