Hezbollah and the Terror-Crime Nexus

Image Credits: Foreign Policy illustration and Getty Images

As the US security apparatus continues to publicly focus on Iran’s expansion in the Middle East, it has done little to actively address the threat posed from Iran’s favorite proxy, Hezbollah, on the southern border. Hezbollah has been known to operate international money laundering and drug trafficking operations via Venezuela, Colombia and Mexico for years. These operations, other than, notably, the Lebanese Canadian Bank case, have most often been prosecuted as drug-related crimes, rather than crimes of terrorism.

Hezbollah’s drug enterprise is not separate from its terrorist activity. Hezbollah, as directed by Iran, began engaging in the drug trade from its inception in the 1980’s, “for Satan—America and the Jews. If we cannot kill them with guns, so we will kill them with drugs.” As such, the American strategy of prosecuting drug crimes connected to Hezbollah as just that, rather than as crimes of terror shows a fundamental misunderstanding of Hezbollah’s motives.

According to a 2018 CDC study, cocaine was involved in 19.4% of drug overdose deaths in 2016— cocaine which has often made its way into the US via Hezbollah channels. In recent years, the spike in prescription drug related deaths has led the Trump administration to declare a national emergency. The opioid epidemic has at least partially driven the decline in US life expectancy, and opioid overdose victims are often found to have also taken cocaine.

The CDC study claims that in 2016 alone, more than 10,000 Americans died from drug overdoses involving cocaine; that number is more than three times the amount of Americans that died in 9/11. When you take into account the stated goal of Hezbollah to use drugs as weapons to neutralize its enemies, one wonders why the American government has yet to address this activity with the same severity as it does traditional acts of terror.

There is a law on the books that could have been used to prosecute this enterprise: the United States enacted a federal terror financing statute in 1994 after 1993’s World Trade Center bombing, under which entities can be prosecuted for knowingly providing “material support or resources” to another entity to conduct terror operations.

While money laundering can often remove the evidence needed to prosecute terror financing under the 1993 statue, the proof uncovered by the Project Cassandra task force directly ties the drug trafficking funds to Hezbollah. However, up until now, the failure to do so appears to be political, as the Obama administration allegedly did not want to engender bad faith during the Iran deal negotiations.

This has resulted in severe immediate threats to US homeland security. In May, a New York court indicted Ali Kourani, a naturalized US citizen and Hezbollah operative who allegedly attempted to identify Israeli targets in New York and obtain information on John F. Kennedy International Airport security protocols. Prior to setting up shop in New York, Kourani was previously involved with a dealership in Michigan that sold used cars to Benin; it is not unlikely this business was part of the network of used car dealerships used to launder Hezbollah’s drug profits.

Even as the United States aims to keep tensions away from its soil by announcing its intent to establish a military coalition to protect commercial shipping vessels in the waters surrounding Yemen and Iran, it leaves its doorstep unguarded by failing to take direct action against these networks.

Now that the current administration has pulled out of the deal, and is faced with rising tensions from Iran, the next move should be to go after Hezbollah’s crime-terror infrastructure under terror financing laws. Project Cassandra amassed the evidence; the Trump administration should use it to protect US citizens and put pressure on Iran.

Women of the Irish Republican Army: Powerful or Powerless?

Photographer: Colman Doyle took during the time of the ‘Troubles’ in West Belfast 1970s

The Irish Republican Army (IRA) is a paramilitary organization that has operated out of Ireland since 1917. There have been many versions of the IRA throughout time such as the ‘OLD IRA’ and the ‘REAL IRA’ however the focus of the group has mostly remained the same, which is that the whole of Ireland should be an independent republic free from British rule.

The focus of the group has mostly remained the same, which is that the whole of Ireland should be an independent republic free from British rule.

In 1969, the IRA was determined to see the British withdrawal from Northern Ireland but with a differing of opinion, the IRA split into two separate wings: officials and provisionals. Officials used their efforts to gain independence through peaceful action, while the provisionals used violence and extremism to make its agenda known.

This division on part of the provisionals resulted in an estimated 1,800 deaths, which included more than 500 civilians. As the Provisional IRA and other paramilitary organizations continued on what can only be described as a violent path, the British Army in the meantime retaliated which eventually marked the time known as the “Troubles” which affected Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland for almost 30 years.

Women have been known to participate in many roles within the IRA. During the 1970s many women were compelled to join in some capacity as the resistance within the community helped to politicize them.

