(New York, N.Y.) – Law enforcement agencies around the globe are widening their efforts to dismantle the illicit activities and financial networks of Iran-backed proxy militias. In July, the United States and Paraguay moved to disrupt Hezbollah’s infrastructure and terror-financing apparatus with the extradition of two key operatives and financiers, Ghassan Diab and Assad Ahmad Barakat.
Diab is facing multiple U.S. felony charges for a series of money-laundering incidents. Barakat stands accused in Paraguay of charges related to his role as a chief military and financial operator for Hezbollah in the South American Tri-Border Area (TBA). The proceedings against Barakat are particularly significant. Paraguay has successfully prosecuted terrorists from groups such as Hezbollah, but the most notorious of these individuals—including Barakat’s cousin, Mohammed Fayez Barakat—have escaped or been released from prison. Paraguay designated Hezbollah, Hamas, al-Qaeda, and ISIS as terrorist organizations in August 2019.
Authorities’ increased focus on the TBA region straddling the intersection of Argentina, Paraguay, and Brazil may be a significant disruption to Iran-backed Hezbollah. Known as the “Golden Hydra” for its position as the lucrative regional entry point for transnational criminal organizations and terrorist groups, the TBA is a home for sophisticated and well-entrenched terror bases of operations to conduct money-laundering schemes and narcotics operations. Law enforcement in the region estimates that Hezbollah raises $200 million a year in the TBA.
To read the Counter Extremism Project (CEP)’s report The Many Criminal Heads Of The Golden Hydra, please click here.
Argentina, Paraguay, and Brazil coordinate counterterrorism efforts in the TBA through a joint Trilateral Tri-Border Area Command. However, institutional corruption and inadequate funding and resources have hindered the Command’s efforts to combat illicit activity in the TBA, which the U.S. National Security Agency and the Pentagon have called “the most important base of Hezbollah outside Lebanon.” Since the mid-1980s, Hezbollah has reportedly operated sleeper cells, conducted fundraising activities, and plotted attacks within the TBA.
Intelligence and media reports have also suggested that Hezbollah has cooperated with al-Qaeda in the TBA as part of a broader strategic alliance. Al-Qaeda’s roots in the region trace back to 1995, when Osama bin Laden and future 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed traveled to the TBA and participated in meetings at local mosques. Together, these U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations actively recruit, plan attacks, and fundraise in the TBA, and within Brazil specifically as Brasília allows internationally sanctioned extremists affiliated with al-Qaeda and Hezbollah to reside in the country without repercussion.
To read CEP’s Assad Ahmad Barakat resource, please click here.
To read CEP’s Mohammed Fayez Barakat resource, please click here.
To read CEP’s Ghassan Diab resource, please click here.
To read CEP’s Argentina resource, please click here.
To read CEP’s Paraguay resource, please click here.
To read CEP’s Brazil resource, please click here.
To read CEP’s Hezbollah resource, please click here.