With the admission on Monday by three Lebanese men in Nigeria that they had been
trained by Hezbollah and accumulated enough military hardware to wage a war, the
entrenchment of the Shi’ite terrorist organization in Africa has fueled renewed
interest in counter-terrorism strategies.
According to Nigeria’s PM News,
public prosecutor Simon Egede said the dual Lebanese-Nigerian nationals had
amassed enough weapons, ranging from land mines and AK 47 rifles to antitank
rocket launchers, “to sustain a civil war.”
After the three suspected
operatives – Mustapha Fawaz, 49, Abdullahi Thahini, 48, and Tahal Roda, 51 –
were arrested in May, the country’s security forces said the men had planned to
attack local Israeli and American institutions.
The scramble to counter
The scramble to counter the Hezbollah threat prompted charges of
Even more tellingly, Nigerian authorities have publicly
labeled Hezbollah’s military wing a terrorist organization – an unprecedented
It is worth recalling that not one African country lists Hezbollah
as a terrorist entity.
The stakes are clearly high for Nigeria. The reach
of Hezbollah into the continent has prompted US and African counter-terrorism
authorities to sharpen their focus and impose penalties. In June, the US
Treasury Department sanctioned four Hezbollah operatives for drug smuggling in
Sierra Leone, Senegal, the Ivory Coast and Gambia.
The Shi’ite group’s
use of West Africa as a launching pad for its narcotics trade into Europe might
have consequences for the EU process to clamp down on Hezbollah
EU foreign ministers are slated in late July to issue a
decision on whether its military wing should be listed as a terrorist entity. It
is unclear if the role of Hezbollah’s narcotics trade –which aids its terrorism
– will factor into the EU’s decision-making process.
Dawit Giorgis, a
visiting fellow at the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies
and an expert on activities by Hezbollah and Iran in Africa, told The Jerusalem
Post on Wednesday that African governments are aware that “dealing with Iran and
Hezbollah is trouble. Iran’s exports to sub-Saharan Africa peaked at $3.9
billion in 2011 ? only to slump last year to $1.8 b.” Iran spawned Hezbollah and
remains it chief financial and ideological sponsor across the globe. In short,
its regime is inseparable from Hezbollah.
Giorgis added that in some
parts of Africa the Islamic Republic is perceived as a security threat because
of its “support and connections to terrorists and illegal drug and firearms
trafficking. Those countries that continue to welcome Hezbollah or Iran are
those who either have been corrupted or owe [them] their survival because of
West Africa’s shipping controls and law enforcement
polices are riddled with laxity.
All of this helps to explain Hezbollah’s
entrance into countries where regulation and oversight are feeble.
May, two Iranians – Ahmed Mohammed and Sayed Mansour – were found guilty of
plotting to attack Israeli, British and US targets.
The men were arrested
while having in their possession 15 kg. of explosives in Nairobi.
quoted Sgt. Erick Opagal of Kenya’s Anti-Terrorism Police Unit as saying, “The
police have information that the [suspects] have a vast network in the country
meant to execute explosive attacks against government installations, public
gatherings and foreign establishments.”
According to Giorgis, most
African nations “have voted for all the four UN Iran sanction resolutions. There
is a general feeling that Iran’s efforts to mobilize political support and
secure markets for its products have not been as fruitful.”
duck President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has invested time in Africa, including visits
to Niger, Benin and Ghana in April. His visit to Niger raised eyebrows, largely
because the country is the world’s fourth-biggest producer of uranium, which
Iran seeks in order to advance its illicit nuclear enrichment
However, the visit did not strike a chord with all African
countries. After Nigeria confiscated Iranian arms in the port city of Lagos in
2010, Gambia pulled the plug on diplomatic relations with Iran. The ostensible
reason was that it had been the destination for the weapons
Nigeria will continue to be a hub of pro-Hezbollah and
pro-Iranian activity, mainly because the country is home to Sheikh Zakzaky, an
advocate of the revolutionary Iranian Shi’ite ideology who serves as a key
Muslim leader in Nigeria. His office contains a photo of the founder of the
Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini.
The open question is, will
African nations follow the growing list of countries that have either banned
Hezbollah or cracked down on the organization’s financial transactions? Nigeria
might very well be the litmus test for a modernized counter-terrorism posture
toward the Shi’ite group.