WASHINGTON – Islam is on the move in Mexico and throughout Latin America, making dramatic gains in converting the native population, increasing immigration, establishing businesses and charities and attracting attention from U.S. government officials who have asked their neighbors to the south to keep an eye on foreign Muslim groups.

The monitoring of foreign groups is intended to “avoid problems in Mexico that have an impact in the United States,” said the head of the Attorney General Office’s special terrorism investigation unit, Gen. Jorge Serrano.

“The ones who … are being watched by migration (authorities) are foreigners,” Serrano said, without revealing the number of people being monitored or their countries of origin.

Serrano said no Muslim terrorists have been found living in Mexico, though the office is investigating alleged terrorist activities being carried out by Mexicans.

The recruitment of new followers is especially active in southern Mexico and among the indigenous Mayans who are converting by the hundreds, according to a report in Der Spiegel. The Mexican government, the report says, is concerned about a culture clash in its own back yard.

About 300 Tzozil-Indians have converted to Islam in recent years and it’s a development that is beginning to worry the Mexican government, said the Der Spiegel report. The government even suspects the new converts of subversive activity and has already set the secret service onto the track of the Mayan Muslims. Mexican President Vincente Fox has even gone so far as to say he fears the influence of the radical fundamentalists of al-Qaida.

Indeed, with Islamic “charities” under increasing international pressure and scrutiny to cut ties with terrorists, al-Qaida and other allied organizations are expanding operations throughout Latin America, establishing both legitimate and criminal enterprises to fund future operations.

According to U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela Charles Shapiro, almost every extremist terror group is now represented in Latin America.

One tool of the Islamists in Latin America is the “small business loan.”

Both newcomers to the movement and veterans of past operations are given loans to establish small businesses. These modest ventures involve food and clothing stores, transportation companies and other legitimate businesses stretching from minor real estate investments to funding of small airlines. In return these businesses repay the loans with cash accrued from their trading revenues. The money is collected by roving collectors who change from time to time to avoid being traced.

According to Islam, adding interest on loans is regarded as usury and is strictly forbidden. Instead the business owner is asked to add a donation based on the initial principal. This can range from a few to thousands of dollars in each case. Some businesses, identified as having been established by terror groups in the infamous Muslim triangle around the border region between Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil, often are plain newspaper stands, corner stores or family-run tailor shops.

In the so-called Muslim triangle, where the borders of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay meet, a growing number of Arab-owned businesses are being forced to identify with the Palestinian cause.

In the business town of Punte Arnes, the home of many Palestinians in touch with Hamas and Islamic Jihad, stores carry names of Palestinian communities and are decorated with the colors of the Palestinian flag.

Bus companies owned by Islamic militants are also painting vehicles with the colors of Palestine, giving the vehicles Arabic names, which leave no doubt as to their ownership.

It’s all an indication of the growing power and spread of Islamist ideology in Latin America.

Pentagon officials have confirmed human smuggling rings in Latin America are attempting to sneak al-Qaida operatives into the U.S.

In a Defense Department briefing in February 2004 about National Guardsman Ryan Anderson, suspected of trying to give al-Qaida information about U.S. capabilities and weaponry, reporters were also told to expect Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to provide details on two other subjects: Guantanamo Bay prisoners freed only to rejoin al-Qaida and Taliban cells in Afghanistan and al-Qaida’s Latin America connection.

No further announcements were ever forthcoming from the Pentagon, prompting some sources to wonder whether the administration was conflicted over this news – given President Bush’s political problems with his illegal immigration across a porous Mexican border.

Before the U.S.-led coalition attacked Iraq, the U.S. State Department offered congressional testimony that both al-Qaida and the Shiite terrorist group Hezbollah were taking firm hold in “America’s backyard.”

Mark F. Wong, the State Department’s acting coordinator for counterterrorism, told the House International Relations Committee about the threat posed by both groups in Latin America.

Anti-terrorism experts say extremist cells tied to Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and al-Qaida network are operating in Argentina, Ecuador, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay and Uruguay. Although cooperation between al-Qaida and Hezbollah has been known for some time, the two groups have formed a much closer relationship since al-Qaida was evicted from its base in Afghanistan.

Both al-Qaida and Hezbollah were 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.

In March, FBI Director Robert Mueller told a congressional panel that illegal aliens from countries with ties to al-Qaida have crossed into the U.S. from Mexico using false identities.

Mueller said some of the aliens are people with Middle Eastern names who have adopted Hispanic last names before coming into the U.S.

“We are concerned, Homeland Security is concerned about special interest aliens entering the United States,” Mueller said.

Mueller said one route takes Middle Easterners to Brazil, where they assume false identities before entering Mexico and then crossing into the U.S. Bush administration officials have previously said al-Qaida could try to infiltrate the United States through the Mexican border.

Mueller stopped short of confirming that terrorists had entered illegally via Mexico, but said it’s believed people from countries where al-Qaida is active have done so.

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.

Egyptian intelligence experts active in combating Muslim militancy in Egypt and aware of the role of Egyptian militants in the ranks of al-Qaida and the Taliban, said in 2003 that Islamic terrorists shifted their interest from training pilots in the U.S. to schools in South America, where they can study and train practically without any security agencies on their heels.

More recently, al-Qaida has become deeply involved in cocaine and heroine trafficking, arms and uranium smuggling, counterfeiting CDs and DVDs and money-laundering activities in the tri-border region of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. The tri-border region is known as the heart of Islamic activity in Latin America.

Of growing concern to some U.S. officials is the way the terrorists south of the border might use lax immigration standards to slip into the U.S.

Tens of millions of Muslims live in Latin America.

The terrorists even get some official support in Latin America, according to sources. As WorldNetDaily reported, a Venezuelan military defector claims President Hugo Chavez developed ties to terrorist groups such as al-Qaida – even providing it with $1 million in cash after Sept. 11, 2001.

Air Force Maj. Juan Diaz Castillo, who was Chavez’s pilot, told WorldNetDaily through an interpreter that “the American people should awaken and be aware of the enemy they have just three hours’ flight from the United States.”

Diaz said he was part of an operation in which Chavez gave $1 million to al-Qaida for relocation costs, shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.

Previous stories:

FBI chief warns of aliens from al-Qaida-tied nations

Al-Qaida runs own travel agency

Financial squeeze pushed al-Qaida south of the border

Al-Qaida south of the border?

Terrorist base south of the border

Terrorists active in U.S. ‘backyard’

A Mexico cover-up of U.S. terrorist threats?

Defector: Chavez gave $1 million to al-Qaida

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