As a result of last week’s heinous terrorist attack in France that took the lives of 16 innocent people, President Barack Obama has set in motion plans for a counter-terrorism summit to be held on February 18th in Washington DC.
It is likely that mostly North American and European countries will attend this summit meeting despite the fact that there have been recent terrorist attacks in other parts of the world such as those in Ottawa, Canada and Sidney, Australia and the northern region of Nigeria. In other words, simple logic indicates that these types of attacks could take place anywhere.
Before September 11, 2001 , the deadliest terrorist attacks in the Western Hemisphere took place in Argentina against the Israeli embassy in 1992 and then the Argentinean Jewish community headquarters in 1994.
However, we do not have to go back two decades .to stress the very real presence of terrorism in Latin America.
Most recently the Peruvian authorities foiled a terrorist plot against Jews and Israelis. The attacker was a Lebanese member of Hezbollah’s foreign terror operations branch. He reportedly planned to attack locations popular among Israeli backpackers as well as against the Israeli embassy in Lima and other institutions of the Peruvian Jewish community.
As a result of his arrest by the Peruvian authorities early in November, Brazilian police uncovered documents according to which Lebanese traffickers who are members of Hezbollah have helped the Brazilian gang known as First Capital Command (PCC) obtain weapons. Hezbollah provided the PCC with access to arms smugglers. Most of these Hezbollah operatives were based in the tri-border area (where Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina’s borders meet), a place known as being a big center of Hezbollah’s fundraising and other operations.
Of course, the connections between criminal and drug cartels with terrorist groups have been reported for a long time. The problem is not only limited to the fact that terrorist groups and criminal gangs or cartels logistically cooperate to advance their respective goals. The problem is also that criminals and jails are sources of recruitment for future terrorists.
It is enough to look at Amedy Coulibaly, the man suspected of killing a trainee police officer in Southern Paris on January 8th and also the person responsible for the seizing of the kosher supermarket on January 9th. Coulibaly was a petty criminal before he became a monstruous jihadist. He had six previous convictions, one for robbery and one for drugs. While in jail he was mentored by Djamel Beghal, a jihadist imprisoned in 2001 for planning an attack against the U.S. embassy in Paris. It was in jail where he met one of the Kouachi brothers, who were responsible for the attack on the satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo.
Given what we have seen so far of the radicalization of criminals, would it not be plausible for criminal elements from the Brazilian PCC to turn into Jihadists? Should it be ruled out that these Jihadists could attack a magazine such as “Veja” known for its’ anti-terrorist views or even carry out an attack on an American or European embassy or institution in Brazil?
So, what has been the attitude of the Brazilin authorities?
Brazil has denied that there is any terrorist activity in Brazil despite the fact that Hezbollah has major cells operating in the country and even some Al Qaeda operatives. They have been the least cooperative country in tracking activities in the tri-border area.
Brazil has been ruled by the leftist Workers Party since 2003. For them counter-terrorist activities are associated with Brazil’s military dictatorship of the mid 1960’s and 70’sthat carried out a heavy war against local guerillas and other subversive and dissenting activists.. Since that war brought about major human rights violations and loss of lives, Brazil has viewed the war on terror as something negative.
Brazil does not consider Hezbollah, Hamas, or even the familiar Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) as terrorist entities. By the same token, an Al Qaeda suspect was released by a Brazilian judge.
Yet, it is interesting that the government of the Workers Party under Dilma Rousseff considered an ill-conceived anti-terorrism law in the wake of the massive anti-government protests in the summer of 2013.
The debate was highly controversial and for very good reasons. The Brazilian anti-terrorist bill was aimed at controlling unrest, particularly as the World Cup was approaching. The bill was aimed at social control. It had nothing to do with terrorism. Terrorism was used cynically. The bill defined terrorism very vaguely such as “provoking or infusing generalized terror or panic through offense or attempt at offense to life, physical integrity, health or deprivation of liberty of a person”. This general definition could easily criminalize social protests and other acts that are significantly below any act of terrorism.
In Argentina, President Cristina Kirchner and her associates seriously tried to apply anti-terrorist laws against American investment funds known as “vulture funds” for causing debt in Argentina and for applying “financial terror”. In fact, Kirchner absurdly tried to impose the anti-terror law against a company that declared bankruptcy since that decision created “economic chaos”.
Even worse than that, on January 15th, the prosecutor for the terrorist attacks against the Jewish headquarters in Argentina, Alberto Nisman, filed a 300-page complaint accusing President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman and other political figures associated with the government of “covering up” for Iranian operatives allegedly involved in the deadly 1994 attack. According to Nisman, the Kirchner Administration attempted to remove Iran from any incrimination related to the terrorist attack that left 85 people dead and hundreds of Argentinean citizens injured. The idea was to strengthen trade relations with Iran in order to alleviate the energy crisis by exchanging “oil for grains”. However, such trade could not be done without removing the accusations against Iran.
Between Brazil’s cynical approach to terrorism and Argentina’s de-facto alliance with it, the situation in the region is very serious.
As terrorist organizations have a strong presence in countries such as Venezuela, Latin America cannot be excluded from the anti-terrorist summit and cannot be ignored. Venezuela and a number of other countries are selling passports to Iranians as well as other individuals from the Middle East. (http://www.theamericasreport.com/2013/10/15/irans-presence-is-multifaceted-and-reaches-remote-places-in-latin-america/ ).
Furthermore, a few years ago Nisman reported in a 500 page document the presence of Iranian and Hezbollah cells in several countries in South America and that Iran plans to establish intelligence bases in every country in order to carry out, promote, and sponsor terrorists.
Furthermore, if there is a campaign to uproot radical Islam from Europe altogether, it is likely that terrorists will shift their operations to other areas where they won’t be bothered and can still do harm to Western targets. Latin America’s neutrality towards Islamic terrorism makes the region one of the most likely areas of choice for them, particularly when terrorists already have a well rooted presence.
President Obama needs to develop a real global strategy on the war against terrorism. The countries of Latin America should not be neglected. The Latin American regional block bears responsibility to protect every resident and institution that exists within their borders. Their cynical and manipulative attitude towards terrorism needs to be challenged. It is in America’s interest.
THE AMERICAS REPORT
NANCY MENGES and
LUIS FLEISCHMAN, Editors
The Americas Report is the featured product of the Center for Security Policy‘s Menges Hemispheric Security Project. It features in-depth, original articles on subjects not regularly covered by the American press.
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