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Global al Qaeda: Affiliates, Objectives, and Future Challenges

By Thomas Joscelyn

18th July 2013 - House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade

Chairman Poe, Ranking Member Sherman and members of the Committee, thank you for inviting me here today to discuss the threat posed by al Qaeda. We have been asked to “examine the nature of global al Qaeda today.” In particular, you asked us to answer the following questions: “What is [al Qaeda’s] makeup? Is there a useful delineation between al Qaeda’s core and its affiliates? If so, what is the relationship? Most importantly, what is the threat of al Qaeda to the United States today?”

I provide my answers to each of these questions in the following sections. But first, I will summarize my conclusions:

  • More than a decade after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks there is no commonly accepted definition of al Qaeda. There is, in fact, widespread disagreement over what exactly al Qaeda is.

  • In my view, al Qaeda is best defined as a global international terrorist network, with a general command in Afghanistan and Pakistan and affiliates in several countries. Together, they form a robust network that, despite setbacks, contests for territory abroad and still poses a threat to U.S. interests both overseas and at home.

  • It does not make sense to draw a firm line between al Qaeda’s “core,” which is imprecisely defined, and the affiliates. The affiliates are not populated with automatons, but they are serving al Qaeda’s broader goals. And al Qaeda has dispatched “core” members around the globe. As the 9/11 Commission found, Al Qaeda’s senior leaders have always pursued a policy of geographic expansion. The emergence of formal affiliates, or branches, has been a core al Qaeda objective since the early 1990s.  While the affiliates have varying degrees of capabilities, and devote most of their resources to fighting “over there,” history demonstrates that the threat they pose “over here” can manifest itself at any time.

  • In addition to its affiliates, al Qaeda operates as part of a “syndicate” in Central and South Asia. As former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said in 2010, “A victory for one [member of the syndicate] is a victory for all.” Al Qaeda and its allies control territory inside Afghanistan today. If additional parts of Afghanistan fall to the syndicate in the coming years, it will strengthen both al Qaeda’s ideological messaging and operational capability.

What is al Qaeda?

This should be a straightforward question to answer. But in reality there is no commonly accepted understanding of al Qaeda. Writing in 2003, Bruce Hoffman wrote that there was “[d]isagreement over precisely what al Qaeda is.”[1] It is “remarkable,” Hoffman noted, that “al Qaeda remains such a poorly understood phenomenon” even after the 9/11 attacks.  Incredibly, any attempt to answer basic questions about al Qaeda’s structure (similar to the ones proposed by this committee), “provokes more disagreement than agreement in government, intelligence, and academic circles.”

Ten years later, Hoffman’s words still ring true. In early 2013, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) commissioned a workshop of experts to assess the future of al Qaeda. CSIS was interested in how al Qaeda will adapt to the “death of Osama bin Laden, the popular uprisings spreading across the Middle East and North Africa, and the global recessionary pressures that are causing governments to re-evaluate their [counterterrorism] strategies.” The final report issued at the conclusion of the workshop reads: “Workshop participants recognized that part of the challenge in imagining AQ’s future lies in the very definition of AQ.” Unsurprisingly, there was a “lack of consensus” among the experts. Echoing Hoffman’s assessment a decade earlier, CSIS found: “How AQ adopts to the challenges and opportunities that will shape its next decade is a source of spirited debate amongst government officials, academic experts, think-tank analysts and private consultants.”[2]

“At its broadest,” the CSIS report’s authors found, “the phenomenon includes a central group of senior leaders commonly referred to as AQ Core, regional affiliates which together with that core make up the AQ network, like-minded groups in the network’s key operating areas (eg, fellow travelers), homegrown Islamist extremists in Western countries, sympathisers across the globe and the AQ ideology itself.” Despite this complex mix, the workshop’s participants concluded that the “AQ Core and its network affiliates” will have “the most profound” impact “on the broader phenomenon’s future prospects.” For the most part, I concur with the CSIS definition of al Qaeda.
The Al Qaeda Network

The backbone of today’s al Qaeda consists of its “general command” in Afghanistan and Pakistan (others refer to this as the “AQ Core”) and its formal affiliates. The established al Qaeda affiliates include: Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and its the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and Shabaab in Somalia. All of the affiliates have publicly sworn bayat (an oath of fealty) to al Qaeda’s senior leadership. Jabhat al Nusra in Syria should also be included in this list as well, because the group has openly proclaimed its allegiance to Ayman al Zawahiri. Collectively, al Qaeda’s general command and the affiliates form an international terrorist network that is focused on both acquiring territory and executing terrorist attacks against the West. There is evidence showing that al Qaeda’s general command guides the overall strategy pursued by the affiliates and even sometimes gets involved in specific tactical matters. However, the affiliates enjoy a large degree of latitude in deciding how to run their day-to-day operations. Relentless pressure from the U.S. and its allies has repeatedly disrupted the network, making the general command’s job more difficult.  

In addition to the established affiliates, there are numerous associated jihadist organizations that the Al Qaeda Network either influences or outright directs without officially recognizing the group as an affiliate. Consider two brief examples. In Mali, AQIM has fought alongside Ansar al-Dine (AAD), which was designated a terrorist organization by the State Department in March.[3] At the time, the State Department noted that AAD “cooperates closely with” and “has received support from AQIM since its inception in late 2011.” AAD “continues to maintain close ties” to AQIM and “has received backing from AQIM in its fight against Malian and French forces.” Similarly, Boko Haram in Nigeria is not a formal al Qaeda affiliate, but according to the U.S. government the group has maintained ties to three affiliates. “There are reported communications, training, and weapons links between Boko Haram, al Qaida in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), al-Shabaab, and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which may strengthen Boko Haram’s capacity to conduct terrorist attacks.”[4]

Still other pro-al Qaeda organizations have emerged since the beginning of the so-called Arab Spring under the name Ansar al Sharia (Partisans of Sharia Law). The very first Ansar al Sharia was simply a rebranding of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula -- that is, it was a new name chosen by an established al Qaeda affiliate.[5] It is hardly surprising, therefore, to learn that other Ansar al Sharia chapters are run by jihadists with known ties to al Qaeda.

Ansar al Sharia Tunisia is headed by Seifallah ben Hassine (also known as Abu Iyad al Tunisi), who has been designated by United Nations as a terrorist.[6] Ben Hassine previously established the Tunisian Combatant Group (TCG), “in coordination with” al Qaeda, according to the UN. Ben Hassine has known ties to a constellation of al Qaeda terrorists, including the group’s senior leaders, and the TCG played a key role in the September 2001 assassination of Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Massoud. Other UN-designated al Qaeda terrorists hold leadership positions within Ansar al Sharia Tunisia, too.[7] Ansar al Sharia Egypt is led by Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) leaders who have remained loyal to al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri.[8] Ayman’s younger brother, Mohammed al Zawahiri, has played a starring role at Ansar al Sharia Egypt’s events. Other Ansar al Sharia chapters, including inside Libya, have known al Qaeda ties as well. The groups calling themselves Ansar al Sharia are all open about their support for al Qaeda’s agenda. We cannot rule out that the possibility that these organizations are simply al Qaeda’s attempt at rebranding. It is easy to connect the dots.

