A recent news report suggested that Hezbollah had virtually no financial activities in South America and that the US government made false allegations regarding its presence in the region.
It should be recalled that for years, US and local authorities have provided clear evidence that several terrorist organizations have been able to settle their activities, or part of them in the South-American area of Triple Border, or Tres Fronteras, a coterminous region between Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, comprising the cities of Ciudad del Este (Paraguay), Puerto Iguazu (Argentina), and Foz de Iguazu (Brazil). The Arab population of the zone is believed to number over 20,000, mostly Shiite Lebanese Diaspora. The US Department of State report, Patterns of Global Terrorism for 2000, characterized the Triple Border area as “a focal point for Islamic extremism” and the latest annual State Department terrorism report explicitly regards the Triple Border as a main source of financing for both Hamas and Hezbollah.
Hezbollah’s involvement in the zone was first revealed when Argentina authorities concluded that the bombings of the Israeli Embassy in 1992 and the Argentine-Israeli Community Center in Buenos Aires in 1994 were carried out by Hezbollah cells headquartered in Ciudad del Este.
A Paraguayan investigation conducted in 2000 led to the arrest of Lebanese businessman, Ali Khalil Mehri, who had been allegedly selling millions of dollars worth of pirated software and funneling the proceeds to Hezbollah. A CD confiscated from his store in the Triple Border area contained images of “terrorist propaganda of the extremist group Al-Muqawama,” an extremist wing of Hezbollah. Moreover, documents seized during the raid included fundraising forms for an organization linked to Hezbollah, Al-Shahid, dedicated to “the protection of families of martyrs and prisoners,” as well as documents of money transfers to Canada, Chile, the United States and Lebanon of more than $700,000.
Investigators have also monitored for years the activities of Assad Ahmad Barakat (Listed as SDGT by the US Treasury Department on 06/10/2004), the alleged ringleader of Hezbollah’s financial network in the Triple Border area. Barakat arrived in Paraguay in 1985 from Lebanon. According to investigators, Barakat set up a large network of businesses in Ciudad del Este that were involved in illicit fundraising for Hezbollah (Several of his businesses were later listed as SDGT). In 2000, he fled to Brazil. In October 2001, police raided a wholesale electronics store owned by Barakat and arrested two of his employees. The raid uncovered documents showing that they had sent periodic remittances of $25,000-50,000 to Hezbollah, as well as videos and literature that a Paraguayan official said “encouraged young men to join Hezbollah’s war against Israel and become suicide bombers”. The police also seized a letter from Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah saying that he “is one of the most thankful for the contributions Assad Ahmad Barakat has sent from the Triple Border”. Investigators also uncovered a meeting attended by Imad Fayez Mugniyah (Hezbollah military chief) and Assad Ahmad Barakat on December 12, 2001.
For a complete overview, the Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress issued a detailed report on the Triple Border area in July 2003.