TESTIMONY OF AMB. ROGER F. NORIEGA
BEFORE THE U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
SUBCOMMITTEE ON TERRORISM, NON-PROLIFERATION AND TRADE COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS
March 20, 2013, Washington, DC
Mr. Chairman, I applaud you and other members of the Subcommittee for focusing attention on the global threat posed by Hezbollah, and I thank you for inviting me to share insights on that terrorist organization’s growing network in the Americas that carries this threat to our doorstep.
This past weekend marked the 21st anniversary of the 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, which murdered 29 people. Two years later, a car bomb leveled the Jewish Community Center in the heart of Argentina’s capital, leaving 85 persons murdered.
Mr. Chairman, this is Hezbollah’s despicable legacy in the Americas. And that terrorist group – along with its sponsor, Iran – has returned to the scene of the crime.
During the last decade, Hezbollah has extended its reach quickly and substantially in dozens of countries in the Americas. This surge can be attributed to two key facts:
Hezbollah counts on the direct political, diplomatic, material and logistical support of governments – principally Venezuela and Iran – which have little in common but their hostility to the United States.
To facilitate its smuggling, money laundering, training and fund-raising activities, Hezbollah collaborates with well-financed drug traffickers and narco-guerrilla groups with deep roots in the region and sophisticated smuggling and money laundering networks worldwide.
I believe this challenge must be understood as the product of a conscious strategy of rogue regimes in Iran and Venezuela to wage asymmetrical warfare against U.S. security, interests and allies close to the homeland.
This unconventional challenge – and each of its political, criminal, and terrorist components – requires a much more robust and comprehensive response.
For example, we must do much more to share information so that law-abiding governments comprehend and help confront this phenomenon; to expose Venezuela’s unacceptable support for narcotraffickers and terrorists who spread mayhem in our neighborhood, particularly in Central America and Mexico; and to impose sanctions against powerful state-run entities being used to conceal criminal transactions.
Allow me to share some details that show the breadth of this challenge.
Two terrorist networks proselytize, fund-raise, recruit and train operatives on behalf of Hezbollah in many countries in the Americas.
One of these parallel networks is operated by the Lebanese-born “Nassereddine” clan based in Venezuela. And another is managed by Mohsen Rabbani, a former Iranian diplomat and Muslim cleric who is wanted for his role in the 1992 and 1994 Buenos Aires bombings.
Hezbollah operatives and their radical anti-Semitic allies use their senior positions in the Venezuelan government to provide logistical, material, and even diplomatic and political support to help Hezbollah and other terrorist groups grow stronger, very close to the U.S. homeland.
In recent years, the Chávez regime has sent weapons to Hezbollah, and it has shipped refined fuel to Hezbollah’s allies in Iran and Syria.
Venezuela’s Margarita Island has become a safe haven for terrorists and drug smugglers.
Hezbollah operates numerous businesses and safe houses in Venezuela, and it has provided terror training there for Latin American recruits.
Numerous Latin American governments have detained Iranian and Lebanese persons carrying authentic Venezuelan passports.
The Venezuelan state-owned airline, Conviasa, provides Iran, Hezbollah, and associated narcotraffickers a surreptitious means to move personnel, weapons, contraband and other materiel.
The Lebanese drug lord, Ayman Jouma, was indicted in the United States in November 2011 for running cocaine smuggling and money-laundering scheme that benefited Hezbollah. His network, which laundered as much as $200 million per month, involved criminal associates and corrupt businesses in Colombia, the United States, Mexico, Panama, Venezuela and Lebanon.
In recent years, Mexico has arrested numerous individuals associated with Hezbollah engaging in criminal activities – including smuggling of persons across the U.S. southwest border.
Mr. Chairman, I believe the foregoing discussion of the facts on the ground will lead most reasonable observers to conclude that Hezbollah is a problem in the Americas that can no longer be ignored. And I will highlight just a few recommendations for meeting this challenge.
First, strong Congressional attention and pressure is required to encourage Executive branch agencies to act more decisively. Legislation passed with strong bipartisan support late last year requires the State Department to report to Congress on Iran’s activities in the region and to provide a strategy for countering this threat.
This Committee must insist on a whole-of-government response. In some cases, you might decide that more resources are required – but the most important ingredient is political will.
The links between Venezuelan officials and state-run entities and drug trafficking, terrorism and/or Iran must be on the table as the State Department presents tough conditions for normalizing bilateral relations with Venezuela.
 One of the 9/11 attackers had ties to a man traveling on an authentic Venezuelan passport bearing the name “Hakim Mohamed Ali Diab Fattah.” Diab Fattah was detained by the FBI and deported to Venezuela; when the FBI asked the Venezuelan government for access to this man, authorities there claimed that he never entered the country.