Saturday, November 1, 2014

VOXXI: Is Hezbollah active in Peru?

This week the police in Peru arrested Muhammad Amadar, a Lebanese citizen who lived in the Surquillo district of Lima. Ordinarily, this type of event would not raise an eyebrow in the international media, except that the charges against him are particularly dire. He is accused of manufacturing explosives and is a suspected member of Hezbollah, an Islamic militant movement.
At a time when the international community, particularly U.S. policymakers, is concerned about the global spread of Islamic extremism, this development is particularly relevant. As for Peru, even one alleged Hezbollah militant in the Andean country is one problem too many, given the clear and present dangers that the Andean state faces.

A Successful Arrest of an alleged terrorist

Amadar, thought to be 28-years-old, arrived to Peru via a flight from Brazil on Tuesday, July 8. According to the Peruvian daily La República, the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad warned Peruvian authorities of his suspected militant ties. Immigration officers immediately detained him upon arrival at Lima’s Jorge Chávez International Airport, but because there was no international warrant for his arrest, he was let go.
 Nevertheless, the Peruvian police continued to monitor his activities while he lived in Surquillo, which included searching Amadar’s garbage. This ended up being his downfall–as the police found traces of TNT, coal as well as latex gloves among his trash. The Counter-Terrorist Directorate (DIRCOTE), a branch of the Peruvian police, was in charge of detaining Amadar on late afternoon on October 28th. When he was arrested, the police found TNT, black powder and other types of explosives in his home.
He was the only person arrested in the operation, as his wife Carmen del Pilar, who has dual Peruvian and American citizenship, is presently in the U.S.
Amadar is currently being detained in the headquarters of the aforementioned DIRCOTE where he is being interrogated.
According to the police, Amadar pretended to be a bodybuilder and worked out daily in a gym in Surquillo. “He was a friendly person, calm, he would greet us [when he came to work out] and only spoke English,” said the gym’s receptionist.

Hezbollah et al

Without engaging in alarmism, we can state some basic facts about Hezbollah. The group is notorious within Latin American security analysts for the two terrorists attacks it carried out in Argentina in 1992 and 1994. In the first incident, the target was the Israeli embassy, while the second was the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina; over 100 people died in the two attacks combined.
Currently, Hezbollah is thought to be operative in the tri-state border between Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. These militants are known to have close ties with the Iranian government; hence it is generally believed that Tehran supports Hezbollah’s attempts to spread outside the Middle East. To what extent Hezbollah is planning to carry out new attacks in Latin America a la Argentina is unclear, and we will have to wait to learn what new information the Peruvian police gather from Amadar.
Amadar’s arrest comes at a problematic time in the U.S., where some policymakers and analysts have come out to declare that Islamic radicals could use Latin America as a corridor to enter the U.S. Case in point, Mexico continues to be referred to as the perfect passageway for members of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) to enter the U.S. and carry out car bomb attacks. Meanwhile, the Obama administration has stated that there is “no credible information” to support such a thesis. Arguing that ISIS could enter the U.S. via Mexico is more likely another opportunity for advocates of a more heavily patrolled and restrictive U.S.-Mexico border.
As for Peru, the presence of a Hezbollah militant in the Andean country raises a number of questions. For example: is Amadar part of a larger network of Hezbollah militants operating in Peru or was he acting alone? One must also ask: What were the targets for the explosives that he was manufacturing?
After having defeated two terrorist movements that brought destruction throughout the country throughout the 1980s to early 1990s, Peru has generally enjoyed a decade and a half of tranquility. Nevertheless, the country does have major internal security problems such as a rise of criminality and drug trafficking. In fact, the country is the world’s major producer of cocaine, a problematic title that was justified in late August, when the Peruvian police seized 7.6 tons of cocaine in the northern city of Trujillo. This impressive amount of drugs was destined for Holland.
The Peruvian government and security forces can ill-afford to have to worry about Islamic militancy spreading in the country, given Peru’s other security priorities. Hopefully, Amadar is an isolated case.
The Peruvian police should be applauded for making the arrest before any attack was carried out with the explosives Amadar was manufacturing. With that said, the nexus between Latin America and Hezbollah, and Islamic militancy in general, will have to be revisited given this new incident, hopefully without inflammatory language.

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