The United States warned European governments about an “increased operational tempo” by Hezbollah there months before a wave of global terror attacks by the Lebanese extremist group last year, a senior administration official said Friday.
“We were already in the spring of 2012 having numerous conversations with European governments about the danger that Hezbollah was posing, and that was on the basis of information we were aware of that indicated an increased operational tempo in Europe,” the official said, requiring anonymity even though he was speaking on a conference call for reporters organized by administration press officers.
“So we were not surprised ultimately when we started to see that play out” during the summer, when Hezbollah blew up an Israeli tourist bus in Bulgaria, and hatched plots that were foiled for similar attacks in Cyprus and Thailand, he added.
The official said the administration was aware of Hezbollah operational networks in Europe and elsewhere dating back to the 1990’s. In its 2012 annual terrorism report published Thursday, the State Department noted an increase in terrorist activity by Hezbollah last year, “to levels not seen since the 1990’s.”
The existence of operational networks in Europe was “not new to us, not surprising,” said the official Friday, because during the 1990’s the group had carried out attacks in “multiple parts of the world.”
At the same time, the official said, “We don’t have any evidence of [Hezbollah] operational networks … in South America or Central America or Mexico,” although “We know that Hezbollah as an organization does benefit from fundraising activity or commercial activity” in the region.
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One analyst called that assessment “disappointing.”
“Given the overwhelming evidence from open sources, it is disappointing that they are still sticking with that line,” Douglas Farah, a senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center told The Washington Times.
He said that Hezbollah had been “active in Latin America since 1983.”
The group had shown in the past the capability to use logistical or fundraising networks for terror attacks when it was to their advantage, he said, and had carried out two attacks in Argentina in the 1990’s with the assistance of Iranian diplomats, according to prosecutors in Buenos Aries.
Hezbollah networks in Latin America “may not be operational in the sense that they are carrying out terrorist attacks, but they are certainly involved in transnational organized criminal activities” like drug smuggling and money laundering, he said, and could “move very quickly” into attack mode.
Hezbollah, Arabic for “Party of God,” is a legal political party in Lebanon, with members in parliament and even in the country’s coalition government cabinet. Its members are from the Shiite sect of Islam, as are a majority of Iraqis and an overwhelming majority of Iranians. It is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States but not by the European Union.
But several members of the European Union have recently called for Hezbollah’s military wing to be designated a terror group by the bloc, a move the senior official welcomed.
Governments across the world “are no to what this organization is,” he said, “It’s a criminal organization, a terrorist organization.”