The point is that outside of the formal affiliates, the Al Qaeda Network holds sway over dozens of organizations that are, at a minimum, ideological kinsmen. We often cannot see the operational ties between these groups because al Qaeda still maintains a substantial clandestine apparatus that is tasked with hiding such relationships. For some of these organizations, there may very well be no concrete ties and their relationship to al Qaeda’s jihad is purely rhetorical.     

The al Qaeda-led ‘syndicate’ in Afghanistan and Pakistan

In Central and South Asia, al Qaeda has forged what former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has called a “syndicate” of terrorist groups.[9] “What we see is that the success of any one of these groups leads to new capabilities and a new reputation for all,” Gates said during a press conference in 2010. “A victory for one is a victory for all.”

Gates continued: “It's dangerous to single out any one of these groups and say if we could beat that group that will solve the problem. Because they are, in effect, a syndicate of terrorist operators.” Gates blamed al Qaeda for orchestrating the syndicate’s attacks in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. The “syndicate” description remains apt today, as there is no evidence that this coalition has frayed in the wake of al Qaeda’s senior leadership losses.[10]

Consider this brief sketch of the main groups that belong to the syndicate.

In Afghanistan, al Qaeda has fought alongside the Taliban since the mid-1990s. Before the September 11 attacks, Osama bin Laden established the 55th Arab Brigade to serve as al Qaeda’s contribution to the Taliban’s side in Afghanistan’s bloody civil war. The 55th was crushed during the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001, but was later reconstituted as part of the Lashkar al Zil, or “Shadow Army.”[11] This paramilitary fighting force is still very much alive. The U.S. has targeted members of the “Shadow Army” in recent weeks.[12] And, in early June, the U.S. Treasury Department added an al Qaeda explosives expert to its list of designated terrorists. This expert, a Libyan, is “in charge of IED component construction at the AQ electronics workshop” and has “provided AQ paramilitary brigades in Afghanistan with timers, circuits, mines, and remote control devices for use in IEDs.”[13] Senior Taliban commanders continue to facilitate al Qaeda operations inside Afghanistan as well.[14]

Other groups fighting in Afghanistan, such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), have long been part of al Qaeda’s plan.[15] The IMU operates throughout the country, as well as in Pakistan, and also maintains a facilitation network in neighboring Iran. The Islamic Jihad Union (IJU), a splinter of the IMU, continues to fight alongside other al Qaeda-affiliate parties and take part in anti-Western plotting. Allies such as the Eastern Turkish Islamic Party (ETIP) provide fighters and leaders for the syndicate, too.

In Pakistan, al Qaeda helped establish the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), or Pakistani Taliban, which has unleashed a prolific terror campaign inside Pakistan, fought in Afghanistan, and even exported its operations elsewhere around the globe. Recent reports indicate that the TTP has sent a contingent to Syria, but some within the TTP have denied that claim. As recognized by the State Department, the TTP is clearly a part of al Qaeda’s camp as the two maintain a “symbiotic relationship.”[16]

The Haqqani Network, straddling the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan, remains one of al Qaeda’s most important allies. The Haqqanis provide not only key logistical support for the syndicate’s Afghan-focused operations, but also a safe haven from which al Qaeda can direct attacks against the West. As the authors of a recent, in-depth profile of the Haqqani Network concluded, “the Haqqani Network has long served as a local enabler of al Qaeda and its global jihad.”[17] A string of plots against Europe and the U.S. have been traced to Haqqani-controlled territory.[18]

Other Pakistan-based, al Qaeda-allied groups include: Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI), Harakat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM), Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). All of these groups have decades-old ties to al Qaeda, and have cooperated with al Qaeda in operations. These organizations have provided al Qaeda with a deep roster of skilled operatives who have replaced fallen terrorist commanders.
What is the relationship between al Qaeda’s “core” and the affiliates?

All of the established al Qaeda affiliates – Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Shabaab and, I would add, Jabhat al Nusra in Syria – have sworn an oath of bayat (loyalty) to al Qaeda’s general command and Ayman Zawahiri. As Osama bin Laden’s chief co-conspirator, Zawahiri was involved in all facets of al Qaeda’s operations, from strategic questions to attack planning. Prior to the slaying of bin Laden: Zawahiri negotiated mergers with al Qaeda affiliates (such as AQIM), reprimanded problematic commanders (such as deceased AQI head Abu Musab al Zarqawi), and oversaw at least parts of al Qaeda’s international operations (from calling off a planned 2003 attack on New York City’s subways to orchestrating other attacks).

It is impossible to assess how frequently the affiliates are in contact with the general command, as much of that data is not available to the outside world. But Zawahiri is in charge of the Al Qaeda Network. The affiliates recognize Zawahiri as their leader, even when they disagree with his decisions. And Zawahiri is still communicating with his subordinates, even if his missives are delayed due to security concerns. For instance, Zawahiri communicated with one of his Egyptian followers, Muhammad Jamal al Kashef, in 2011 and 2012.[19]

In April and May of this year, Zawahiri sent messages to, and received replies from, the heads of al Qaeda’s affiliates in Iraq and Syria.[20] Those communications revealed a serious dispute between the emirs of al Qaeda in Iraq and Jabhat al Nusra over who commands al Qaeda’s growing army in Syria. Zawahiri ruled in Jabhat al Nusra’s favor, but the head of al Qaeda in Iraq subsequently defied Zawahiri’s order.[21] It remains to be seen how this dispute is worked out, but it should be noted that the squabble is over al Qaeda’s successful growth inside Syria. In other words, they are not arguing over who owns an unsuccessful franchise. And even with AQI’s open defiance, Jabhat al Nusra has proven to be extremely deferential to Zawahiri. Despite AQI’s rancor, Al Qaeda’s general command has gained a new affiliate inside Syria since late 2011. To put it another way, suppose Zawahiri were to entirely lose AQI’s loyalty (so far, there is no reason to believe this is the case), he has still gained Jabhat al Nusra. 

Another serious dispute has erupted in Somalia, where Shabaab’s leadership has reportedly executed al Qaeda operatives with well-established pedigrees, including Ibrahim al Afghani. This cannot please al Qaeda’s general command, as al Afghani was loyal to al Qaeda during the Battle of Tora Bora and the years that followed.  

