International law enforcement cooperation paid off this week when a sting a year in the making took down members of a drug ring run by Hezbollah which had been funneling money towards weapons purchases. The ring was being operated by a European cell of the Lebanese-based terror group Hezbollah, and the weapons were meant for Syria, US officials said Monday.
“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 (DEA) said in a statement.
According to Washington, European Hezbollah members were laundering money through a Lebanese front company, then purchasing weapons to support embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad in the ongoing civil war.
The global drug network was founded by Hezbollah’s then-global operations chief Imad Mughniyah, later killed in a bombing in Damascus in 2008, allegedly a joint effort by the CIA and Israel’s Mossad. It has since been run by Abdallah Safieddine and Adham Tabaja, according to the DEA. Known to the DEA as the Lebanese Hezballah External Security Organization Business Affairs Component (BAC), the network has been responsible for the movement of large quantities of cocaine in the US and Europe.
Taking out the key European players has been part of the DEA’s Project Cassandra, which is targeting the BAC. According to the DEA, the BAC has ties to South American drug cartels, such as La Oficina de Envigado.
The DEA and its law enforcement partners succeeded in arresting the leaders of the European cell involved in the BAC, most notably Specially Designated Global Terrorist Mohamad Noureddine, who has been particularly instrumental in money-laundering.
“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.”
Hezbollah, which is supported by Iran, is designated a terrorist organization by both the US and Israel, while Europe differentiates between the group’s political and military wings, the latter of which is blacklisted.