Merchant of Death
Money, Guns, Planes, and the Man Who Makes War Possible

Blood from Stones

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To Cut of Hezbollah Funds, Cut off its External Support Structure
To diminish Hezbollah's future ability to amass the type of weapons it currently possesses and carry out expensive military operations, it is necessary to go after the organization's far-flug financial structure outside of Lebanon. In addition to the support the group receives from Iran and Syria, it maintains an extensive fund-raising arm among the Shi'ite Muslim disapora.

Key concentrations are West and Central Africa, Panama and the tri-border area in South America, where the organization raises money through contraband; "taxes" on legitimate businesses, where voluntary or not; and taking a cut of illegal businesses and smuggling. Partnership Africa Canada wrote a comprehensive paper on the Lebanese role in the West African "blood diamond" trade and other illiciit activities, which reaps Hezbollah and its sister militia, Amal, millions of dollars a year.

The close-knit family ties and kinship networks that are the basis for the Lebanese business operations make even routine criminal investigations very difficult. Because everyone knows everyone and who is related to whom, infiltrating someone undercover has proved to be largely impossible.

As I testified before Congress in April 2004, "Hezbollah operates in a more institutional manner in West Africa, where it has been operational almost since its birth in the early 1980s. Because of the hundreds of thousands of Lebanese in West Africa—the vast majority being Shi’ite Muslims--the organization has a natural constituency and family ties that bind the region to the Lebanese conflict. Hezbollah collects donations from businesses, runs shakedown operations, operates front companies, and is also deeply involved in the “blood diamond” trade. For a glimpse of how much money Hezbollah raises in the region, consider one known case. On Dec. 25, 2003, a flight from Cotonou, Benin, in West Africa to Beirut, crashed on takeoff. On board were senior Hezbollah members, carrying $2 million in contributions to the organization from across the region."

There are also several prominent Lebanese leaders born in West Africa, now active in Lebanon. One is Nabih Berri, the former speaker of the Lebanese parliament and head of the Amal militia.

As the PAC study notes, "It was largely through Berri that Iran became interested in Sierra Leone, building a large cultural center in Freetown. And in 1986, Berri’s friend Jamil persuaded
Sierra Leone’s lackluster President Joseph Momoh to invite Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to Freetown.

"In Freetown, Arafat offered several million dollars to Momoh in exchange for a training base for his PLO fighters. Momoh turned the offer down, but this was merely a tactical move, for he allowed Jamil to have a well-armed 500-man ‘personal security force’, many of them Palestinians."

In Panama and the Tri-border area, the Hezbollah activities appear to be less systematic than in West Africa, and fund raising seems to largely be the result of political pressure or ideological/religious sympathy. Again, kinship networks tie the Panama families to the Isla Margarita families to the Tri-border families, making the widespread criminal activity that flourishes in each of these free trade zones something of a family matter that Hezbollah can take advantage of.

If one believes that following the money is important in cutting off terrorist activities, then one must take these situations very seriously and move to make it more difficult to raise and move the cash.
POSTED BY DOUGLAS FARAH
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