Next week Vice President Mike Pence will preview the Trump administration’s policy for Latin America and the Caribbean. It is expected to be a significant re-orientation of how America engages in the region; a roadmap that put US national and security interest first. Building on his prior work with regional matters when he served in the Congress, as well as his many trips to the region, including one last summer as Vice President that he had to cut short, Pence is expected to place a few markers that allies in the region should take as a sign that, moving forward, the United States will engage in the region in ways it has not done so in the past decade or so.
One issue that the Vice President will discuss includes security challenges throughout the region. In addition to the traditional “drugs and thugs” issues that include illegal drug trafficking and anti-corruption efforts, there is an increasing threat to the region posed by radical Islamic terrorists. This latter issue manifests itself in many ways throughout the Americas, from Mexico to Tierra del Fuego, and in places such as Cuba and Venezuela, Iran’s top allies in the Americas.It may seem like a faraway thing for most of us since a majority of Americans rarely, if ever, travel to the region. However, as a recent bomb plot in Miami illustrates, we must pay a lot more attention to this issue because it has been slowly creeping on us for decades.
Most of the Latin America experts of the Washington, D.C. think tank class thought it could never happen, but it almost did. A few times really. In fact, this most recent case should serve as a wake-up call to policymakers, as well as think tank experts, that radical Islāmic terrorist groups are in Latin America and the Caribbean to stay. In addition to learning more about cases such as this one, they may also want to closely study the 2018 posture statement (embedded at the end of this post) by Admiral Kurt Tidd, Commander, U.S. Southern Command where he talks about “pathways and vulnerabilities that can be exploited by terrorists or proliferators, and corrode confidence in the governance of partner nations we rely on to advance regional and global security interests” as well as Special Interest Aliens (SIAs) that reach and penetrate our borders.
Vicente Adolfo Solano (a.k.a Abad Solano)
A Honduran national, Vicente Adolfo Solano (a.k.a. Abad Solano), 53, is a citizen of Honduras residing in Miami. Abad Solano, I suspect, is a U.S. Legal Permanent Resident. Solano wanted to detonate on Black Friday 2017 an explosive device at a popular Miami shopping mall. But in a federal district court in South Florida this week, Solano pled guilty to providing material support to the Islāmic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS).
According to court records, in September 2017 a confidential informant approached U.S. law enforcement officials with information that Solano had become “increasingly upset with the policies of the United States government and its activities throughout the world.” Solano wanted to attack a Miami mall on “Black Friday” to send a message that was connected to ISIS’s ongoing war against the west.
Abad Solano Recorded Three Videos Praising ISIS, Hating America
Solano also recorded several videos where he said, among other things, that he likes “the way that ISIS confronts the United States and the countries of the coalition … I love that there is going to be a holy warm” adding that “is why I am joining the Islāmic group, the holy war, in the name of Allah, our leader Abu.” He was just warming up; Solano recorded two additional videos where he rants against the United States, stressing “holy war” many times stressing that “it’s not just the Middle East anymore, it’s not just the Muslims, now all countries are joining this cause because we have opened our eyes.”
Along with the confidential informant, two undercover FBI Special Agents and a Miami counter-terrorist team thwarted Abad Solano’s plot to detonate a bomb at the Miami mall. According to a U.S. Department of Justice press release, just prior to his arrest, Abad Solano took “possession of what he believed was an explosive device, took steps to arm it, and walked toward a mall entrance in order to carry out his attack. Unbeknownst to Solano, the device was inert and did not pose a risk to the public. Solano was taken into custody prior to entering the Mall.”
Abad Solano is not the first, and I doubt will be the last, potentially radicalized fellow from the region to attempt terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. One disturbing thread in Solano’s videos is that he appears to have studied or been aware of other Latin American jihadists or jihadist wannabes by referring to “Suarez,” another self-proclaimed ISIS fighter in Key West Florida who wanted to bomb a Florida Keys beach in 2015.
If you want to learn more about this subject, start with this 2014 House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, Terrorism Groups in Latin America, The Changing Landscape. In addition to this National Review op-ed on Cuba and terrorism, here are a few older blog posts on Hezbollah and other groups in Latin America: here, here, and here (2013); as well as a Wall Street Journal op-ed, The U.S.-Cuba Deal Heightens the Spy Threat.