The Al Qaeda Network is not comprised of automatons. Like all manmade organizations, the terror network houses personalities who may clash and sometimes have competing interests. This does not necessarily mean, however, that the network has “fragmented” or “splintered,” as some analysts contend. Keep in mind this striking example: Prior to 9/11 there was a significant amount of internal dissent over whether al Qaeda should launch its most devastating attack in history. The 9/11 attacks became al Qaeda’s signature strike, and yet several high-level al Qaeda members disagreed with bin Laden’s decision to move forward with the operation. This did not force these senior jihadists outside of al Qaeda’s ranks. In fact, some of them went on to praise the 9/11 attacks after the fact while maintaining their leadership positions.  

Since its inception in the late 1980s, al Qaeda has faced substantial hurdles. Yet, the organization has proven to be remarkably adaptive, in part, because its leaders devised a strong plan for broadening their base of support within the jihadist world and beyond. The plan relies upon loyal followers throughout the world, not just in Afghanistan and Pakistan. 
The al Qaeda “core” is imprecisely defined.

There is no standardized definition of al Qaeda’s “core.” In general, when U.S. officials and independent analysts use this term, it appears that they are referring to al Qaeda’s senior leadership in Pakistan and Afghanistan, which is headed by al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri. The al Qaeda honcho is, in turn, served by several committees and an unknown number of advisers. As far as I can tell, this is what is meant by the “core” of al Qaeda. As I’ve made clear in my testimony, I prefer the term “general command” to “core” (which I have used elsewhere) as this is what is used in al Qaeda’s own correspondence. 

It does not make any sense to assume that “core” al Qaeda members, as they are commonly referred to, are confined to Pakistan and Afghanistan. We know, for example, that al Qaeda’s senior leaders have dispatched or otherwise rely upon numerous terrorists around the world to do their bidding, both as part of the group’s operational cells, as well as within the Al Qaeda Network’s affiliates. Consider the following examples.

Headquartered in Yemen, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is led by Nasir al Wuhayshi, a terrorist who served as Osama bin Laden’s aide-de-camp for several years prior to 9/11. Wuhayshi was bin Laden’s protégé and remained loyal to the al Qaeda master even through the darkest times, including the Battle of Tora Bora in late 2001, when all could have been lost. Bin Laden later returned the favor, rejecting a plea by some AQAP members to replace Wuhayshi as their leader with Anwar al Awlaki, the charismatic al Qaeda ideologue who has since been killed in a drone strike. Some of Wuhayshi’s most trusted lieutenants, including several former Guantanamo detainees, also served al Qaeda in Afghanistan well before the 9/11 attacks. Together, they are advancing al Qaeda’s global jihadist agenda, simultaneously fighting for territory inside Yemen while overseeing plots against the United States.

According to the Obama administration, the terrorist who leads al Qaeda’s network inside Iran today is a Kuwaiti named Muhsin al Fadhli. Few al Qaeda terrorists were trusted with foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks; al Fadhli was one of them. The network that al Fadhli oversees is the result of an agreement with the Iranian regime that was brokered by Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man, who traveled to and from Iran. This Iran-based network serves as a “core” pipeline for al Qaeda’s senior leadership. At least several important al Qaeda operatives have served this Iran-based network while living in other Gulf countries. After 9/11, numerous al Qaeda leaders, including members of the group’s management and military councils, fled to Iran where some were held under house arrest. One of these senior al Qaeda members is Saif al Adel, who has since been allowed to leave Iran, although it is unclear where he is currently stationed. Al Adel and his ilk did not cease being “core” al Qaeda members simply because they fled to Iran after the fall of the Taliban’s Afghanistan. 

A Defense Department report (“Al Qaeda in Libya: A Profile”) published by the Library of Congress in August 2012 identified at least two senior operatives who were dispatched to Libya to oversee al Qaeda’s efforts there. The first is known as Abu Anas al Libi, who was long ago convicted of terrorism charges for his role in al Qaeda’s 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. Abu Anas is coordinating his efforts with al Qaeda’s senior leadership in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The second terrorist identified in the report, Abd al Baset Azzouz, was sent to Libya by Ayman al Zawahiri. Another al Qaeda terrorist who was not identified in the Defense Department’s report, but is known to operate inside Libya, is Faraj al Chalabi (or al Shibli), who was detained earlier this year after returning to Libya from Pakistan.[22] Al Chalabi may have been involved in the September 11, 2012, terrorist attack in Benghazi.  

In March, the State Department offered a $5 million reward for information leading to the capture of an American known as Jehad Mostafa, who is believed to be Ayman al Zawahiri’s emissary to Shabaab, al Qaeda’s affiliate in Somalia. Shabaab is currently engaged in serious infighting and it is not publicly known how Mostafa’s role has been affected.

There are credible reports that senior al Qaeda operatives, including a member of the group’s Shura council, have gone to Syria. And Ayman al Zawahiri has appointed a longtime al Qaeda operative known as Abu Khalid al Suri to resolve the dispute between Jabhat al Nusra and al Qaeda in Iraq. 

Other core al Qaeda members have returned to their home countries in the wake of the Arab Spring. One declassified Abbottabad document shows that Osama bin Laden recommended that a terrorist named Mohammed Islambouli leave northern Pakistan for Kunar, Afghanistan. Mohammed’s brother, Khaled Islambouli, was the assassin who killed Egyptian president Anwar Sadat. While bin Laden was willing to lose some al Qaeda leaders, he was not willing to lose Mohammed Islambouli, who is the equivalent of royalty in jihadist circles and is today a free man inside Egypt, where is joined by other Zawahiri loyalists who have either been freed from prison or returned from abroad.

Nasir al Wuhayshi, Muhsin al Fadhli, Abu Anas al Libi, Abd al Baset Azzouz, Jehad Mostafa, Abu Khalid al Suri,  Mohammed Islambouli: These are just some of the men who can be counted on to advance al Qaeda’s agenda outside Afghanistan and Pakistan. It does not make sense to consider them anything but “core” al Qaeda members. 

Al Qaeda’s Affiliate Strategy

The emergence of al Qaeda’s affiliates is no accident. Al Qaeda has always sought to push forward its agenda by working with, co-opting, or otherwise directing like-minded jihadist groups. The principal Al Qaeda organization – its general command – is itself a joint venture, which bin Laden’s organization and Ayman al Zawahiri’s Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) forged through a merger.

