In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in India and Georgia, the Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has pointed the finger at Iran. This marks the second time in two months that Israeli officials have publicly alluded to the fact that Iran is engaging in terrorist activity on foreign soil.  

Late last year, Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon said that Iran is developing a “terrorist infrastructure in Latin America that lies dormant for a time and at any moment can attack U.S. interests or the United States,” as well as “Israelis or Jews or any other country that opposes their political posture.”  

This raises the question—is Latin America vulnerable to the next Iranian orchestrated terrorist attack?  

The answer is yes and should not be surprising as Iran has already been implicated in the second largest terrorist attack in the Western Hemisphere—that of the  bombings in 1992 at the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires and in 1994 at the Jewish cultural center AMIA.  What is surprising is that the Iranian individuals that perpetrated these attacks back in the 90’s continue to operate in the region.

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In a groundbreaking documentary aired last December on the popular Spanish-speaking television network Univision, the public was introduced to an individual that is known to have masterminded the attacks in Argentina—Mohsen Rabbani.  Rabbani was the cultural attaché at the Iranian Embassy in Argentina leading up to these attacks, and is now in Iran working as an advisor to the al-Mustafa Al-Alam Cultural Institute in Qom, which exists to spread Shia Islam outside Iran.

Rabbani has an Interpol red notice limiting his freedom of movement and hampering his ability to play a more hands-on role in developing the terrorist infrastructure in Latin America that the Israelis are warning us about.  

Therefore, Rabbani has turned to two of his favorite Argentine disciples Sheik Suhail Assad and his brother-in-law Sheik Karim Abdul Paz, both of whom were mentored by Rabbani during his time in Argentina. These Muslim converts have taken their know-how to recruit, indoctrinate and proselytize Latin Americans, particularly the youth, to the ways of radical Islam.

In the same Univision documentary, a young Mexican student named José Carlos Garcia Tolentino infiltrated this Iranian network in Latin America by enlisting in a two-month course on Islam in Qom.  In the transcript of his interview, José mentioned that his primary instructors were “two sheiks [Abdul Karim and Suhail] that were Argentine, born in Argentina, but more well versed than those from Iran.”

Just as Rabbani laid the groundwork in the 90’s to create the terrorist infrastructure needed to carry out the deadly attacks on Israeli targets in Buenos Aires, Karim Abdul Paz and Suhail Assad are acting as Rabbani’s informal ambassadors to the region, charming a variety of Islamic communities throughout Latin America to join the Islamic revolution. Aiding and abetting their efforts are the sympathetic socialist allies of the Bolivarian revolution led by Hugo Chávez and his political allies within the Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas (ALBA).  

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Most recently, Suhail Assad was in Puno, Peru as the guest of honor for an event hosted by the “Casas de ALBA,” which are political activist groups formed in Peru to support the Bolivarian revolution.

The goal is to wage asymmetric, peripheral warfare on the United States and Israel by winning the “hearts and minds” of disaffected Latin Americans and uniting them with radicalized Islamic communities they help propagate throughout the region. So far they have been successful, as Mosques and Islamic cultural centers have begun to appear in many free trade zones throughout the region. These zones are attractive to terrorist groups because they facilitate money-laundering activities and terrorist financing.  

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The historic free trade zone utilized by Islamic terrorist networks in Latin America has been the Tri-Border Area (TBA) between Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil; however, there is reason to suspect that these terrorist networks have enhanced their infrastructure to include other TBAs, most notably the Tri-Border Area between southern Peru, northern Chile and northwestern Bolivia. Not only have the Iranians strategically located Mosques and cultural centers in this area, but have also built health clinics, educational facilities and one of their largest embassies in the region resides in La Paz, Bolivia.  

The good news is that the U.S. Congress is aware of this issue and moving in the right direction. This morning the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations held a hearing to discuss Iran’s influence and activity in Latin America, which follows up on a hearing last month by their counterparts in the U.S. House of Representatives. Moreover, Congressman Jeff Duncan (R-SC) has introduced legislation H.R. 3783 titled “Countering Iran in the Western Hemisphere Act of 2012” to begin to achieve a unity of effort amongst all facets of the U.S. Government.   

Lets hope that these Congressional efforts lead to action before the warnings of our Israeli allies come to fruition.  

Joseph M. Humire (jmhumire@thecordobagroup.com) is a consultant with the Cordoba Group International LLC and a Senior Fellow with the Center for a Secure Free Society (SFS).

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