The United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced on Tuesday that it uncovered major international criminal activity by Shi'ite Islamist group Hezbollah, in which it used funds from drug trafficking operations to purchase weapons and fund its other activities.
Several arrests, targeting what the DEA referred to as the Lebanese Hezbollah’s External Security Organization Business Affairs Component (BAC), were conducted by the DEA and international law enforcement from seven other countries. The arrests indicate the dangerous global connection between drug trafficking and terrorism.
The arrests were part of the DEA'S "Project Cassandra" which targets and monitors the global network of Hezbollah activities responsible for moving large quantities of cocaine in the US and Europe. The lead came from an initial investigation that had been conducted into the Lebanese-Canadian Bank.
“DEA and our international partners are relentless in our commitment to disrupt any attempt by terrorists and terrorist organizations to leverage the drug trade against our nations. DEA and our partners will continue to dismantle networks who exploit the nexus between drugs and terror using all available law enforcement mechanisms,” said DEA Acting Deputy Administrator Jack Riley.
The Lebanese Hezbollah External Security Organization Business Affairs Component (BAC), was founded by deceased former Hezbollah Senior Leader Imad Mughniyah. It currently operates under the control of Abdallah Safieddine, and Adham Tabaja who recently became a US Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT).
Over the years, Hezbollah had set up business relationships with drug cartels in South America, such as La Oficina de Envigado, who are the major suppliers of cocaine to the US and Europe. The Hezbollah BAC continues to launder significant profits from this drug exchange in a trade-based scheme known as the Black Market Peso Exchange.
“These drug trafficking and money laundering schemes utilized by the Business Affairs Component provide a revenue and weapons stream for an international terrorist organization responsible for devastating terror attacks around the world,” said Riley.
Starting in February of 2015, DEA and foreign law enforcement bodies in Europe initiated an operation targeting BAC's criminal activities in Europe. Since then, European forces have uncovered an extremely intricate and interwoven network in a number of countries, called "money countries" by DEA, over which millions of euros in drug-sponsored funds from Europe to the Middle East are collected and transported.
The profits from these money countries are then transferred to Colombia for payment of drug traffickers, while large portions of payments have been found to make their transit through Lebanon.
This complex web of drug sales and profits to the Middle East significantly benefits terrorist organizations in the region, namely Hezbollah.
The DEA and Customs and Border Protection (CBP), working closely with European counterparts in France, Germany, Italy and Belgium, arrested top leaders of the European cell of the BAC last week.
Most significantly, forces arrested US-designated terrorist Mohamad Noureddine, a Lebanese money launderer, who worked directly with Hezbollah’s financial apparatus to transfer funds, via his via his Lebanon-based company, and has maintained direct ties to Hezbollah terrorists located in Iraq and Lebanon.
Cooperation between DEA and its international counterparts were crucial in dismantling this labyrinth of drug networks worldwide.
Additionally, the US Department of the Treasury announced sanctions last week targeting Hezbollah’s financial support network by designating Hezbollah-affiliated money launderers Noureddine and Hamdi Zaher El Dine, as well as the Lebanese trade company involved in the transfer of funds as designated terrorists or accomplices to terror.
All assets of the groups or individuals involved, including those located in the US or in the possession or control of US have been frozen. Additionally, sanctions have been imposed in the US for engaging in business with those involved.
“Hezbollah needs individuals [like Mohamad Noureddine and Hamdi Zaher El Dine] to launder criminal proceeds for use in terrorism and political destabilization," said Adam J. Szubin, Acting Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence.
"We will continue to target this vulnerability, and expose and disrupt such enablers of terrorism wherever we find them,” he stated.