Middle East Terror Groups Find Sanctuary, Revenue in South America

In the frontier town of Ciudad del Este, in February 2003, Paraguayan state security officials raided a store owned by Ali Khalil Mehri, a 32-year old businessman of Lebanese descent. They recovered Hezbollah propaganda and documentation of money transfers to Canada, Chile, the U.S. and Lebanon totaling more than $700,000. Also found were fundraising forms for an organization in the Middle East called Al-Shahid, which is dedicated to the "protection of families of martyrs and prisoners." After a thorough investigation, Paraguayan prosecutors charged Mehri with selling millions of dollars of pirated software and channeling the proceeds to the Hezbollah terrorist group. Mehri, released on bail after his arrest, crossed into Brazil and then flew from Sao Paulo to Paris. Authorities now believed he is in Syria.

Mehri's arrest was the first major breakthrough in the investigation of illicit Hezbollah activities in the Tri-Border Area, an almost lawless area shared by the cities of Ciudad del Este, Paraguay; Foz do Iguacu, Brazil and Puerto Iguacu, Argentina. The area is known for money laundering, extortion, forgery, prostitution and illegal gambling. It has long been a resting place for drug traffickers and South American terrorist organizations such as the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), but in the past decade or so it has emerged as a hotbed of Islamist terrorism as well.

Click here for full article from JINSA: The Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.

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