The United States has stepped up its pressure on international terrorist funding, at least with regard to the Iranian-backed Shiite terror group Hezbollah, based in Lebanon. In recent weeks, authorities have unraveled a massive network involving US businesses, South American drug cartels, and East African exporters that raises and launders money which inevitably reaches the coffers of Hezbollah.
Last week, US prosecutors announced charges against a Lebanese national who facilitated more than $850 million, raised through drug smuggling and money laundering, to the terror group. Ayman “Junior” Joumaa, of Virginia, is alleged to have conspired to sell tons of Colombian-produced cocaine to Mexico’s Zeta cartel for ultimate sale in the US. Earlier this year, Joumaa was listed by the Treasury Department as a drug trafficker whose profits go to Hezbollah. He remains at large.
The most recent development in the war on terror financing follows a raid led by the DEA on two US-based auto dealerships. Ace Auto Mart of Tulsa, Okla. was the first target, where agents questioned employees and seized filing cabinets on Friday. A Tampa-based auto dealer, Mansour Brothers Auto Trading Inc., is also the target of the DEA investigation and is one of about 30 other businesses implicated in the finance ring.
The Long War Journal contacted Ace Auto Mart in Tulsa and spoke to an employee regarding the investigation. He reiterated that no one had been arrested and that his boss, Mohamed Soukhi, who is at the center of the investigation, was currently meeting with his attorney. The employee noted that Ace Auto Mart itself was not under investigation, but a “sister company” that leases vehicles was the target.
The federal government alleges that the now-defunct Lebanese Canadian Bank and two Beruit-based money exchange organizations, which are all linked to Hezbollah, wired funds in excess of $300 million to the US to be used to purchase automobiles. The vehicles were then shipped to West Africa and sold for cash, where the proceeds are mixed with funds from drug trafficking and taken to Lebanon.
Authorities say that Hezbollah-linked operatives are involved at various points throughout the operation to ensure the facilitation of the funds to the terror group. For example, the court charges that Oussama Salhab, a Togo-based Hezbollah operative, ran an operation that transported cash and cars sold in Benin to Beirut. His counterpart in the operation is said to be Maroun Saade, who is believed to be a member of the Free Patriotic Movement, a Hezbollah-linked Christian political party.
According to Rusty Payne of the DEA:
They’re making big time money and it’s going right into weapons acquisition, terrorist training, recruiting, corruption. Things needed to carry out terrorist attacks across the world. Some of that money is flowing back to the United States, back to these used car companies, to purchase more used cars to ship them to West Africa to sell those at a profit and then mix those used car proceeds in with the drug dollars. What’s happening, though, is the amounts are so large that it raised red flags among investigators. There’s no way the used car industry in the US and West Africa could produce these kinds of revenues.
A recent article published in the French daily Le Figaro outlines the severity of the financial situation facing Hezbollah due to the uprising in Syria and sanctions placed on Iran, which have caused a 25% cut in financing to the group.
But this new case case highlights the depth and intricacy of some of the terror financing plots, and indicates that the Obama administration should keep the pressure on financiers of terror while it has this momentum.
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