Al Qaeda began laying the groundwork for the emergence of its affiliates in the early 1990s.[23] Bin Laden was headquartered in Sudan at the time and, according to the 9/11 Commission, “had a vision of himself as head of an international jihad confederation.” Bin Laden established an “Islamic Army Shura,” which “was to serve as the coordinating body for the consortium of terrorist groups with he which he was forging alliances.” The Shura “was composed of his own al Qaeda Shura together with leaders or representatives of terrorist organizations that were still independent.” [24]

As part of this Islamic army, bin Laden “enlisted groups from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Oman, Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, Morocco, Somalia, and Eritrea.” The burgeoning al Qaeda network “also established cooperative but less formal relationships with other extremist groups from these same countries; from the African states of Chad, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, and Uganda; and from the Southeast Asian states of Burma, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia.” Al Qaeda also supported efforts in the Balkans, Central Asia, Chechnya, and the Philippines. Bin Laden and al Qaeda pursued a “pattern of expansion through building alliances” and had laid the “groundwork for a true global terrorist network”[25]

In 1996, bin Laden was forced to leave the Sudan for Pakistan and then Afghanistan. But al Qaeda’s strategy of alliance building continued. The 9/11 Commission wrote: “The alliance with the Taliban provided al Qaeda a sanctuary in which to train and indoctrinate fighters and terrorists, import weapons, forge ties with other jihad groups and leaders, and plot and staff terrorist schemes.”[26] In addition to maintaining his own facilities, bin Laden “also provided support to and benefited from the broad infrastructure of such facilities in Afghanistan made available to the global network of Islamist estimates.”[27] During this period in Afghanistan, al Qaeda continued “to collaborate closely with the many Middle Eastern groups – in Egypt, Algeria, Yemen, Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia, Somalia, and elsewhere – with which it had been linked when Bin Ladin was in Sudan.”[28] And al Qaeda “reinforced” and “bolstered” its ties to still other groups.

It is estimated that from 1996 to September 11, 2001, between 10,000 and 20,000 fighters “underwent instruction in Bin Laden-supported camps in Afghanistan,” with only some becoming full-fledged al Qaeda members. The remaining newly-trained jihadists were a “potential resource for al Qaeda.” [29]  

The connection between bin Laden’s original plan, which evolved through the years, and the emergence of al Qaeda’s affiliates has not been lost on outside observers. In 2011, a Congressional Research Service report noted: “In many ways, the dispersion of Al Qaeda affiliates fits into the larger strategy of Bin Laden and his associates. They have sought to serve as the vanguard of a religious movement that inspires Muslims and other individuals aspiring to join a jihadi movement to help defend and purify Islam through violent means.”[30] After all, the name “Qaeda” means “base,” from “which its members hope to build a robust, geographically diverse network.” [31]
What is the threat of al Qaeda to the United States today?

Today, the Al Qaeda Network is more geographically diverse than ever. Al Qaeda and its affiliates are fighting in more countries than at any other time before or after 9/11. It has several established affiliates, which it lacked on September 11, 2001. The ebb and flow of fighting changes the scope of al Qaeda’s footprint on a regular basis, but the network has shown the capacity to challenge for territory across Africa, through the Middle East and into Central and South Asia. Meanwhile, al Qaeda’s general command maintains safe havens in the Kunar and Nuristan provinces of Afghanistan today.

It is true that al Qaeda’s affiliates allocate most of their resources to waging guerilla warfare against their “local” enemies. But if we have learned anything since 9/11 it is that the gains made by al Qaeda “over there” can easily lead to a threat against Americans “over here.”[32] Indeed, al Qaeda’s expansion in recent years has led to more threats against the U.S. Homeland, not less.

Here are four examples.

First, AQAP has emerged as a threat to the U.S. Homeland. AQAP was decimated after 2003 by a relentless counterterrorism campaign. But in early 2009 the group was reborn after al Qaeda’s Saudi and Yemeni wings united. By December 25, 2009, AQAP had placed a suicide bomber on board a Detroit-bound plane. Luck and the vigilance of the passengers on board Flight 253 saved the day. Prior to the Christmas Day bombing attempt, many counterterrorism analysts assumed that AQAP was only interested in attacking targets inside Yemen. Several attempted attacks by AQAP have followed that initial failure.

Second, months later, in May 2010, the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) dispatched a terrorist to Times Square. The SUV bomb did not go off, saving numerous lives. The Pakistani Taliban is the same group, discussed above, that shares a “symbiotic relationship” with al Qaeda. The Pakistani Taliban’s resources are devoted, by and large, to operations inside Pakistan and Afghanistan. And yet the group almost detonated a truck bomb in the heart of New York.

Third, on April 22 of this year, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) announced that they had disrupted an al Qaeda plot to derail a passenger train traveling from New York to Toronto. This was the first known al Qaeda plot against Canada since 9/11. RCMP officials said the plotters received “direction and guidance” from al Qaeda members in Iran. 

Fourth, al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) has had a hand in plots against the West. In 2004, according to the Department of Homeland Security, Osama bin Laden instructed then AQI emir Abu Musab al Zarqawi to assemble a cell capable of striking the U.S. In 2007, failed attacks in London and Glasgow were tied back to AQI.[33] And in June of this year Iraqi officials claimed to have disrupted a sarin and mustard gas plot that was intended to target Iraq, Europe and the U.S.[34]

Luckily, these plots have either been foiled or failed for other reasons. It has always been difficult to mount a large-casualty attack against the U.S. Homeland. But the diversity of attempted attacks against the U.S. Homeland demonstrates that while the Al Qaeda Network is fighting for territory “over there,” it remains a threat to Americans “over here.” 
Notes: Available at source URL
Thomas Joscelyn is a terrorism analyst and writer living in New York. Most of Thomas's research and writing has focused on how al Qaeda and its affiliates operate around the world. He is a regular contributor to The Weekly Standard and its online publications, The Daily Standard and Worldwide Standard. He is the Senior Editor of The Long War Journal. His work has also been published by National Review Online, the New York Post, and a variety of other publications.

Hezbollah's strategic shift: A global terrorist threat

By Roger F. Noriega

Testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade

March 20, 2013

Source: /hezbollahs-strategic-shift-a-global-terrorist-threat/

Mr. Chairman, I applaud you and other members of the Subcommittee for focusing attention on the global threat posed by the terrorist group Hezbollah and for inviting me to share my insights on that organization’s growing network in the Americas that carries this threat to our doorstep.

This past weekend marked the 21st anniversary of the 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, which murdered 29 people and injured about 250 others. Two years after that attack, the Jewish Community Center in Argentina’s capital city was leveled by another car bomb, leaving 85 persons murdered and hundreds more wounded. Mr. Chairman, this is Hezbollah’s despicable legacy in the Americas. And that terrorist group – along with its sponsor, Iran – has returned to the scene of the crime.

As a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, I head a project to examine and expose the dangerous alliance between the Venezuelan regime of Hugo Chávez and Iran. To date, we have conducted dozens of interviews with experts and eyewitnesses on the ground – including some foreign government officials – from throughout the world and in the region. We also have obtained reams of official Venezuelan and Iranian documents from our sources inside these regimes, only a fraction of which we have published to support our conclusions.

