A 2012 U.S. State Department report on terrorism found that Hezbollah has no active cells in the Western hemisphere. The U.S. deemed the Party of God a terrorist organization back in 1999, after the Lebanese group bombed the U.S. army barracks in Beirut in 1983, killing 299 American and French soldiers.
After September 11, 2001, the United States law enforcement agencies began the hunt for Hezbollah operatives on U.S. soil. Although Hezbollah hasn’t been accused of any terrorism plot on American territory, U.S. authorities have still cracked down on Hezbollah-linked businesses, managing to link Hezbollah with internationally organized crime rings.
Law enforcement officials in the United States investigated a variety of criminal enterprises suspected of funding Middle Eastern groups deemed terrorist organizations by Washington, according to Matthew Levitt, a senior fellow and director of the Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Stein is also the author of The Global Footprint of Lebanon's Party of God, set for release in August.
According to Terrorism Financing and State Responses: A Comparative Perspective, a book published by Levitt in 2005, an inquiry began after operation Smokescreen (as the FBI named it), a Charlotte cigarette scam involving individuals of Lebanese descent. In 1995, a police officer noticed that a group of Lebanese men were purchasing large quantities of cigarettes, often with $20,000 to $30,000 in cash. It took the U.S. law enforcement agencies seven years to decipher the scheme, which involved Lebanese immigrants in both the U.S. and Canada. The inquiry ended in 2002 with the indictment of 26 people.
In Charlotte, North Carolina, Mohamad Youssef Hammoud and his group smuggled cigarettes to Tennessee, Virginia, and Michgan without paying the proper taxes. The local police found out that the FBI was also tapping the phones of the Charlotte network. After Said Muhammad Harb was arrested, he reached a deal with the prosecutors and told the investigators everything about the Charlotte network's operations in exchange for a more lenient sentence.
Mohammed Hassan Dbouk and his brother-in-law, Ali Adham Amhaz, ran the Canadian portion of the network under the command of Haj Hassan Helou Laqis, Hezbollah's chief military procurement officer. According to a report on bintjbeil.com, Laqis, 47, is an expert in weaponry improvisation. Mossad, the national intelligence agency of Israel, had tried to assassinate Laqis several times.
Laqis is believed to be a part of the army of shadows along with Syrian Brigadier General Mohammed Suleiman, Special Presidential Advisor for Arms Procurement and Strategic Weapons for President Bashar al-Assad; Imad Mughniyeh, Hezbollah’s military commander; Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a Palestinian co-founder of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades (the military wing of Hamas); and Hassan Shateri, an Iranian General. According to an Israeli military expert quoted by the source, Laqis is the only one to have escaped.
The group operating in Charlotte, North Carolina and in Canada was funded by money that Laqis sent from Lebanon or by Canadian-operated businesses. The items they purchased in Canada and the U.S. were then smuggled into Lebanon.
The Canadian-Hezbollah network also sought to take out life insurance policies for Hezbollah operatives who were sent out on missions. According to a wiretapped conversation mentioned by Levitt in his book, Dbouk (the leader of the Canadian network) said that there was an operative who was supposed to go on a mission in South Lebanon, but he needed life insurance. Members of the Charlotte cell entered the U.S. and Canada from Venezuela, using false documents or marrying women in Cyprus to obtain visas more easily.
Federal courts estimate the cell collected a total of $8 million USD, funneled through some 500 different bank accounts. The group also purchased and shipped "night vision goggles and scopes, surveying equipment, global positioning systems, metal detection equipment, video equipment, aircraft analysis and design software design, military compasses, binoculars, naval equipment, and ultrasonic dog repellents.” Most of it was purchased by Harb. Mohamad Youssef Hammoud, the cell's leader, was sentenced to 155 years in federal prison. Hammoud's older brother, Shawqi Youssef, and his "right-hand man" received a prison sentence of 70 years. Overall, 26 people were indicted in the operation.
In February 2011, U.S. law enforcement agencies filed a law suit against the Lebanese Canadian Bank (LCB) and several other companies in the United States, as well as two money exchange offices in Lebanon. They were accused of laundering money for an international cocaine ring with ties to Hezbollah, and the Department of Treasury blacklisted the bank. The Lebanese authorities dissolved it and the institution’s assets were sold to the Societe Generale Group.
According to a New York Times report, the LCB was the tip of the iceberg. Investigations into the sources of cash (that were flowing through the bank) revealed that money made by a drug cartel in Colombia was laundered through used car companies and exchange houses in the United States, West Africa, and Lebanon. Mainly, cars bought in the United States were sold in Africa, with cash proceeds flown into Beirut and deposited into three money-exchange houses, one of which was owned by the Colombian-Lebanese drug lord Ayman Joumaa. The exchanges then deposited the money into the Lebanese Canadian Bank. However, the car lots in the United States, owned by Lebanese men, were not moving nearly enough merchandise to account for all that cash. According to the indictment, European drug proceeds were being intermingled with the car-sale cash to make it appear legitimate.
At the end of June 2013, the lawyers of the LCB reached an agreement with U.S. attorneys and the bank paid $104 million from the proceedings of the transaction with Societe Generale.
A Lebanese-Canadian man was also allegedly involved in the bombing of the Israeli tourist bus in Bulgaria last year, which raised concerns in the country that Hezbollah might recruit its citizens. The Bulgarian investigation found that a Canadian and an Australian, both of Lebanese origin, were involved in the bombing that killed 6 in Burgas in July 2012. According to the Canadian Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, the Lebanese-Canadian man immigrated to Canada as a child. “I think about the age of 8 with his mother, settled into Vancouver, became a citizen about three or four years later, and then returned to Lebanon at the age of 12,” he explained.
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