Treasury designates Hezbollah operatives in West Africa

The Treasury Department today designated four Lebanese men who operate for Hezbollah in four separate West African nations. Ali Ibrahim al Watfa (Sierra Leone), Abbas Loutfe Fawaz (Senegal), Ali Ahmad Chehade (Cote d’Ivoire), and Hicham Nmer Khanafer (Gambia) were all added to the list of Specially Designated Nationals.

The four men “have organized fund-raising efforts, recruited members, and in some cases styled themselves as ambassadors of Hezbollah’s Foreign Relations Department,” Treasury said. The designations “further expose the alarming reach of Hezbollah’s activities and its determination to create a worldwide funding and recruitment network to support its violence and criminal enterprises around the world,” a statement from Treasury said.

Treasury described Ali Ibrahim al Watfa as “the permanent Hezbollah liaison to Sierra Leone,” who is responsible for a Hezbollah cell in the Freetown area. According to Treasury, he has “coordinated the transfer of funds from Sierra Leone to Hezbollah in Lebanon.”

Abbas Loutfe Fawaz is “Hezbollah’s leader in Senegal.” Since 2006, Fawaz has increased his activities in Senegal. “Fawaz used supermarkets, which he owned and operated, in Dakar, Senegal, to raise funds for Hezbollah and attract supporters,” Treasury said. Fawaz also discussed with Hezbollah officials in Lebanon the potential of sending Lebanese nationals in Senegal to Lebanon, if the group viewed them to be of use.

Ali Ahmed Chehade is the “Hezbollah Foreign Relations Department official for Cote d’Ivoire,” according to Treasury. He has been responsible for coordinating the travel of Hezbollah members between Senegal and Cote d’Ivoire. Chehade was selected “by senior Hezbollah leadership” and is tied to Specially Designated Global Terrorist Abd Al Menhem Qubaysi.

Qubaysi is a “personal representative” of Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s Secretary General.

Hicham Nmer Khanafer is an “influential Hezbollah member” in Gambia. Khanafer has “hosted weekly meetings for local Hezbollah members and supporters at his home, and he held weekly Hezbollah fundraising and recruiting drives at a local mosque,” Treasury said.

Treasury targeting of Hezbollah networks in Latin America and Africa

In recent years, Treasury has expanded its operations against Hezbollah activities in Latin America and West Africa. For example, in May 2009, Treasury designated two key Hezbollah operatives, Kassim Tajideen and Abd Al Menhem Qubaysi, in Africa.

On Feb. 10, 2011, Treasury designated the Lebanese Canadian Bank “as a financial institution of primary money laundering concern.” The designation “exposes the terrorist organization Hezbollah’s links to LCB [Lebanese Canadian Bank] and the international narcotics trafficking and money laundering network,” Treasury said.

Two weeks before the designation of the LCB, Treasury had designated Ayman Joumaa as well as nine individuals and 19 entities as Specially Designated Narcotics Traffickers. Joumaa’s network “used LCB [Lebanese Canadian Bank] to launder narcotics proceeds,” Treasury said. In addition, Treasury charged that “Hezbollah derived financial support from the criminal activities of Joumaa’s network.”

On Dec. 15, 2011, the US government sued the Lebanese Canadian Bank, two Beirut-based money exchange houses, and 30 auto dealers believed to part of the scheme, which had generated at least $480 million for Hezbollah.

The complaint filed by the US government stated that “Hezbollah members and supporters facilitate the smuggling of cash, including proceeds from the sale of used cars exported from the United States and narcotics proceeds, from West Africa to Lebanon; and finance and facilitate the purchase of some of the used cars in the United States.” In reference to Ayman Joumaa, the complaint charged that “Joumaa’s organization uses, among other things, Hezbollah couriers to transport and launder narcotics proceeds. Joumaa’s organization pays fees to Hezbollah to facilitate the transportation and laundering of narcotics proceeds.”

Additionally, the Lebanese Canadian Bank was said to have “knowingly conducted business with Hezbollah-controlled entities and individuals and entities linked to, among other things, African diamond smuggling, money laundering, and narcotics trafficking.” The complaint also noted that “hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. currency are transported annually from Benin and other West African countries to Lebanon …. A significant portion of this money moves through courier and security networks controlled by Hezbollah or individuals affiliated with Hezbollah.”

In June 2012, Treasury designated an additional four individuals and three entities linked to Ayman Joumma’s network. More recently, in April 2013, Treasury named two Lebanese exchange houses as institutions of “primary money laundering concern” for their ties to Joumma’s network and Hezbollah.

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