Undercover Hezbollah operations in South America have been uncovered in an extensive investigation carried out jointly by the United States and Colombia.
According to Colombian media outlet Infobae, Hezbollah has been present in the country under the cover of a legitimate organization called the External Security Organization (ESO), which is essentially Unit 910, Hezbollah’s foreign operations arm.
ESO was founded and headed by Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyeh until his assassination in 2008. It is now led by Talal Hamiyeh.
The three-year-long investigation, carried out in coordination with the US Drug Enforcement Agency, identified commercial entities and platforms that Hezbollah has been using to cover its activities including drug dealing, selling and exporting stolen vehicles and money laundering.
Hezbollah was found to be ensuring the safety and secrecy of its members by settling them in cities such as Cartagena, Barranqilla and Maicao using forged identification documents.
The group also established businesses dealing in textiles, meat products and coal.
According to Colombian intelligence sources, 80% of the income generated by these businesses are channeled through European banks on their way to Beirut and are used to support Hezbollah. The remaining 20% of revenus are re-invested in Colombian and Panamanian enterprises.
Investigators also found that agents are recruited at local mosques and community centers before sending them to Lebanon with “scholarships.”
The group also uses social networks in Colombia and Panama to identify supporters it can brainwash and tries to get them to convert to Islam.
Colombian authorities found that orders are issued in Iran, passed to Lebanon and from there to local affiliate ESO.
One of the senior members of the network was Abdullah Rada Ramel, a Lebanese man who is responsible for Hezbollah operations in Panama. He travels between many countries including Venezuela, Paraguay, Brazil, Argentina, Germany, Switzerland and the United States. About a year ago, he was expelled from Colombia after being indicted for drug smuggling and money laundering.