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Free Fire | | Counterterrorism, Europe, Middle East, South America

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On February 1, a joint  international law enforcement  sting lead by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) dubbed “Project Cassandra” made a major drug bust of Hezbollah’s Business Affairs Component (BAC), a department of the Lebanon based terrorist organization responsible for drug trafficking and money laundering.

The operation targeted Hezbollah’s narcotics distribution from Europe to the United States. Over the past year the Drug Enforcement Agency has uncovered what it calls, “an intricate network of money couriers” who transport millions of dollars from drug sales from Europe to the Middle East.

The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), detailed how the group used money from selling drugs to purchase arms to supply Hezbollah fighters in Syria.  Hezbollah was using the  Hawala Money-Transfer System which is widely used throughout the Middle East. Hezbollah used this system to make it easy for them to launder money from Lebanon. The Hawala is the transfer of undocumented money from country to country. Hezbollah also utilized the so called  The Black Market Peso Exchange developed by Colombian cartels to transfer drug profits.

Hezbollah has been deeply involved in the Syrian civil war on behalf of its patron, the Islamic Republic of Iran. Iran, Syria’s chief ally, has fully backed Syrian President Bashaar al-Asaad to remain in power, in part in order to ensure that resupply routes to Hezbollah in Lebanon are not cut. Hezbollah has led other Iranian recruited Shiite militias, from Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, in the fight against the primarily Sunni Syrian opposition, backed by Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Qatar.

Four senior Hezbollah members were identified by authorities as Mazen al-Atat, Ali Zbib, Osama Fahs, and Mohammad Noureddine.  Mohammad Noureddine, a Lebanese money launder for Hezbollah’s financial apparatus, was a huge capture for authorities. He used his company Trade Point International S.A.R.L for transferring funds to Hezbollah, and maintained commercial and direct ties to Hezbollah cells in Iran and Iraq.

Hezbollah has a long been involved in the “narco-terrorism” criminal enterprise since the 1980s.During the 1980s Lebanon was the biggest drug manufacturer in the Middle East, so its an easy enterprise for Lebanese terrorists to utilize. Hezbollah has a strong relationship with the Columbian drug cartel La Oficina de Envigado, and off branch of the Medellin cartel.

Many Lebanese refugees have resettled in West African and Latin American  run hotels, shops, and import-export businesses. Hezbollah supporters are often among these business owners, and travel to South America and the United States using forged Venezuelan passports to orchestrate drug transactions.

While Project Casandra is cracking down on Hezbollah’s narcotics operations in Europe, law enforcement agencies will hopefully use the knowledge gained to start hitting Hezbollah’s western hemisphere cells just as hard.

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