In recent years, U.S. concerns have increased over activities of Hezbollah and the Sunni Muslim Palestinian group Hamas (Islamic Resistance Movement) in the tri-border area (TBA) of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay, which has a large Muslim population.
The TBA has long been used for arms and drug trafficking, contraband smuggling, document and currency fraud, money laundering, and the manufacture and movement of pirated goods.
A 2009 RAND study examines how Hezbollah has benefitted from film piracy proceeds in the tri-border.24 The State Department terrorism report maintains that the United States remains concerned that Hezbollah and Hamas sympathizers are raising funds among the sizable Middle Eastern communities in the region, but stated that there was no corroborated information that these or other Islamic extremist groups had an operational presence in the area.
Allegations have linked Hezbollah to two bombings in Argentina: the 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires that killed 30 people and the 1994 bombing of the Argentine-Israeli Mutual Association (AMIA) in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people. In November 2006, an Argentine judge issued arrest warrants in the AMIA case for nine individuals: an internationally wanted Hezbollah militant from Lebanon, Imad Mughniyah, and eight Iranian government officials, including former Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani.
Interpol subsequently posted a Red Notice for Mughniyah, and in November 2007, its General Assembly voted to approve notices for five of the Iranians wanted by Argentina (not including Rafsanjani). The action had been held up since March 2007, when Iran appealed the decision by Interpol’s Executive Committee to issue the notices. In February 2008, Imad Mughniyah was killed by a car bomb in Damascus, Syria. In December 2008, an Argentine judge in a civil suit against the Iranian suspects ordered the attachment of six commercial properties in Argentina owned by a former Iranian cultural attaché who is one of the suspects in the AMIA bombing.
According to Argentina’s Special Prosecutor Alberto Nisman, appointed to lead the AMIA investigation in 2004, the AMIA case is still alive and progressing. To date, $1.5 million in Iranian assets have been seized and the seizure of more than $600 million in assets is pending; such funds would help cover restitution to the families of the victims and material damage from the bombing.25
In October 2009, an Argentine judge charged former President Carlos Menem, his brother Munir Menem, former Judge Juan José Galeano, and several other high-ranking former police and intelligence officials with obstructing the AMIA investigation and protecting suspects. In December 2009, an Argentine judge ordered reopening the case of Carlos Telleldín, a mechanic alleged to have prepared the car bomb used in the AMIA attack.26
Over the years, the U.S. Congress has continued to express concern about progress in Argentina’s investigation of the 1994 AMIA bombing, with the House often passing resolutions on the issue around the time of the anniversary of the bombing on July 18.
In the 110th Congress, H.Con.Res. 188 (Ros-Lehtinen), approved by the House by voice vote on July 30, 2007, applauded the Argentine government for increasing the pace of the AMIA investigation, and called upon the General Assembly of Interpol to issue red notices for five Iranians implicated in the bombing; H.Con.Res. 385 (Ros-Lehtinen), approved by the House by voice vote on July 15, 2008, condemned the AMIA bombing, and urged Western Hemisphere governments to take actions to curb activities that support Hezbollah and other Islamist terrorist organizations.
Another resolution, H.Res. 435 (Klein), approved November 5, 2007, by voice vote, expressed concern over the emerging national security implications of Iran’s efforts to expand its influence in Latin America, and emphasized the importance of eliminating Hezbollah’s financial network in the triborder area of South America. In the 111th Congress, H.Con.Res. 156 (Ros-Lehtinen), approved July 17, 2009, again condemns the AMIA bombing and urges Western Hemisphere governments to take actions to curb the activities that support Hezbollah and other such extremist groups.
This article is an edited portion of a longer January 25, 2010 CRS report, Latin America: Terrorism Issues (PDF) prepared by Mark P. Sullivan, Specialist in Latin American Affairs for the Congressional Research Service (CRS).
24 Gregory F. Treverton et al, Film Piracy, Organized Crime, and Terrorism, RAND, 2009.