State Department: Islamic State, Hezbollah Continue to Find a Home in Latin America

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Latin America and the Caribbean continue to provide “financial and ideological support” for the Sunni Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) and Shiite Iran’s narco-terrorist proxy Hezbollah, reveals the most recent Country Reports on Terrorism issued by the U.S. State Department.

However, State indicates that the Islamic terrorist threat may be higher along the U.S. northern border than on its southern counterpart.

The report notes:

Terrorist groups based in the Middle East find some support in Latin America despite the geographic distance. The call to fight in Iraq or Syria drew limited numbers of recruits from Latin America and parts of the Caribbean, which offered areas of financial and ideological support for ISIS and other terrorist groups in the Middle East and South Asia. In addition, in 2016 Hizballah maintained some financial supporters, facilitators, and sympathizers in the region that it could tap for support in building and expanding its activities there.

This year, U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), responsible for American military activity in most of Latin America and the Caribbean, warned, “Violent extremist organizations like ISIS seek to radicalize and recruit vulnerable populations in the Caribbean and parts of Central and South America.”

ISIS is operating in Brazil and the Caribbean nation of Trinidad and Tobago, points out State, adding that the socialist country of Venezuela continues to maintain “a permissive environment” that benefits known terrorist groups including Hezbollah.

The Associated Press (AP) deemed Trinidad and Tobago as “the largest per-capita source” of ISIS recruits in the Western Hemisphere.

Nevertheless, the report suggests that the Islamic terrorist threat stemming from Canada is higher than that coming from Mexico.

State points out:

Canada and the Caribbean – particularly Trinidad and Tobago – were sources of foreign terrorist fighters in 2016; the return of these trained foreign terrorist fighters is of great concern.

The main terrorist threats in Canada are from Canada-based violent extremists inspired by terrorist groups such as ISIS and al-Qai’da and their affiliates and adherents.

Meanwhile, the State Department reports that no jihadist groups are operating inside Mexico.

“There are no known international terrorist organizations operating in Mexico, no evidence that any terrorist group has targeted U.S. citizens in Mexican territory, and no credible information that any member of a terrorist group has traveled through Mexico to gain access to the United States,” reveals the report.

Nevertheless, it adds, “In December 2016, Mexican government officials observed on social media an increase in terrorist group sympathizers in its territory over the previous year. The Governments of Mexico and the United States are analyzing this information.”

The United States maintains strong counterterrorism cooperation links with both Canada and Mexico.

Some jihadi operatives have found a home in Latin America, namely the Tri-Border Areas (TBA) of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay.

TBA “remained an important regional nexus of arms, narcotics, pirated goods, human smuggling, counterfeiting, and money laundering – all potential funding sources for terrorist organizations,” points out State.

Brazil sentenced eight local jihadists to between five and fifteen years in prison on ISIS-linked terrorism charges this year.

However, “Corruption, weak government institutions, insufficient interagency cooperation, weak or non-existent legislation, and a lack of resources remained the primary causes for the lack of significant political will to counter terrorism in some Western Hemisphere countries,” notes State.

Venezuela continues to refuse to cooperate with the United States on counterterrorism efforts.

The Caribbean nation of Trinidad and Tobago reported in 2015 that more than 100 of its nationals, including women and minors, have traveled to Iraq and Syria to engage in jihad, recently noting that a “handful” has returned.

“More than 70 nationals of Trinidad and Tobago are believed to be fighting with ISIS in Syria,” reports State.

ISIS is the deadliest and most prolific terrorist group in the world, responsible for 9,114 deaths and 1,133 attacks, according to the State Department.

SOUTHCOM has warned against the potential nexus between criminal groups and Islamic terrorist organizations, noting that ISIS is recruiting in areas “awash in weapons and street gangs such as MS-13 and M-18, both of which originated in the United States and have close, direct, and growing ties with their U.S. counterparts.”

“Transnational criminal organizations continued to pose a significant threat to the region, and most countries made efforts to investigate possible connections between terrorist organizations and criminal activity,” notes the report issued by State.

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