BERLIN – The Lebanese militia organization Hezbollah recruited combatants in Europe to bolster Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime in its war against rebel fighters.
According to an article in the Beirut- based The Daily Star last week, officials from March 14 – a largely pro-Western Lebanese political coalition opposed to Assad’s interference – had received security information about new Eastern European mercenaries arriving at the Rafik Hariri International Airport, in groups, on their way to Syria, presumably to fight alongside Assad’s regime.
“According to the one Eastern European country’s intelligence unit, most of these fighters have professional military experience and have fought in Chechnya.”
The report appears to be the first article to document links between Hezbollah’s operations in Europe and its military support for Assad. The material and combatant support would likely be a violation of EU anti-terrorism laws banning Hezbollah military aid.
Prof. Gerald Steinberg, a political scientist at Bar Ilan University, told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday that “this is another example of the difficulties that the EU and its member states have in responding realistically to Hezbollah. The EU’s fiction that distinguishes between ‘political’ and ‘military’ wings left Hezbollah’s infrastructure, including fund raising, largely intact in Europe. This in turn facilitated the recruiting and dispatch of thousands of terrorists from Europe to Syria to fight with Hezbollah for the Assad regime. And given the painfully slow process with which the EU corrects foreign policy mistakes, it is probably too late to avoid further damage, particularly when these terrorists return to Europe.”
The Daily Star wrote the fighters originated from Eastern European countries.
The paper did not identify the names of its sources and it is unclear which Eastern European countries are supplying mercenary combatants for Hezbollah.
Last July, the European Union designated Hezbollah’s military wing a terrorist entity.
It isn’t clear if the EU has cracked down on Hezbollah recruitment in Europe. Germany has over 1,000 Hezbollah members.
Suspected Hezbollah members are responsible for the 2012 bus bombing in Burgas, Bulgaria and had used Poland, Romania and the Czech Republic as their transit routes. The attack resulted in the deaths of five Israelis and their Bulgarian bus driver.
According to The Daily Star, “last January saw the arrival of the first of these batches, which included approximately 23 fighters, who then traveled in vans belonging to Hezbollah to Chtaura and then on to Nabi Sheet in east Lebanon. The leader of the group also held a meeting with a Hezbollah military official, Habib M., known as Abu Hussein, who hails from the town of Ali al-Nahri in the Bekaa Valley. The fighters then headed to the Syrian town of Serghaya near Damascus.”
The paper added that “the second batch arrived at Rafik Hariri International Airport individually so as not to draw attention to themselves. This group included approximately 11 fighters, three of whom hailed from Russia’s southern Dagestan province.”
The combatants from Eastern Europe were “wearing Hezbollah military uniforms as well as yellow bands on their heads to show their loyalty.”
According to the paper, M Security Group, a prominent Eastern European organization, recruited men with the specific intention of sending them to aid the Syrian regime. They offered these recruits monthly salaries as well as insurance for their families.
The hub of the European recruitment process for Hezbollah goes through an “Eastern European officer known as Maximov,” according to The Daily Star. The paper says he leads several cells and coordinates between them and Hezbollah’s fighters from his current location, a Damascus suburb in which Hezbollah is battling Syrian rebels.
Emmanuel Navon, director of the political science and communications department at the Jerusalem Orthodox College and teacher of International Relations at Tel Aviv University and at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, told the Post that “this phenomenon is both the result of a radical Muslim education, funded by Saudi Arabia and Iran, but [is also due to the fact] that European Muslims feel hopeless, and like second class citizens [and] this gives them a feeling of purpose, identity and heroism.”