Extraordinary news from Colombia:
Colombia smashes drug ring with Hezbollah ties
Colombian authorities said on Tuesday they broke up a drug and money-laundering ring in an international operation that included the capture of three people suspected of shipping funds to Hezbollah guerrillas.
More than 100 suspects were arrested in Colombia and overseas on charges they trafficked drugs and laundered cash for Colombia’s Norte del Valle cartel and for outlawed paramilitaries in a network that stretched from South America to Asia, the attorney’s general office said.
“The criminal organisation used routes through Venezuela, Panama, Guatemala, Middle East and Europe, bringing in cash from the sale of these substances,” the statement said.
Among those arrested in Colombia were three people suspected of coordinating drug smuggling to send some of their profits to groups such as Hezbollah, the office said.
Those suspects — Chekry Mahmoud Harb, Ali Mohamad Abdul Rahim and Zacaria Hussein Harb — used front companies to send drug cash overseas, it said without providing further details.
Also among the arrested, Guatemalan drug kingpin Otto Roberto Herrera García one of the 40 most wanted criminals in the world.
In addition to Venezuela, Panama, Guatemala, Middle East and Europe, the cartel transacted in the US, Canada, Africa, and Asia, which is unsual, considering that Asian countries involved are also drug producers. Not unsual, however, would be that the international drug rings may be using similar money laundering processes and resources.
Also arrested were members of paramilitary groups in Colombia.
Here’s the official Colombian government press release on the raid (in Spanish). I’m not sure why the WaPo finds it necessary to title their Reuters reprint as “Colombia says smashes drug ring with Hezbollah ties.”
This is an extraordinary mission indeed.
First of all, the Colombian armed forces have performed another hugely successful operation this year. The US training and technology are well used, and the military have proved themselves trustworthy. This alone is a tremendous improvement from the condition they were in eight years ago.
This was an international operation: Colombia’s seeking out and cooperating with international law enforcement agencies. This particular operation had been in the works for two years,
A statement from the [Colombian] attorney general’s office said the international police operation, codenamed Titan, had been under way for more than two years.
Its aim was to break up a drug-trafficking and money-laundering ring that operated globally, from Colombia to the US, Canada, Europe and the Middle East.
Ninety people were detained overseas, while raids in the cities of Bogota, Cali, Medellin and Pereira led to 21 further arrests.
From the internal security standpoint, Colombian law enforcement is also going after the paramilitaries. Are you paying attention, Obama and the House Democrats?
Last but not least: International terrorism, Islamists (in this case, Shi’ite Hezbollah), crime, kidnapping, money laundering and the drug trade are not separate elements in South America; they are the threads from which one fabric is woven. American policymakers need to recognize that fact.
The US must show its support of Colombia in every way. Passing the FTA would be a good start.
Recent archived posts on Hezbollah in Latin America here, including the story on the Venezuelan Minister of the Interior‘s ties with Hezbollah.
See also November 2007: Piracy, the Tri-Border Area and terrorism and July 2006: Hezbollah in Latin America