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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Iran's new South American embassies tied to Hizbullah activity, U.S. routes

WASHINGTON — U.S. officials said Iran and its proxy, Hizbullah, were expanding activities in South America and using the same trafficking routes into the United States as Mexico's drug cartel.   

The officials said Iran has opened six embassies in South America since 2004 in an effort to establish an intelligence and operational network.

"That is of concern, principally because of the connection between the government of Iran, which is a state sponsor of terrorism, and Hizbullah," Adm. James Stavridis said.

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Outgoing Drug Enforcement Administration chief of operations Michael Braun said Hizbullah, with help from Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, has been using the same trafficking routes as the drug cartel in Mexico. Braun told The Washington Times that Hizbullah was employing Mexican weapons smugglers, forgerers and other personnel to smuggle drugs into the United States.

Stavridis, head of the military's U.S. Southern Command, said much of the Iranian and Hizbullah activity was taking place in the area that borders Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. In a hearing to the House Armed Services Committee on March 17, Stavridis also cited the Iranian presence in the Caribbean.

"We see a great deal of Hizbullah activity throughout South America, in particular," Stavridis said.

In August 2008, the United States supported an operation in the triborder area that targeted a drug trafficking network connected to Hizbullah. Stavridis said the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration also facilitated an operation that led to the arrest of several dozens of suspected drug traffickers connected to Hizbullah in Colombia.

Stavridis said Hizbullah has formed a direct connection with drug traffickers in Colombia. He said Colombia has become the pivotal element in the war against drugs.

"Indentifying, monitoring and dismantling the financial, logistical and communication linkages between illicit trafficking groups and terrorist sponsors are critical to not only ensuring early indications and warnings of potential terrorist attacks directed at the United States and our partners, but also in generating a global appreciation and acceptance of this tremendous threat to security," Stavridis said.

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