and the July 1994 attack against the Argentine-Israeli Mutual Association (AIMA), also in the Argentine capital, allegedly in retaliation for

Hezbollah officially denies responsibility for these attacks and remains emphatic that it only operates in the

[1].

Subsequent legal action against Iran for its alleged role in the attacks led to the brief detainment of Iranian officials, including former Iranian Ambassador to , Hadi Soleimanpour, who was apprehended in the United Kingdom in 2003. However, a London court rejected the evidence provided by Argentine officials against the Ambassador and his colleagues.

The Nexus between Terrorism and Organized Crime

[2]. This seems to fit a pattern in Latin America, as more countries attempt to curry favor with Washington by claiming solidarity in the war on terrorism by linking narcotics traffickers to terrorism.

[3].

Margarita Island, , another free-trade zone that is home to a sizeable Arab Muslim (and Arab Christian) community, is also cited as a potential terrorist base. The alleged threat emanating from Margarita Island is receiving far more attention in Washington, but is as much a product of the simmering tensions between the Bush Administration and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

The Black Market Peso Exchange (BMPE), the largest and most sophisticated system of laundering money in the Western Hemisphere, along with other Alternative Remittance Systems (ARS), including hawala, an Islamic form of money transfer traditionally used by Muslims that facilitates the movement of funds through informal and anonymous channels, are endemic to Latin America and a central feature of organized crime and the drug trade in the region [4].

Despite a lack of hard evidence demonstrating collaboration between Hezbollah and al-Qaeda in Latin America and elsewhere for that matter, many observers worry that al-Qaeda may be using the same networks exploited by Hezbollah and other organizations to generate funds. Members of the Egyptian Gammat al-Islamiyya, including Al-Sayid Hassan Mukhlis, who is tied to the 1997 attack against tourists in Luxor, Egypt, have been linked to the TBA, allegedly as a local fundraiser for the group. Mukhlis was arrested in El Chui, Uruguay in January 1999 and eventually extradited to Egypt in 2003 [5]. Gammat al-Islamiyya is known to have links to al-Qaeda.

Islam in Latin America

Latin America is home to a sizeable and diverse Muslim population with deep roots throughout the region. Most Muslims are of Arab descent, typically of Lebanese, Syrian, and Palestinian origin, although Christian Arabs from the Levant far outnumber their Muslim kin. There are also sizeable South and Southeast Asian Muslim communities with roots in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Indonesia in Suriname, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago and elsewhere in the Caribbean Basin. The region is also experiencing a steady stream of migration from the Middle East and South Asia in recent years, especially in vibrant free-trade zones such as Iquique, and Colon, Panama.

As a result of intermarriage and conversion, Islam is becoming one of the fastest growing religions in Latin America. There is evidence to suggest that Muslim missionaries based in Spain and their regional affiliates are making inroads into disenfranchised and underserved indigenous communities that were once the target of evangelical Christian sects for conversion [6]. The competition between Muslim and Christian missionaries for prospective converts has even led to confrontation and violent clashes in the Mexican state of Chiapas.

[7]

[8]. The Murabitun are comprised predominantly of Spanish and European converts to Islam. There are also reports that Muslim missionaries are finding adherents among indigenous peoples in Bolivia and elsewhere in Latin America [9].

There is no evidence to suggest that the recent trend toward conversion to Islam in Latin America stems from a turn to political and religious radicalism. On the contrary, most Muslim converts see Islam as a vehicle for reasserting their identity. They also see conversion as a form of social and political protest in societies where they are marginalized and experience discrimination [10]

Conclusion

Although the evidence pointing to an alleged al-Qaeda presence in the region is often overshadowed and/or confused with the reported activities of Hezbollah and other groups, it is important for policymakers to consider each of these organizations separately and not fall into the trap of linking them as part of a unified network with a common agenda. At the same time, the diverse array of criminal organizations active in the region-from local drug gangs to radical Islamists-demonstrates that weak institutions, political instability, corruption, and poverty provide ample opportunities for groups such as al-Qaeda and others to share the spoils.


[1]

[2]

[3]http://www.webislam.com/numeros/2005/277/noticias/musulmanes_colombia.htm

[4]

[5] Julian Halawi, Al-Ahram Weekly (Cairo) 17-23 July 2003, Issue No. 647.

[6]http://www.webislam.com/elementos_wi/WI_Latino/Musulmanes_Chiapas.htm

[7]

[8]

[9]

[10]

Source: http://www.jamestown.org/terrorism/news/article.php?articleid=2369844&printthis=1

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