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Iran Is Connected to Failed Hezbollah Attacks in Latin America

The flags of Hezbollah and Iran. Photo: File.

Operation Trapiche — a plot to kill Jews in Brazil — revealed the shadow of Iran behind the failed Hezbollah plot. According to Brazilian Federal Police documents exclusively obtained by the Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT), the two masterminds wanted by Interpol, Mohamad Khir Abdulmajid, a naturalized Syrian-Brazilian, and Haissam Houssim Diab, a Lebanese national, had strong connections to the Islamic Beneficent Cultural Center of Brasilia (CCBIB). This Shiite center has been funded by Iran since 2019.

Last November, IPT reported on Operation Trapiche. When the plot was broken up, it exposed a Brazilian network with suspected links to the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah. Abdulmajid and Diab lured at least six Brazilians to Beirut, where they offered them large sums of money to carry out a series of major terror attacks against multiple Jewish and Israeli targets throughout Brazil.

The Brazilian Federal Police documents reveal Mohamad Khir Abdulmajid as the primary promoter of establishing the Shia Islamic Center of Brasilia in 2019. Additionally, the center’s board members include Hicham Hussein Diab, the brother of Haissam Houssim Diab, the other mastermind uncovered by Operation Trapiche.

According to the Brazilian police report, “it is noteworthy that Abdulmajid, believed to be one of the main backers of the Islamic Center’s establishment, is not listed in the corporate structure of the center, despite the overwhelming evidence suggesting his involvement.”

Abdulmajid’s decision to remain behind the scenes may be part of a strategy. The police report notes that Abdulmajid’s WhatsApp communications cite a project drawn up by Sheikh Mohammed Sadeq Maadel, also known as Moaddel Ebrahimi, as a model for the bylaws of the new center. In a photo posted on Abdulmajid’s social networks in 2018, he is pictured at the Syrian embassy in Brasilia with Ebrahimi.

Ebrahimi, a Sheikh originally from Iraq, now based at Shia Brás mosque in São Paulo, has long been Bilal Mohsen Wehbe’s right-hand man in Latin America. According to the US Treasury Department’s designation in 2010, Wehbe was “Hezbollah’s chief representative in South America responsible for oversight of the group’s counterintelligence activities in the Tri-Border area” — made up of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay.

A recent report titled “Hezbollah Terror Plot in Brazil,” published by the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism at Reichman University, suggests that “it is possible that Sheikh Ebrahimi, who worked with Wehbe, is part of Hezbollah’s clerical nomenclature and maybe the new Foreign Relations Department (FRD), person in Brazil. If so, his connections to both Haissam Diab and Mohamed Abdulmajid would not just be that of a pastoral guide to his spiritual flock but possibly more — that of a handler.” Hezbollah’s Foreign Relations Department serves as a link between Tehran and the global Shia communities.

Rising Antisemitism Provides Cover for Hezbollah terror

The reason for Hezbollah’s change in tactics may have to do with the ongoing Gaza war. Hezbollah may want to use Brazil and Latin America as a proxy battleground to provoke Israel without facing severe consequences. Given the surge in antisemitic events worldwide, a successful assault by unidentified Brazilians may have been passed off as a hate crime orchestrated by radical locals, and not a terrorist attack.

Hate speech and antisemitic incidents in Brazil have increased by 236. This may be related to statements by President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, according to the Israel Federation of the State of São Paulo. (FISESP). Lula has repeatedly accused Israel of committing “genocide” against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

Recently, Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz declared the Brazilian president persona non grata over his comparison of Israel’s war against Hamas to the Holocaust. ”

Recruiting Locally to Strengthen Hezbollah in Brazil

Against this political backdrop, Operation Trapiche also confirmed the strengthening of Hezbollah in Brazil. For several years the group has used local networks to establish illicit finance networks and support terror attacks.

Haissam Houssim Diab and Mohamad Khir Abdulmajid were small business owners in the local Shia diaspora. They were also relatives, as Abdulmajid’s mother is a Lebanese national from the Diab family, and they spent a significant amount of time at the TBA. However, they could not afford the money they had allegedly promised their recruits, leading police to wonder where they had obtained the funding.

According to investigations, by recruiting locals, Hezbollah External Security Organization (ESO) — which is in charge of international terror attacks — funded the plot in Brazil through its subsidiary, the Hezbollah Business Affairs Component (BAC). BAC oversees drug trafficking and money laundering operations to fund terrorist activities, procure weapons, and support terrorist families.

Hezbollah’s Criminal Operations

Haissam Houssim Diab may be involved in the BAC, as he has been linked to Lebanese drug trafficker Akram Abed Ali Kachmar. During a police raid in 2017, Kachmar’s home in Ciudad Del Este, Paraguay, was searched while the two were together. Diab was briefly detained but not charged. Authorities also discovered Kachmar’s ties to a powerful drug trafficking network of Lebanese origin based in Paraguay, led by Hezbollah financier Ali Issa Chamas. In 2017 Chamas was sentenced to 42 months in prison in Miami for conspiring to distribute massive amounts of cocaine to the United States. He is currently serving another sentence in Paraguay for international drug trafficking.

Diab’s phone connections led to several money exchange businesses, including the Chams Exchange. The US  Department of the Treasury sanctioned the exchange in 2019 due to its involvement in narcotics money laundering activities between Australia, Colombia, Italy, Lebanon, the Netherlands, Spain, Venezuela, France, Brazil, and the United States. Additionally, Diab has contact with Sobhi Fayad, a Hezbollah financier based in TBA, who was sanctioned by the Treasury Department in 2006.

Last week ,Brazil’s Federal Prosecutor’s Office approved a complaint against Lucas Passos Lima, the primary investigator, for surveillance videos of potential Jewish targets. The trial is set to begin on March 21, while Diab and Abdulmajid are believed to be eluding authorities in Lebanon. Despite facing charges related to Operation Trapiche, it is unlikely that they will be found guilty under Brazilian anti-terrorism legislation. This is the likely result because only five out of the 33 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean have officially designated Hezbollah as a terrorist group, with Brazil not being one of them.

This legal vacuum, combined with Lula’s anti-Israel stance, could pose fresh threats, not just in Brazil, but across Latin America in the months ahead.

Maria Zuppello is an Italian analyst based in Brazil and an expert on the crime-terror nexus. In her book, Tropical Jihad. she explores the connections between Hezbollah, Latin American cartels, and the Italian ‘Ndrangheta mafia. (The ‘Ndrangheta is the Calabrian mafia, considered one of the most powerful mafia families in the world today.) Maria tweets at @mzuppy A version of this article was originally published by The Investigative Project on Terrorism.

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Palestinian Islamic Jihad Releases New Propaganda Video of Israeli Hostage

Israeli hostage Alexander (Sasha) Trufanov as seen in a propaganda video released by Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Photo: Screenshot

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Similar videos have been released by terrorists groups in Gaza. Israel has lambasted them as psychological warfare.

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More than 120 hostages remain in Gaza, which is ruled by Hamas. Islamic Jihad is a separate but allied terrorist organization in the Palestinian enclave. Both are backed by Iran, which provides them with money, weapons, and training.

Negotiations brokered by Qatar, Egypt, and the US to reach a ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas in Gaza have been stalled for weeks.

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Gal Gadot as Rachel Stone in a scene from the trailer for “Heart of Stone.” Photo: YouTube screenshot

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