While many of these roles have involved protests and civil rights matters a number of women became known for their roles as combatants during the time of the troubles. This is an interesting development in paramilitary organizations as women were not often included in these physically violent positions.

The IRA stands as a departure in the traditional roles women hold in terrorism and changes the narrative of how they are viewed. This shift in the structure of terrorist groups raises the question of why the change in dynamics and what does it mean for how the group operates.

Does the addition of women to the group make it stronger or vulnerable? There is a tendency in research and in situations where female terrorists are actively observed to view them as victims instead of perpetrators despite overwhelming evidence to suggest otherwise.

There is a tendency in research and in situations where female terrorists are actively observed to view them as victims instead of perpetrators despite overwhelming evidence to suggest otherwise.

Societal norms and constructs have added to a preconceived notion that women are naturally more peaceful and less violent than men but it is naïve to allow this belief to distort the reality that women are active players in terrorism and are not to be overlooked. In fact, it could be argued that they are more dangerous than men in the sense they can use their femininity and this false image to mislead and conceal their violent agendas from others. A key member of the IRA and a prime example of this shift in gendered terrorism is Dolores Price.

In fact, it could be argued that they [women] are more dangerous than men in the sense they can use their femininity and this false image to mislead and conceal their violent agendas from others.

Dolores Price joined the Provisional IRA in the 1970s along with her sister Marian Price. During her time in the IRA, Price was known for her extreme devotion to the cause and her inherently violent nature.

Price was involved with some of the IRA’s most devastating crimes: In 1973 she participated in a car bombing at the Old Bailey in London injuring over 200 people and killing one.

Price and her sister were arrested shortly after the bombing. Originally the sentence was life imprisonment, however, their sentences were eventually brought down to 20 years. Price only served seven years for her role and participation in the bombing. While in prison Price went on a hunger strike in order to be moved to a different prison in Northern Ireland.

Other members of the IRA imprisoned for the bombing joined the hunger strike and it went on for 208 days due to the prisoners being fed forcefully by prison officers in order to keep them alive. The force-feeding was abruptly brought to an end when another member of the strike died.

Price began to resent and blame Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams for the ordering of the abduction and murder of the most high profile victim of the IRA. Price revealed that she was given the order of taking Jean McConville- a mother to 10 children, across the border where she was heinously murdered and buried by the IRA.

Price also made the accusation that Adams was responsible for the creation of a covert unit in Belfast that was used to push out informants of the IRA who were supplying information to defense agencies. Adams, who helped shape the Northern Ireland peace process, denies any knowledge of such. Price continued to be involved with political issues up until the 1990s.

Price also noted that she and her sister were fearful due to threats from other members of the IRA and the political party Sinn Féin after she made allegations against them publicly. Price died in January 2013 after being found in her home in Dublin from a suspected toxic illness due to mixing the medication.

Dolores Price’s role in the IRA raises the issue that is central to the women in extremism program- what motivates a woman to become involved in a terrorist organization and what it looks like compared to the experience of a man.

There is a certain attractiveness for men to join a terrorist organization in terms of the sexualization and allure of violence but there is little to suggest that women do not join for the same reasons.

In this case, we can only theorize about why Price joined the IRA but a lot can be deduced from her actions and involvement.

In an effort to understand more about the motivations of women in terrorist organizations there is a need to explore the attraction of power and loyalty to men in the community as factors for involvement.

Power and attraction are some of the most common reasons for the justification of violence.

Dolores Prices involvement in the IRA should pose as a reminder that combatant women can have a bigger influence in terrorism than men and should not be expected to be less militant or less dangerous due to their gender.

Brazilian Prison Gangs: Message Delivered

Source: The Washington Post/Alex Gomes/AP

Author: Cameron Cassar

The newly elected right wing president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, had just been newly inaugurated when he had to deal with his first security crisis; terrorism attacks led by prison gangs in the Brazilian state of Ceara. The attacks have been centered on the capital of Ceara, Fortaleza, which is a metropolitan home to about 4 million Brazilians. These attacks have destroyed homes, businesses, modes of transportation, and has left many residents stuck in their homes due to threats of violence.

All of these attacks have been motivated by a desire to get the Brazilian government to end the practice of segregating gang factions in the Brazilian prison system. This goes completely against Bolsonaro and his ideologies. In fact, a major point of his political platform was that he vowed to enact strong policies to combat crime in Brazil. These policies include military takeovers in crime ridden Brazilian cities and shoot to kill policies for violent criminals.