Our principal conclusions reveal why and how Hezbollah has extended its reach in the Americas so substantially and so quickly:

  • Hezbollah is not a lone wolf. In this Hemisphere it counts on the political, diplomatic, material and logistical support of governments – principally Venezuela and Iran – that have little in common but their hostility to the United States.

  • To facilitate its activities in our neighborhood – including smuggling, money laundering, training and fund-raising – Hezbollah operatives collaborate with well-financed narcotraffickers and guerrilla groups with sophisticated societal, smuggling and money laundering networks in the region.

  • Hezbollah networks have extended their reach into at least a dozen countries throughout Latin America.

Some may assess this cooperation between “narcos” and terrorists as a marriage of convenience between different criminal elements or just another modus operandi of powerful international drug syndicates that can be tackled by law enforcement. Instead, this criminal activity is the product of a conscious strategy of rogue regimes in Iran and Venezuela to wage asymmetrical warfare against U.S. security, interests and allies close to the homeland. As such, it requires a much more robust analysis and coordinated response – from exposing terrorist groups working within Venezuela, identifying narcoterrorist activities in Central America, imposing sanctions against state-run entities being used to conceal criminal transactions, to dismantling transnational money laundering schemes.

Under bipartisan legislation passed by Congress in December, the Department of State was given six months to provide you with an analysis of and strategy for dealing with Iran’s activities in the Americas. Until now, the State Department has earned a reputation within the U.S. government of minimizing this threat. This Subcommittee will have to press the Department to conduct a thorough and rigorous review of the Iranian and Hezbollah activities in our region and to expose the extraordinary role that is played by Venezuela in this regard. U.S. diplomats will then have to inform our neighbors about this problem and lay the groundwork for a coordinated strategy for dealing with this phenomenon in our Hemisphere.

Mr. Chairman, I fear that these narcoterrorist activities will exact an increasingly terrible price from our neighbors and our nation until our national security establishment recognizes the nature of the threat and fashions an effective response.


Allow me to describe some of the elements of this narcoterrorist network, followed by a fuller discussion to provide the necessary context to understand why this threat is extraordinarily dangerous.

  • Two terrorist networks proselytize, fund-raise, recruit and train operatives on behalf of Hezbollah in many countries in the Americas.

    • One of these parallel networks is operated by a Lebanese-Venezuelan clan, and another is managed by Mohsen Rabbani, a former Iranian diplomat and Muslim cleric who is wanted for his role in the 1992 and 1994 Buenos Aires bombings against the Israeli Embassy and Jewish community center, respectively.

    • Hezbollah operatives and their radical anti-Semitic allies hold important senior positions in the Venezuelan government and run a network that provides logistical and material support to terrorist operatives.

    • In recent years, the Chávez regime has sent weapons to Hezbollah (ammunition, grenades, rockets, etc., intercepted in 2009 by Israeli commandos) and shipped refined fuel to Iran and Syria.

    • Thousands of authentic Venezuelan travel documents have been provided to persons of Middle Eastern descent in the last decade, and numerous Latin American governments have detained many Iranian and Lebanese persons carrying Venezuelan passports.

    • The Venezuelan state-owned airline, Conviasa, operates regular service from Caracas to Damascus and Teheran – providing Iran, Hezbollah, and associated narcotraffickers a surreptitious means to move personnel, weapons, contraband and other materiel.

  • Hezbollah conspires with drug-trafficking networks in Mexico and Central and South America as a means of raising and laundering funds, sharing tactics and “reaching out and touching” U.S. territory.

    • Venezuela’s Margarita Island, best known as a Caribbean tourist destination, has become a safe haven for terrorists and drug smugglers. We have published documentary evidence that Hezbollah agents operate numerous businesses and safe houses on the island and elsewhere in Venezuela. In addition to fund-raising activities, Hezbollah has provided terror training in Venezuela for recruits from that country and others in the region.

    • The “Lebanese Cartel” (Cártel Libanés) was formed by the Lebanese-born Venezuelan businessman, Walid Makled García, to transport cocaine from Venezuela in complicity with the military and the Colombian terrorist group known as the FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias Colombianas). Makled also brokered corrupt deals with the Shiite Muslim communities in Venezuela with close ties to Hezbollah.iv Makled is wanted in the United States for cocaine smuggling and has been detained by Venezuelan authorities.

    • The criminal case against Lebanese drug lord Ayman Jouma is very instructive. Jouma was indicted in November 2011 for a sophisticated cocaine smuggling and money-laundering scheme benefiting Hezbollah.v His network involves criminal associates and corrupt businesses in Colombia, the United States, Mexico, Panama, Venezuela and Lebanon. In June 2012, Venezuelan-Lebanese dual citizens Abbas Hussein Harb, Ali Houssein Harb (sic), and Kassem Mohamad Saleh and several Venezuelan and Colombian companies were sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department for their role in Jouma’s narcoterrorist operation.

    • In recent years, Mexico has arrested numerous individuals associated with Hezbollah engaging in criminal activities – including smuggling of persons across the U.S. southwest border. For example, in September 2012, a Lebanese-born U.S. citizen, convicted in 2010 for a credit card scheme that raised $100,000 for Hezbollah, was arrested in Merida by Mexican authorities. Rafic Mohammad Labboun Allaboun, an imam from a mosque in San Jose, California, was traveling with a falsified passport issued by Belize. He was extradited to the United States.

  • The regime of the late Hugo Chávez was able to broker ties between Hezbollah and narcotraffickers, because it is a narcostate.

    • U.S. officials have fresh, compelling information implicating the late leader, the president of the National Assembly (Diosdado Cabello Rondón), the former Minister of Defense (Henry de Jesús Rangel Silva), the current army chief (Cliver Alcalá Cordones), and the newly appointed deputy Minister of Interior (Hugo Carvajal), and dozens of other senior military officials in trafficking in cocaine.

    • These politicians and active duty and retired military officers are responsible for transporting tons of cocaine to Central America, Mexico, the Caribbean, the United States, west Africa, and Europe. The very conservative estimates released by the State Department say the amount of cocaine transiting Venezuela since Chávez took power in 1998 has more than doubled.

    • Our sources also report that representatives of the Mexican Sinaloa cartel operate in key cocaine transit corridors in Venezuela in close coordination with Venezuelan officials. It is a little known fact that the world’s most powerful cocaine smuggler and head of the Sinaloa cartel, Joaquín Archivaldo “El Chapo” Guzmán conducted his business from Venezuela for much of 2010, living in a suburb of Caracas and on Margarita Island until early 2011 under the protection of Venezuelan security officials working for Chávez.

    • Senior chavista officials engage routinely in lucrative schemes involving Hezbollah front companies, Colombian terrorist groups, narcotraffickers, Venezuelan financial institutions and even powerful state-run entities.

