Powered by WebAds

Monday, July 24, 2006

Sleeper Hizbullah cells activated

Several months ago, I blogged an article about how Hezbullah was sneaking terrorists into the United States through the Mexican border. The terrorists were to be 'sleeper cells' to be activated by Hezbullah and/or Iran at their convenience. At the time, it seemed far more likely that the cells might eventually be activated by Iran to retaliate for the US taking out Iran's nuclear capability. That no longer appears to be the case.

Tonight, the General Security Service (Shin Bet) has confirmed a Jerusalem Post report that the Shin Bet has issued warnings to Israeli installations abroad. The problem is that the installations that are in danger abroad aren't just Israeli ones - they're also Jewish ones. Think back to the 1994 bombing in Buenos Aires. That wasn't specifically an 'Israeli' installation.

All I can say to those of you abroad is to be careful and to be vigilant. In a way, your task is harder. You're not likely to find the type of security to protect you that we have daily here.
The assumption within Military Intelligence is that Hizbullah would only attack targets abroad if it felt pushed into a corner. According to this thinking, the Islamist group hesitates to carry out such attacks because it does not want to be associated with Global Jihad and al-Qaida.

Hizbullah has attacked Jewish and Israeli targets abroad in the past. The organization is believed to have been behind the attack on the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires in 1992 during which a suicide bomber drove a pick-up truck filled with explosives into the building, killing 29 people and wounding 242, following Israel's assassination of the group's leader at the time, Sheikh Abbas Musawi.

Hizbullah is also thought to have been responsible for the attack on the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association building in Buenos Aires in 1994, when an explosives-laden van rammed into the structure and killed 85 people.

Another attack attributed to the group was the 1985 hijacking of TWA flight 847. One passenger was murdered; the remainder of the hostages were released over a two-week period.

It's not just the Shin Bet that fears Hezbullah attacks abroad:

However, the difference between the Hezbollah of the early 1980s and the Hezbollah of today is that over the decades -- as it matured into a political party with a powerful militia -- it also planted roots far afield. The organization today has an international network of cells, which have carried out bombings and other attacks far beyond the Middle East in the past. If history serves as a guide, those cells conceivably could be called upon again to take action.

We must be clear on this point: We are not predicting any imminent attacks by Hezbollah forces in the West or in other parts of the world. Whether such strikes would be in the group's interest -- or whether they would be permitted by Iran, which has trained and maintained close contact with the commanders of Hezbollah's military wing -- remains a matter of serious debate. There are very good arguments as to why Iran would refuse to authorize such attacks at this time, or even attempt to dissuade Hezbollah from mounting them, as it considers its own position and ambitions within the region and the wider Muslim world. There also are plausible arguments that Hezbollah, which has a long history of acting on motives of retribution and revenge, might not be held in check by the Iranians. Some of these are strategic questions, the answers to which may be determined by events that are still in play.

There are, however, some things that can be known definitively. One of these is that Hezbollah has used -- and appears to maintain -- an "off the shelf" model of operational planning. This means that hypothetical targets are selected and initial surveillance conducted without any violence necessarily ensuing. The advantage of such a planning model is that it allows the group to strike hard and fast once a "go forward" decision has been made. The disadvantage, however -- and this is key -- is that pre-existing plans must, by necessity, be dusted off (however briefly) and surveillance must be updated before an actual strike takes place. And it is during this stage that cells become most vulnerable to detection.

If there is any strength in logic (and we believe there is), logic dictates that, with the situation unfolding along the Israeli-Lebanese border, Hezbollah units overseas likely are updating surveillance on potential targets now -- whether any decision to move against those targets has been made or not.


After the bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, a team of experienced U.S. post-blast investigators was dispatched to assist the Argentine government with its investigation. One of their key findings was that, due to the short lapse between the assassination of Musawi and the attack on the embassy in Buenos Aires, the target likely had been selected in advance and most of the operational planning was done well before the operation was authorized. Then, when the "launch" order was sent, the attack plan was quickly updated and executed.

