Latin America is not a readily associated region for radical Islamic terrorism, but for decades individuals and groups linked to radical Islam have operated throughout the Americas. The tri-border area in South America is one many pockets down of concern. It is relatively easy to blend in and it is a money laundering and counterfeiting haven. Last week in South Florida, four individuals and three Miami companies were indicted for engaging in financing Hezbollah by illegally exporting electronics to Paraguay through the Port of Miami.
The SOUTHCOM commander testified last year before a Senate Committee on terrorism in the Americas and specifically on recent Iranian activities in various countries. Of Iran’s efforts in the region, Admiral James Stavridis said that it “is of concern principally because of the connections between the government of Iran, which is a state sponsor of terrorism, and Hezbollah. We see a great deal of Hezbollah activity throughout South America, in particular. [The] tri-border of Brazil is a particular concern, as in Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina, as well as [other] parts of Brazil and in the Caribbean Basin.”
According to the Justice Department, Samer Mehdi, 37, of Paraguay, Khaled T. Safadi, 56, of Miami, FL, Ulises Talavera, 46, of Miami, FL, Emilio Jacinto Gonzalez-Neira, 43, of Paraguay, Cedar Distributors, Inc., Transamerica Express of Miami, Inc., and Jumbo Cargo, Inc., were indicted on charges of conspiracy, 18 U.S.C. § 371, violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), 50 U.S.C. §§ 1701-1706, and smuggling electronic goods from the United States to Paraguay, 18 U.S.C. § 554. If convicted, the individual defendants face a lot of jail time and hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars in fines.
The group was shipping electronic goods, including Sony Playstation units, that cannot be shipped to certain places without a license from the U.S. government. It turns out that this group was not only shipping controlled items, but shipping them to an entity in Paraguay with terrorist ties that the U.S. Government has on a watch list. That means that you cannot do any business at all with them. The Paraguayan entity is the Galeria Page in Ciudad del Este, Paraguay and is owned by Muhammad Yusif Abdallah. According to the government Abdallah is as a senior Hezbollah leader in South America. By the way, if you are wondering about the Playstation units, the widely “read” Playstation user agreement states that:
the Software may contain technology that is subject to certain restrictions under the U.S. Export Administration Regulations, and may not be exported or re-exported to U.S. embargoed destinations, or persons and entities prohibited by the U.S. Export Administration Regulations. In addition, Software may not be exported or re-exported to persons and entities prohibited by the U.S. Export Administration Regulations.
One of the lawyers for the indicted defendants can still find humor in all this. “Terrorism?” Tein told the Associated Press. “More like ‘The Great Sony Playstation Caper.’ The indictment literally charges them with selling Playstation 2 video games to Paraguay. That’s some weapon of mass destruction.” Not sure what question he was responding do, and I could not access the complete indictment due to download issues at the DOJ website, but this matter has more to do with export controls, sanctions violations, and dealing with a terrorist organization that has murdered civilians, than weapons of mass destruction. Not much humor in that. Attempting to trivialize the violations will not make the matter go away either.