  • Today, Venezuela is a key ally of the Islamic Republic of Iran, which is carrying its asymmetrical battle to our doorstep. Since Mahmoud Ahmadinejad paid his first visit to Caracas in September 2006, Venezuela has become one of Iran’s most important allies in the world – certainly Teheran’s closest partner in our neighborhood.

    • Venezuela has helped Iran launder at least $30 billion to evade international sanctions. Seventy Iranian companies – many of them fronts for the IRGC that have been sanctioned by Western governments for their support for Iran’s illicit nuclear program – operate suspicious industrial facilities in Venezuela. The two governments also cooperate in nuclear technology and the exploration for uranium, despite UN sanctions.



It is said that wherever Iran goes, Hezbollah is not far behind. In the case of Venezuela, Hezbollah blazed the trail in Venezuela, establishing a network of commercial enterprises meant to raise and channel funds and hide its financial tracks. These activities have exploded in the last seven years, as Hezbollah’s activities in the region gained the active complicity of the Venezuelan government, the backing of Iranian security forces and notorious Muslim radicals, and the cooperation of powerful Mexican and narcotrafficking syndicates that reach onto U.S. soil.

Research from open sources, subject-matter experts, and sensitive sources within various governments has identified at least two parallel, collaborative terrorist networks growing at an alarming rate in Latin America. One of these networks is operated by Venezuelan collaborators, and the other is managed by a former Iranian diplomat and infamous Muslim cleric. These networks encompass more than 80 operatives in at least 12 countries throughout the region (with their greatest areas of focus being Brazil, Venezuela, Argentina, and Chile).

The Nassereddine Network. Ghazi Atef Nassereddine Abu Ali, a native of Lebanon who became a Venezuelan citizen about 12 years ago, is Venezuela’s secondranking diplomat in Syria. Nassereddine is a key Hezbollah asset because of his close personal relationship to Chávez’s Justice and Interior Minister, Tarik El Aissami, and because of his diplomatic assignment in Damascus. Along with at least two of his brothers, Nassereddine manages a network to expand Hezbollah’s influence in Venezuela and throughout Latin America.

Nassereddine’s brother Abdallah, a former member of the Venezuelan congress, uses his position as the former vice president of the Federation of Arab and American Entities in Latin America and the president of its local chapter in Venezuela to maintain ties with Islamic communities throughout the region. He currently resides on Margarita Island, where he runs various money-laundering operations and manages commercial enterprises associated with Hezbollah in Latin America. Younger brother Oday is responsible for establishing paramilitary training centers on Margarita Island. He is actively recruiting Venezuelans through local circulos bolivarianos (neighborhood watch committees made up of the most radical Chávez followers) and sending them to Iran for follow-on training.

The Rabbani Network. Hojjat al-Eslam Mohsen Rabbani, who was the cultural attaché at the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Buenos Aires, Argentina, oversees a parallel Hezbollah recruitment network. Rabbani is currently the international affairs advisor to the Al-Mostafa Al-Alam Cultural Institute in Qom, which is tasked with propagation of Shia Islam outside Iran. Rabbani, referred to by the important Brazilian magazine Veja as “the Terrorist Professor,”xiii is a die-hard defender of the Iranian revolution and the mastermind behind the two notorious terrorist attacks against Jewish targets in Buenos Aires in 1992 and 1994 that killed 144 people.

At the time, Rabbani was credentialed as Iran’s cultural attaché in the Argentine capital, which he used as a platform for extremist propaganda, recruitment and training that culminated in the attacks in the 1990s. In fact, he continues to exploit that network of Argentine converts today to expand Iran’s and Hezbollah’s reach—identifying and recruiting operatives throughout the region for radicalization and terrorist training in Venezuela and Iran (specifically, the city of Qom).

At least two mosques in Buenos Aires—Al Imam and At-Tauhid—are operated by Rabbani disciples. Sheik Abdallah Madani leads the Al Imam mosque, which also serves as the headquarters for the Islamic-Argentine Association, one of the most prominent Islamic cultural centers in Latin America.

Some of Rabbani’s disciples have taken what they have learned from their mentor in Argentina and replicated it elsewhere in the region. Sheik Karim Abdul Paz, an Argentine convert to Shiite Islam, studied under Rabbani in Qom for five years and succeeded him at the At-Tauhid mosque in Buenos Aires in 1993. Abdul Paz is now the imam of a cultural center in Santiago, Chile, the Centro Chileno Islamico de Cultura de Puerto Montt. Another Argentine convert to radical Islam and Rabbani disciple is Sheik Suhail Assad, who lectures at universities throughout the region and recruits young followers to the cause.

A key target of the Rabbani network—and Hezbollah in general—is Brazil, home to some one million Muslims. Rabbani travels to Brazil regularly to visit his brother, Mohammad Baquer Rabbani Razavi, founder of the Iranian Association in Brazil.

Another of his principal collaborators is Sheik Khaled Taki Eldyn, a Sunni radical from the Sao Paulo Guarulhos mosque. Taki Eldyn, who is active in ecumenical activities with the Shia mosques, also serves as the secretary general of the Council of the Leaders of the Societies and Islamic Affairs of Brazil.xviii A sensitive source linked that mosque to a TBA network cited by the US Treasury Department as providing major financial and logistical support to Hezbollah. As far back as 1995, Taki Eldyn hosted al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed in the TBA region.

According to Brazilian intelligence sources cited by the magazine Veja, at least 20 operatives from Hezbollah, al Qaeda and the Islamic Jihad are using Brazil as a hub for terrorist activity. The fact that Brazil is set to host the FIFA World Cup tournament in 2014 and the Summer Olympics in 2016 makes it an inviting target for international terrorism. U.S. officials should be approaching Brazilian officials to discuss the potential threat of Venezuelan-Iranian support for narcoterrorism. Unfortunately, most U.S. diplomats are as indifferent to this reality as their Brazilian counterparts.

To comprehend what Iran is up to, we must set aside conventional wisdom about its ambitions, strategies and tactics and follow the evidence where it leads. For example, in the aftermath of a brazen plot discovered in October 2011 in which Iranian agents conspired with supposed Mexican drug cartel leaders to commit a terrorist bombing in the heart of our Nation’s capital, Director of National Intelligence, James R. Clapper, revealed that “Iranian officials” at the highest levels “are now more willing to conduct an attack in the United States….” General Clapper also reported that Iran’s so-called “supreme leader” Ali Khamenei was probably aware of this planning.

Iranian officials have made no secret of the regime’s intention to carry its asymmetrical struggle to the streets of the United States. For example, in a May 2011 speech in Bolivia, Iran’s Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi promised a “tough and crushing response” to any U.S. offensive against Iran. At the same time that Iran caught the world’s attention by threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced a five-nation swing through Latin America aimed at advancing its influence and operational capabilities on the U.S. doorstep.