This current wave of violence in Brazil shares many similarities to the wave of violence led by Pablo Escobar and the Medellin Cartel during their reign of narcoterrorism in Colombia. However, while the Brazilian prison gangs have opted to mainly use violence, the Medellin Cartel not only committed violence to instill fear in lawmakers in Colombia, but they also bribed police officers to turn a blind eye towards their criminal activities. Importantly, both of these organizations have used “violent lobbying” tactics to scare lawmakers into implementing policies that benefit them. Pablo Escobar wanted to get rid of extradition while the Brazilian gangs want to eliminate desegregation in prisons. The gang leaders want to end the prison reform which includes ending the separation of rival gang members and the blocking of cell phone service in the prisons.

These reforms would hinder the effect of the gang leaders who are locked up inside of the prison by disconnecting them from the outside world, which gives them the chance to coordinate their attacks. However, many gang leaders do not want desegregation in the prisons because they fear for their safety amongst the other prisoners who are often times rival gang members with a personal vendetta against one another. Incidentally, the violent lobbying of the gangs has united them in an unusual alliance due to the “common enemy”. The First Capital Command and the Red Command, two of the biggest gangs in the area have already formed a pact and there are plenty more that will be formed as the conflict ensues.

Brazil has the third highest prison population behind China and the US (of course). The problem is that President Bolsonaro wants to be even tougher on crime, which will result in even more Brazilians being sent to prison. Some of the policies he wants to implement include lowering the age of criminal responsibility from age 18 to age 16, which will only increase the number of Brazilians in the prison system. More Brazilians in the Brazilian prison system will not help reform the broken prison system. If anything, the country needs less prisoners so they can focus on improving the conditions in the prisons due to the overcrowding. The point of prison is to rehabilitate the prisoners so they can be reintegrated into society when they are released, but a prison in bad condition and ran by the prisoners instead of the guards is not suitable for rehabilitation.

President Bolsonaro must now deal with the crisis that has begun to unfold in his country. However, many members of the left saw this wave of terror coming. As Renato Roseno of the Socialism and Liberty Party stated, “This crisis was entirely predictable, we were sitting on a barrel of gunpowder and it just needed someone to light the fuse”. It is now up to him to decide if he will counter these actions, if he will send in foreign help, will peacekeeping troops be deployed, and will he still be able to stick to his tough on crime policy? It will be interesting to see how Bolsonaro deals with his first major crisis as a president. Will he be able to stick to his hard right policies or will he be pressured to renege on the promises that got him elected as president in the first place?

Old Crisis Sparks Anew: The Bogota Car Bombing

Source: The Tico Times (2019) 

Author: Billy Baker

Colombia has a bloody history of political violence (La Violencia, FARC, ELN). But after the peace agreement with FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) in 2016 and the peace talks with ELN (National Liberation Army), many thought that this would be the end of the bloodshed.

That was until January 17th, 2019, when a vehicle drove into the National Police Academy in Bogota, Colombia. The truck, armed with explosives, sped into the facility until hitting a wall. This triggered the detonation, killing 21 people (including the driver) and injuring 68 others. This marked the deadliest attack in 16 years.

Shortly after the bombing, ELN members in Colombia claimed responsibility for the attack. This has stalled peace talks currently being held in Cuba, although ELN chief negotiator, Pablo Beltran, has denied involvement in the attack. Colombian President Ivan Duque is now calling for the Cuban government to arrest and extradite the ELN negotiators in the country.

The Cuban government has responded by stating that they will follow the previously agreed protocol for a break in the dialogue. The protocol for this situation allows ELN negotiators to travel back to Colombia through Venezuela in a safe manner. It also requires the Colombian military not to engage any identified rebel strongholds for a 72-hour period during their return.

So what does this mean for the future? This single attack has damaged prospects for peace between ELN and the Colombian government, with the possibility of bringing back an escalation of widespread violence that Colombia has not experienced for years. This is unfortunately a possibility for a variety of reasons (low popularity for President Márquez, widespread disgust against ELN’s attack, need to respond to the attack).

It is necessary for the Colombian government to respond to the violence and crime that ELN has committed over the years. Along with the attack in Bogota, ELN has committed numerous attacks since peace talks began. Peace talks have proved difficult due to the group’s decentralized structure. This most recent attack by ELN has caused uncertainty about the future of political violence in Colombia.