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Burrowing In: The Hezbollah Finds a Home in the U.S. and South America

As terrorist organizations such as al Qaeda, Hezbollah, and Hamas began to disassemble, cells of the organizations started to crop up in unlikely areas of the world. The Tri-Border Area in South America (the border intersection of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay) piqued the interest of the FBI and ICE in 2002 when word got out that terrorist operatives were meeting in the area. Meetings took place in and around Cuidad del Este that were attended by representatives of the Hezbollah and other groups sympathetic to Osama bin Laden's terrorist network.48 Capitalizing on the frustrations of about 25,000 Arab and Lebanese residents living in the area, the Hezbollah set up shop in the South American region. It used the millions of dollars it raised via counterfeit and stolen product smuggling schemes to fund terrorist training camps, propaganda operations, and bomb attacks in South America.49

With porous, ill-patrolled borders within the region, U.S. officials fear the rate of potential terrorists entering the U.S. via Brazil or Mexico is extremely high.

Cars, motorcycles, and people can slip between countries' borders without documents being checked. According to the CIA, the Hezbollah militiamen are less likely to raise suspicions because they have Latin American passports, speak Spanish, and look like Hispanic tourists.50 In addition, many of the alien smuggling networks that move non-Mexican aliens over the borders have ties to Muslim communities in Mexico. According to a 2004 paper on terrorism threats from the CIA's Counterterrorism Center, "Non-Mexicans often are more difficult to intercept because they typically pay high-end smugglers a large sum of money to efficiently assist them across the border, rather than haphazardly traverse it on their own."51

Even more significant than members of terrorist organizations getting smuggled into the U.S. is how they are getting the money to pay for it.

Supporting the Enemy Through Charitable Donations

Muslims are required to give away 2.5% of their earnings as a form of zakat, or alms. Hezbollah, al Qaeda, and al Shabaab sympathizers concur wholeheartedly with this sentiment. Since zakat guidance is broad, alms can be given to whomever or whatever organization donors see as worthy. For example, when a fatwa52 was issued by the late Ayatollah Khomeini, it legitimized the use of zakat funds to finance the resistance movement against Israel.53

This gesture is more for charitable giving and supporting those in need. However, the lines get blurred when it comes to Hezbollah, al Qaeda, and al Shabaab sympathizers who willingly give zakat to fund terrorist acts and shroud this as a religious duty. In testimony given by Dr. Matthew Levitt, senior fellow and director of terrorism studies at the Washington Institute for Near East Studies, Hezbollah receives significant financial support from Hezbollah sympathizers living abroad, especially from Lebanese nationals living in Africa, South America, and other places with large Lebanese Shia expatriate communities. Hezbollah's main income, according to Hezbollah Parliamentarian Mohammad Raad, comes from the group's own investment portfolios and wealthy Shias.54

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