An international sting operation has netted members of a European Hezbollah cell accused of using millions of dollars from cocaine sales in South America to buy weapons for Syria, US officials said Monday.
Among those arrested in the raid were leaders of the Lebanon-based terror group’s European arm, accused by Washington of laundering Hezbollah funds through a Lebanese front company.
“This ongoing investigation spans the globe and involves numerous international law enforcement agencies in seven countries, and once again highlights the dangerous global nexus between drug trafficking and terrorism,” the US Drug Enforcement Agency said in a statement.
The effort formed part of DEA’s Project Cassandra, which targeted a global Hezbollah network responsible for the movement of large quantities of cocaine in the United States and Europe.
The drug network was established by Imad Mughniyah, the global operations chief of the Iranian-backed Lebanese terror group, who died in a bomb blast in Damascus on February 12, 2008, reportedly in a joint Mossad-CIA operation that required special approval from US president George W. Bush.
It is currently controlled by Abdallah Safieddine and another high-profile terror suspect, Adham Tabaja, according to the DEA.
The international probe focusing on the terror group’s links with South American drug cartels began a year ago, uncovering a network of couriers who collected and transported millions of euros in drug proceeds from Europe to the Middle East. Large amounts passed through Lebanon en route to terror organizations such as Hezbollah, which is fighting alongside Syrian President Bashar Assad in the country’s bloody war.
“DEA and our international partners are relentless in our commitment to disrupt any attempt by terrorists and terrorist organizations to leverage the drug trade against our nations,” said DEA Acting Deputy Administrator Jack Riley.
“DEA and our partners will continue to dismantle networks who exploit the nexus between drugs and terror using all available law enforcement mechanisms.”
Hebzollah is designated a terror group by the US, Israel and a number of Sunni Arab states. The EU recently declared the group’s military wing a terror organization, but left its political arm off the blacklist, despite Israeli lobbying.