Saturday, January 26, 2013

26-Jan-13: Assessing the threat of Hezbullah's terrorism in North America, and doing something about it

Nasrullah in rare 2012 public appearance [Image Source: AFP]
The bus bombing in a Bulgarian holiday resort town in July 2012 that killed five Israeli tourists and the Bulgraian bus driver still has no definitive culprits. 

We covered some of the issues back at the time [see "20-Jul-12: US says Hezbullah and its primary sponsor Iran executed the Burgas, Bulgaria, killings"]. 

In the past few days, the announcement of what most terrorism experts knew to be true months ago looks to be getting closer. Lebanon's Daily Star published a report five days ago headlined "Bulgaria has evidence linking Hezbollah to Burgas bombing: report". An excerpt:

Bulgaria has informed European officials of evidence implicating Hezbollah in last year’s attack on an Israeli bus at the Black Sea airport of Burga, Al-Hayat, quoting a source, reported Tuesday. The paper, quoting what it described as a “European source,” reported that Bulgaria’s interior minister informed his European counterparts during a closed-door meeting last Thursday of evidence collected by authorities indicating Hezbollah’s involvement in the July 18 bomb attack. The report comes days after Bulgaria's Foreign Minister Nikolai Mladenov paid a surprise visit to Tel Aviv to brief leaders there on its probe into the bus bomb attack that claimed the lives of five Israeli tourists, their Bulgarian driver and the bomber. Earlier this year, Bulgaria denied a report carried by Israel’s Channel 2 alleging Sofia’s investigation will link Hezbollah to the attack. Israel and the U.S. have both accused the Lebanese resistance group of being behind the bombing and urged the European Union to blacklist Hezbollah as a “terrorist” group.
The delicacy of identifying Hezbullah's finger prints, and those of its funder and commander, the Islamic Republic of Iran, stems in part from efforts now underway to ban Hezbullah's activities in Europe. 

We wrote about that here two weeks ago, focusing on French efforts to block that banning.  In that post, "13-Jan-13: A French contribution to stopping the terrorists", we said:

Hezbollah was designated as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO) by the U.S. State Department in October 1997, and is proscribed as a terrorist organization by Australia, Bahrain, Canada, Egypt, Israel, the Netherlands and (Hezbollah's military wing only) the United Kingdom. As for the rest of the European Union, it currently does not list Hezbollah as a terrorist organization though the European Parliament passed a non-binding resolution in 2005 recognizing "clear evidence" of "terrorist activities by Hezbollah" (in the wake of the murder of Lebanese leader Rafic Hariri) and urging the EU Council to brand Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. The Council has been reluctant to do this (says Wikipedia) because France and Spain fear such a move will further damage (wait for it...) the prospects for Middle East peace talks. Assuming he has access to European cable TV, Hassan Nasrallah who heads Hezbollah from a pit somewhere in Lebanon must be thoroughly enjoying himself.
Now in the US and Canada (at least), there are signs that a practical awareness of the existential risks posed by Hezbullah activities in (some) Western countries is growing. An essay by Benjamin Weinthal ["Hezbollah'sterrorism a threat to upstate NY"], published on Thursday, draws attention to what people are starting to understand about those dangers and what can be done. 

Weinthal, a fellow with the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, asks whether residents of upstate New York in the north-east of the United States, and Canada, are exposed to terror attacks by Hezbullah. There are some leaders who say they do; Congressmen Brian Higgins and Jeff Duncan recently co-sponsored a Congressional bill calling for an assessment of the dangers of Hezbollah’s presence in Toronto and in the western hemisphere. The bill was quickly signed into law by President Obama in December.
  • Speaking on the House floor in September, Higgins stated that based on expert testimony culled from the Homeland Security Committee, Hezbollah “has an active membership in fourteen North American cities, including in Toronto, which is 90 miles from my western New York home.” Though the law is formally titled the Countering Iran in the Western Hemisphere Act, the counterterrorism legislation correctly views Hezbollah and Iran’s anti-American clerical regime as a merged terror apparatus.
  • Iran’s rulers generously fund Hezbollah’s global terrorism activities. And there is no shortage of compelling evidence to explain why Hezbollah remains a lethal threat to Americans and U.S. interests in both North and South America. Hezbollah — a Lebanese-based Shiite group founded in 1982 — launched a terror campaign against the United States shortly after its 1982 inception. David Cohen, under-secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, said in August, “Before Al Qaeda’s attack on the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001, Hezbollah was responsible for killing more Americans in terrorist attacks than any other terrorist group.”
  • In 1983, Hezbollah bombed the U.S. military barracks in Beirut, killing 243 Marines and 58 French paratroopers. In 2007, Hezbollah operative Ali Musa Daqduq played a key role in the murder of five U.S. soldiers in Iraq, according to U.S. military officials.
  • The United States designated Hezbollah a terrorist entity in 1995. The growing involvement of Hezbollah in the Mexican narcotics trade coupled with its clandestine operatives across the U.S. and Canada present a significant security threat. “Does Hezbollah use Buffalo as a pathway to its other operations in the U.S.?” Higgins asked, according to the Buffalo News. “Or do they use Buffalo as a pathway to Canada?”
  • The new legislation will require the U.S. State Department to address the types of questions posed by Higgins in a study and examine other gaps in U.S. national security in connection with Iran and Hezbollah. The terrorism reach of Iran and Hezbollah has inflicted damage on our allies in Europe and in the Middle East. U.S. and Israeli intelligence officials attributed the suicide bombing in July, which blew up a bus full of Israeli tourists in the Bulgarian village of Burgas, to a joint Iran-Hezbollah operation. The terror attack resulted in the murders of five Israelis and their Bulgarian bus driver.
  • Now that the United States has ramped up its efforts to counter Iranian-sponsored Hezbollah terrorism, it is time for the European Union to follow the U.S. lead and ban Hezbollah’s operations within its territories.

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