ATbar Hezbollah & Iran in Latin America – A Threat Just Beneath the Surface

Hezbollah & Iran in Latin America – A Threat Just Beneath the Surface

14/10/2013 | by Schorr, Eric J.  

In May of 2003 United States federal agents raided the home of Mahmoud Youssef Kourani, a Lebanese national, in Dearborn, MI and charged him with sheltering an illegal immigrant. While in federal custody, Kourani was then presented with evidence that he had knowingly provided monetary and material support to Hezbollah in Lebanon. What sets the Kourani case aside from other terror-support cases in the United States is the way Kourani himself had entered the United States to begin with, via Mexico.

Mahmoud Youssef Kourani illegally immigrated to the United States by crossing the border in 2001 through Mexico. Kourani, it is now known, had bribed a Mexican official in Beirut to obtain a visa to Mexico from Lebanon. After arriving in Mexico, Kourani paid a Mexican guide to smuggle himself and a fellow individual from the Middle East into the United States. It was then that he made his way to Michigan and began setting up a low-key operation to raise money for Hezbollah. According to the FBI, Kourani admitted to raising at least $40,000 for the terrorist organization and also acknowledged that his own brother, Haydar Kourani, was the group’s chief of security in southern Lebanon. 

The case of Mahmoud Youssef Kourani highlights a growing trend in the operational mentality of Hezbollah, especially in terms of its international footprint. The following presentation of research will therefore attempt to dive even deeper into case studies, stories, and even the smallest of known details concerning particular operations by Hezbollah, and by proximity its overseer, the Islamic Republic of Iran, in Latin America and specifically in Mexico. While this paper is primarily concerned with the “what” more than the “why” of Hezbollah operations in Latin America, the importance of attempting to explain the terrorist group’s actions and movements cannot be completely overlooked. As exemplified by the Kourani case, as well as a number of other incidents to be discussed, the implications for the security of the United States and for the western hemisphere more generally must be considered as a guiding factor. 

Furthermore, in researching Hezbollah and Iranian operations in Mexico in particular, a number of troubling connections were found to the activities of some of Mexico’s most dangerous drug cartels, especially to the Los Zetas. Indeed in a March 2009 article by the Washington Times, Michael Braun, a former assistant administrator and chief of operations at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) stated that Hezbollah draws heavily on 

“the same criminal weapons smugglers, document traffickers, and transportation experts as the drug cartels” and continuing that “they rely on the same shadow facilitators. One way or another they are all connected.” 

Agreeing with Braun, Roger Noriega and José Cárdenas specifically noted in an October 2011 article titled The Mounting Hezbollah Threat in Latin America that there exists evidence that “indicates Hezbollah is sharing its terrorist experiences and techniques with Mexican drug cartels along the U.S. border.” 

This paper will therefore also attempt to draw a broader picture of the Hezbollah-Iranian relationship with the drug cartels, an issue of which United States security experts, elected officials, and government agencies have only recently taken notice. The stated goal is to uncover what is taking place behind the scenes and to reveal what Hezbollah and Iran are attempting to accomplish just beneath the surface.

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