Observation of known Hezbollah operatives since that time, by U.S. and allied government agencies, has affirmed that this appears to remain the organization's preferred method of operation. In the 12 years since its last overseas attack, Hezbollah operatives have been seen conducting surveillance in many parts of the world (including the United States) -- at times, triggering arrests -- but no attacks have ensued. Therefore, it is believed that these operatives have been carrying out preliminary operational planning for hypothetical, future attacks. It is believed that the leadership of Hezbollah's military wing has a large selection of "off-the-shelf" plans that it can choose from should it decide to mount attacks anywhere in the world. In all probability, targets for "off-the-shelf" plans already have been mapped.

Using the Buenos Aires and London attacks as a gauge, it is believed that Hezbollah is able to carry out strikes within four to five weeks, once a decision to carry out an attack has been made.


Given the situation unfolding along the Israeli-Lebanese border, we believe that, should the organization choose the path of terrorism -- the traditional weapon of a weak foe against a much stronger opponent -- Hezbollah would strike at Israeli targets abroad. Historically, the group has had much greater success with attacks in the developing world -- where weapons and materiel were readily available -- than in more industrialized and secure regions like Europe. The size differential between the vehicle-borne bombs employed in 1994 in Buenos Aires (where Hezbollah was able to purchase explosives commercially) and the smaller device operatives were forced to use in London (where explosives were difficult to obtain) is quite dramatic.

Additionally, authorities in places like the United States and Europe will be stepping up their monitoring of known and suspected Hezbollah members -- thus mitigating the risks of attack in those regions relative to the risks in the developing world.

Also arguing against a Hezbollah strike in North America is the severe backlash the group could expect to its financial operations. Key business hubs, such as the trade in illicit diamonds in West Africa, also would need to be protected.

Therefore, the risk of a Hezbollah strike logically would be greatest in other parts of the developing world, where the overall backlash to the organization's networks would be less severe. Again, this argument assumes that Hezbollah both will find it necessary to strike out at foreign targets and is not restrained by either of its state sponsors. Should that be the case, however, logic argues against another strike in Argentina; with Hezbollah already having attacked there twice, security would be stiffened. Instead, strikes might come in nearby countries like Paraguay (where Hezbollah suspects were arrested while casing the U.S. and Israeli embassies in Asuncion, in 1998) or Brazil.

Beyond South America, there are other countries that have strong ties to Israel -- such as South Africa and Kenya -- which also present themselves as potential targets. These are sufficiently removed from Hezbollah's lucrative diamond business in West Africa to be safe for action, and they are target-rich environments. The same argument applies to Bangkok as well, where Hezbollah has conducted operations before.

This report may be distributed or republished with attribution to Strategic Forecasting, Inc. at www.stratfor.com.

The United States may also be vulnerable. This is from Michelle Malkin:

The Jew-hating terrorists of Hezbollah who call themselves the "party of God" are already here. In America. Plotting attacks. Raising money. Slipping through the cracks.

In May, the New York Post reported on Hezbollah's plans to activate sleeper cells in New York, Los Angeles , Boston and Detroit as the nuclear showdown with Iran heats up. One focal point: "the Iranian Mission to the United Nations, where there have already been three episodes in the last four years in which diplomats and security guards have been expelled for casing and photographing New York City subways and other potential targets." Heightened alert comes in the wake of reports that Iranian crackpot president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad met with Hezbollah leaders in Syria earlier this year.

Four years ago, I reported on how information-sharing walls between federal immigration and law enforcement agencies created a path to citizenship for at least one known Hezbollah member. He walked through our figurative front door. The then-assistant district director for INS investigations in New York City and two FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) officials were placed on administrative leave when the bungle was discovered.


Does the name "Hammoud" sound familiar? Earlier this month, the FBI announced the capture of Assem Hammoud — also a Lebanese-born Muslim like the members of the cigarette-smuggling Hammoud gang. He is suspected of working for al Qaeda on a plot to blow up PATH train tunnels between New Jersey and lower Manhattan with a team of suicide bombers. The 1998 terrorism indictment of Osama bin Laden notes al Qaeda's forged alliances "with the government of Iran and its associated terrorist group Hezbollah."

Together, they've killed American servicemen and civilians around the world.

Not in your backyard? Think again.


Post a Comment

<< Home