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Report: Hizbullah network spreading throughout Mideast

Wednesday, January 29, 2003

The Iranian-based Hizbullah has established a network throughout the Middle East that threatens to destabilize Arab regimes.

A recent report details the Hizbullah network in such countries as Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Israel, Kuwait, Lebanon, the Palestinian Authority, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Turkey. The report said several organizations that use the name Hizbullah convene regularly and train together.

"The organizational ties between various 'Hizbullah' groups are uncertain, although many train or meet together, and have some ties to Iranian and Syrian intelligence, and Iranian and/or Syrian sponsored training centers in Lebanon, Syria, and Iran," the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies said.

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Hizbullah has denied links to other groups with the same name, particularly in Saudi Arabia, Middle East Newsline reported. But U.S. officials and analysts said the Lebanese-based organization has over the last decade established a presence in both Sunni- and Shi'ite-populated countries in the Middle East.

Authored by senior fellow Anthony Cordesman, the report played down Hizbullah's denial of its activities outside of Lebanon. The report said all of the Hizbullah groups are linked by interpretations of Islam that "make it legitimate to lie and conceal in the defense of the faith.

Hizbullah has been accused of sponsoring the 1997 bombing of the U.S. military barracks in Al Khobar in Saudi Arabia. An indictment filed in U.S. district court said many of the suspects from the Al Khobar bombing obtained help from Hizbullah in Lebanon and after the attack fled to Iran.

The report said the Hizbullah presence in Saudi Arabia began in the 1980s in response to the persecution of the large Shi'ite minority in the eastern portion of the kingdom. Hizbullah obtained support from Iran and provided money and military training to insurgents as well as help for Shi'ite clerics. Cordesman said the Iranian aid is believed to continue despite improving relations between Riyad and Teheran.

"While the Saudi Hizbullah has focused primarily on attacking the Saudi regime, it is also strongly anti-American," the report said. "It attacked the Saudi government for allowing U.S. troops to remain in the kingdom after the end of the Gulf War."

The report, which draws on the U.S. indictment of the Al Khobar attack, said Hizbullah insurgents in Saudi Arabia train in Iran, Lebanon and Syria. Saudi members of Hizbullah were said to draft strategy in Damascus and recruit from young pilgrims who visited the Sayyeda Zeinab shrine in the Syrian capital. The report termed Damascus as an "important source of logistics and support for Saudi Hizbullah members traveling to and from Lebanon."

"They would then be approached by Saudi Hizbullah members to gauge their loyalty to Iran and dislike for the government of Saudi Arabia," the report said. "Young men who wished to join Saudi Hizbullah then would be transported to Hizbullah -controlled areas in Lebanon for military training and indoctrination."

The report said Saudi Hizbullah, which numbers up to 1,000 people, is divided by departments headed by a Hizbullah member. Each department head reports to the leader of Saudi Hizbullah. At the time of the Khobar bombings, the leader was Abdul Karim Hussein Mohammed Al Nasser.

The overall leader of Saudi Hizbullah, the report said, is Ahmed Al Mughassil, also known as Abu Omran. The report said Abu Omran directed the recruitment of young Saudi Shi'ites, arranged for their military training in Hizbullah camps in Iran and Lebanon and then ordered them to attack targets in the kingdom.

The report does not regard Hizbullah as a major threat to the kingdom. Cordesman said Hizbullah could not recruit sufficient numbers of supporters for a sustained revolt.

"The Shi'ite population of Saudi Arabia is also too small to succeed in any kind of uprising or separatism," the report said. "It is, however, large enough to present a significant source of social tension in the world's most important oil producing area. This has been demonstrated by the fact there have been recurrent, minor incidents of sabotage of oil facilities."

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