US designates Hezbollah a transnational crime threat
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US designates Hezbollah a transnational crime threat

New task force focusing on the Lebanese group will include specialists in narcotics trafficking, terrorism and organized crime; will also investigate anyone providing support

Hezbollah fighters stand on their armed vehicles and hold their party flags, as they parade during a rally to mark the 13th day of Ashoura, in the southern market town of Nabatiyeh, Lebanon, November 7, 2014 (AP Photo/Mohammed Zaatari)
Hezbollah fighters stand on their armed vehicles and hold their party flags, as they parade during a rally to mark the 13th day of Ashoura, in the southern market town of Nabatiyeh, Lebanon, November 7, 2014 (AP Photo/Mohammed Zaatari)

US Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Monday designated five groups as top transnational organized crime threats and created a new task force aimed at zeroing in on the three of the world’s most notorious drug cartels, including the terror organization Hezbollah.

Speaking to a group of federal prosecutors, Sessions said the new task force will “develop a plan to take each of these groups off of our streets for good.”

The group focusing on Hezbollah will include prosecutors who specialize in narcotics trafficking, terrorism and organized crime, and will also investigate anyone providing support to the organization, Sessions said.

Hezbollah has morphed into a powerful political player in Lebanon, running its own media and communication channels and providing government-like services to followers in its strongholds.

In this Friday, April 13, 2018 photo, supporters of Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah hold a banner with his portrait and Arabic words that reads: “All the loyalty to the man of nobility.” (AP /Hussein Malla)

It is designated a terror group by the US, Israel and a number of Sunni Arab states. The EU has declared the group’s military wing a terror organization, but left its political arm off the blacklist, despite Israeli lobbying.

The US and six Gulf Arab states recently hit the terrorist organization’s leadership with sanctions.

Hezbollah has a sprawling network involved in money-laundering, drug trafficking, and organized crime as well as terrorism, whose reach extends across Africa and into Central and South America. The terrorist organization also has well-documented links with drug cartels.

Sessions, who has been on the receiving end of relentless verbal jabs from US President Donald Trump and may be in the final stretches of his tenure, was speaking directly to one of the president’s prime targets amid the administration’s broader crackdown on immigration: MS-13.

Trump has said MS-13 gang members from the stronghold of El Salvador are coming to the US both illegally and as unaccompanied minors to wreak havoc. He has held up the gang as a reason for stricter immigration policies meted out by Sessions and others.

“With more than 10,000 members in the United States, this gang is the most violent gang in America today,” Sessions said.

In this Dec. 15, 2017, file photo, President Donald Trump sits with Attorney General Jeff Sessions during the FBI National Academy graduation ceremony in Quantico, Va.(AP/Evan Vucci)

The task force announced Monday will allow federal prosecutors to better target priority organizations and make prosecutions “more effective,” the attorney general said. As part of initiative, prosecutors will lead specialized subcommittees focusing on each of the organizations and will report back to Sessions within 90 days on the best ways to prosecute the groups, he said.

The groups include the Sinaloa Cartel, Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion and Clan del Golfo, along with Hezbollah.

The subcommittees investigating the drug cartels are led by prosecutors who have charged drug kingpins and led cases that resulted in the seizures of millions of dollars.

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