The intelligence community’s fresh assessment of Iran’s willingness to wage an attack on our soil leads to the inescapable conclusion that Teheran’s activities near our homeland constitute a very real threat that can no longer be ignored.

Bracing for a potential showdown over its illicit nuclear program and emboldened by inattention from Washington in Latin America, Iran has sought strategic advantage in our neighborhood. It also is preparing to play the narcoterrorism card—exploiting its partnership with Venezuelan operatives, reaching into Mexico, and activating a decadesold network in Argentina, Brazil and elsewhere in the region.

Today, a shadowy network of embassies, Islamic centers, financial institutions, and commercial and industrial enterprises in several countries affords Iran a physical presence in relatively close proximity to the United States. Iran is well-positioned to use its relationships with these countries to pose a direct threat to U.S. territory, strategic waterways and American allies. Iran also has provided the Venezuelan military with weapon systems that gave Venezuela unprecedented capabilities to threaten its neighbors and the United States.

Notably, a half-dozen Iranian companies sanctioned by U.N., U.S. or European authorities have built suspicious industrial installations at various sites in Venezuela.xxv These facilities were important enough to attract secret visits by Iranian Major General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the Revolutionary Guard Corps aerospace commander who previously headed Iran’s missile program, in July 2009 and November 2011.

In recent congressional testimony, investigative journalist Doug Farah describes “the merging of [Hugo Chávez’s] Bolivarian Revolution’s criminal-terrorist pipeline activities and those of the criminal-terrorist pipeline of radical extremist groups (Hezbollah in particular) supported by the Iranian regime.” Such ties are invaluable to groups like Hezbollah, as they afford them protection, safe havens in which to operate, and even diplomatic status and immunity. In short, Venezuela plays a singular role as a platform for the Hezbollah threat in the Americas.

It is important to bear in mind that Venezuela is not just another developing country that is unable to control its territory. Venezuela is an oil-rich state that has collected about $1.1 trillion in oil revenue in the last decade. It also is not just an isolated hostile state: Venezuela has collected $28 billion in loans from China in the last two years, and has purchased at least $9 billion in arms from the Russians in the last decade.

With the success of the U.S.-backed Plan Colombia, about six or seven years ago, South American narcotraffickers had to adjust their smuggling routes. They had to look no farther than Caracas. Chávez doled out lucrative drug trafficking deals as a means to secure the loyalty of military subordinates and to generate billions in revenue and make them complicit in his corrupt regime. As described above, dozens of senior military officials closely associated with Chávez have been implicated in narcotrafficking crimes. The de facto head of the Venezuelan Cártel del Sol is Diosdado Cabello, National Assembly president and ruling party chief.

That military syndicate operates parallel to a civilian network known as the Cártel Libanés, which was formed by the Lebanese-born Walid Makled García. According to journalist and narcoterror expert, Douglas Farah, “The supplier of the cocaine [to the Makled cartel] was the FARC in Colombia….” Farah’s sources also reported that Makled was a key link between various criminal groups and Venezuela’s Shiite Muslim communities that have a strong financial relationship with Hezbollah.” Makled is wanted in the United States for cocaine smuggling; after being detained in Colombia, he gave a series of media interviews implicating dozens of Venezuela officials in cocaine smuggling. Colombia surprised many observers by extraditing Makled to Venezuela, where his closed-door trial began in April 2012.

Even before Chávez won power in 1998, he established intimate links to the Colombian guerrilla group FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias Colombianas) – which wages a terrorist war against a democratic government and ally of the United States. For many years, FARC commanders and troops have operated in and out of Venezuela with the complicity of the Chávez regime. A principal activity of the FARC today is the transportation of cocaine to safe havens operated by the Venezuelan military for transport to the United States and other countries. In September 2012, pursuant to section 706(2)(A) of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act of 2003, President Obama determined that Venezuela was one of three countries in the world (along with Bolivia and Burma) that “failed demonstrably during the previous 12 months to adhere to their obligations under international counternarcotics agreements….”

Venezuela’s internal security apparatus has been organized and directed by Cuba, a country designated by the U.S. State Department as a state sponsor of terrorism. That same report cited Venezuela’s “economic, financial and diplomatic cooperation with Iran….” Chávez’s aides make no secret of ongoing oil shipments to a third terrorist state, Syria. Just as Hezbollah, Cuba, Syria and Iran are considered terrorist threats to U.S. national security interests, Venezuela’s crucial support for each of them should be, too. Although this support may not pose a classical conventional threat, it is precisely the kind of asymmetrical tactics that our enemies favor today.

The chavista regime also has served as the principal interlocutor on Iran’s behalf with other like-minded heads of state in the region, primarily Rafael Correa (of Ecuador) and Evo Morales (of Bolivia), both members of the Chávez-sponsored Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) and both of whom have established dubious networks with criminal transnational groups.


Mr. Chairman, our project has shared substantial information about these aforementioned threats with U.S. government officials—either directly or through Members of Congress. Too often the attitude we have encountered in the executive branch has been one of skepticism or indifference. Apparently, this indifference has left senior U.S. officials uninformed on the subject. For example, President Obama told a Miami journalist in July 2012, “[M]y sense is that what Mr. Chávez has done over the last several years has not had a serious national security impact on us.” U.S. General Douglas Fraser (USAF), the former regional commander of U.S. Southern Command, subsequently supported the appraisal that Venezuela does not represent a threat to U.S. national security.xxxiii “As I look at Iran and their connection with Venezuela,” said Fraser, “I see that still primarily as a diplomatic and economic relationship."

Mr. Chairman, I believe the foregoing discussion of the facts on the ground will lead most reasonable observers to a very different conclusion. Important exceptions to executive branch neglect is the work of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the Department of the Treasury to sanction numerous Venezuelan officials and entities for their complicity with and support for Iran and international terrorism; in addition, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, has investigated and prosecuted key cases to attack this international conspiracy. Inexplicably, according to law enforcement sources, State Department officers systematically resist the application of sanctions against Venezuelan officials and entities, despite the fact that these suspects are playing an increasingly important role in Iran’s operational capabilities near U.S. territory.

Mr. Chairman, I am convinced that Congressional attention, such as this hearing, is essential to encourage Executive branch agencies to act. For example, sanctions against Venezuela’s state-owned petroleum company for transactions with Iran were the direct result of pressure by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, acting in part on information uncovered by AEI’s project.

As I mentioned earlier, the “Countering Iran in the Western Hemisphere Act of 2012,” authored by Representative Jeff Duncan (R-SC), passed with strong bipartisan support, require the Executive branch to report to Congress on Iran’s activities in a host of areas and to provide a strategy for countering this threat. I believe that such a thorough, Congressionally-mandated review will require the Executive branch to apply additional needed intelligence resources to collect on subject matters in Venezuela, Mexico, Bolivia, Ecuador, Central America and beyond. Once national security officials study the scope and depth of the problem, I hope for a whole-of-government response to protect our security, our interests and our allies against the threat posed by a narcoterrorist network in the Americas. Once Congress receives this report, perhaps this challenge will be treated as a budgetary priority so that law enforcement and intelligence agencies have the resources to respond urgently and effectively. Of course, our project at AEI is prepared to cooperate with this policy review by providing the Subcommittee documents and analysis regarding suspicious transactions and installations operated by Iran in Venezuela, Mexico, Ecuador, Bolivia and elsewhere in the region.

  • The involvement of Venezuelan officials and state-run entitites in drug trafficking, terrorism and/or Iran must be on the table as the State Department presents conditions for normalizing bilateral relations with Chávez’s successor. In the mean time, this involvement must be publicized and punished in the form of federal indictments. Sanctions by the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control are good interim measures. However, in the case of Venezuelan officials and state-run entities, indictments are much more meaningful. The Department of Justice headquarters should be asked to explain why such prosecutorial actions have failed to meet this extraordinary lawlessness.

  • Congress should demand U.S. diplomats be more cooperative with law enforcement and intelligence efforts aimed at exposing and punishing criminal behavior and terrorist activities in the region. Specifically, the Department of State must be more cooperative in raising this phenomenon with our neighbors. We also must find a way to talk about this problem with our friends in a way that it is not misunderstood as an accusation against those governments as they work with us to confront the problem.

  • Congress should give U.S. intelligence and security agencies the resources required to expand their capabilities to confront extra-regional threats and crossborder criminality.

  • U.S. national security agencies, led by the Department of State, should increase the dialogue and cooperation with regional and European military, intelligence, and security agencies on the common threat posed by the Hezbollah-Iranian-Venezuelan alliance.

  • Congress should use its oversight functions to determine if U.S. Northern and Southern Commands, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the Drug Enforcement Administration have adequate programs and funding to support U.S. anti-drug cooperation with Mexico and Central America.



As I stated before another Congressional subcommittee nearly two years ago, the “Hezbollah/Iranian presence in Latin America constitutes a clear threat to the security of the U.S. homeland…. In addition to operational terrorist activity, Hezbollah also is immersed in criminal activity throughout the region – from trafficking in weapons, drugs, and persons…. If our government and responsible partners in Latin America fail to act, I believe there will be an attack on U.S. personnel, installations or interests in the Americas…” as a result of this dangerous conspiracy.

The narcoterrorism on our doorstep, perpetrated by Hezbollah with Iranian and Venezuelan support, demands a response from those whose job it is to keep us safe. Our government must take effective measures—unilaterally and with willing partners—to disrupt and dismantle illicit operations and neutralize unacceptable threats.
Roger F. Noriega is a former assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs (Canada, Latin America, and the Caribbean) and a former U.S. ambassador to the Organization of American States. He coordinates AEI's program on Latin America and writes for the Institute's Latin American Outlook series.


  • Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, U.S. Department of State, 2003-2005

  • U.S. Ambassador, 2001-2003; Senior Adviser, 1993-94, Organization of American States

  • Staff Member, Foreign Relations Committee, U.S. Senate, 1997-2001

  • Staff Member, International Relations Committee, U.S. House of Representatives, 1994-97

  • Senior Policy Adviser, U.S. Mission to the Organization of American States, 1990-93

  • Staff, U.S. Agency for International Development and U.S. Department of State, 1986-90

  • Press Secretary and Foreign Policy Adviser, U.S. Representative Robert Whittaker (R-Kans.), 1983-86

  • Research Assistant, Kansas Secretary of State, 1981-83

Al Qaeda’s Sinai commander was Bin Laden’s physician


For more than two and a half years, Dr. Ramzi Mowafi, once Osama bin Laden’s personal physician, has led the most dangerous terrorist group in Sinai, Ansar al Jihad in the Sinai Peninsula, debkafile’s counterterrorism sources reveal. A charismatic figure and able operational commander with good connections across the jihadist world, Mowafi has gathered around this group a legion of 7,000 to 9,000 armed men, a hodgepodge of Bedouin Salafists, Palestinian Hamas and Jihad operatives, Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood adherents and Sudanese and Yemeni radicals in search of jihad.

It is the Mowafi legion which is responsible for the series of deadly attacks on Egyptian military and security targets in Sinai and missile attacks on Israel.

Its deadliest operation was the multiple strike of Aug. 5, 2012, which left 16 Egyptian commandoes dead at their base in Rafah close to the Gazan and Israeli borders. The terrorists then seized their Egyptian victims’ armored vehicles and heavy weapons and used them to slam into the Kerem Shalom border crossing into Israel. One vehicle made it through and reached an IDF command base before a military helicopter destroyed it. That was the only time al Qaeda had attempted and almost managed to attack an Israeli military target.

Israeli officials made light of the incident, referring to “global jihadists” as responsible for the near miss. They were concerned to keep under their hats the identity of the mastermind of the multiple strike after discovering him to be Dr. Ramzi Mowafi, a relative of the Egyptian intelligence chief Gen. Murad Mowafi, then an important contact of Israeli high defense and military officials in the maintenance of border security.

The then President Mohamed Morsi sacked the intelligence chief straight after the attack and replaced him with a Muslim Brotherhood sympathizer.

For now, debkafile’s military sources report that Dr. Mowafi is organizing a large group of terrorists for another attempt to breach the border for a major attack in Israel. Incoming intelligence about his plans and movements has kept the IDF on high alert for the past two weeks along the borders with Egypt and the Gaza Strip.

Only after the Musllm Brotherhood was overthrown on July 3 were Egyptian military sources willing to name Dr. Mowafi as the al Qaeda mastermind who designed and administered the complex underground route smuggling weapons from al Qaeda and Muslim Brotherhood suppliers in Libya to Egyptian destinations, including Sinai, as well as the Gaza Strip.

Those sources also admit now that the Palestinian Hamas and its military arm are his allies and abet him in running that supply route.

Dr. Mowafi joined Osama bin Laden’s service 23 years ago.  Our counterterrorism experts disclose that he was spotted by al Qaeda agents during a pilgrimage to Mecca in 1990,

hereupon they moved to the Pakistani town of Peshawar. The Egyptian soon displayed talents over and above his medical training and was given a responsible position with the team developing explosive devices and chemical weapons.

Egyptian intelligence now believes that Mowafi may have planted a dense thicket of roadside bombs along the roads of Sinai to impede the advance of the Egyptian army mounting a large-scale offensive on al Qaeda lairs. According to our military sources, Egyptian security does not rule out the possibility that the Egyptian terrorist chief has armed his followers with chemical weapons imported from Libya or manufactured in local laboratories.

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