By Manoj Rijal, NEW YORK: The U.S. Department of State has announced a reward up to $10 million for any information that could lead to the disruption of financial networks and support system of Hizballah, a Lebanon based global terrorist organization outlawed in 1997.
The rewards can be provided for information leading to the identification and disruption of a source of revenue for Hizballah or its key financial facilitation mechanisms, major Hizballah donors or financial facilitators and financial institutions or exchange houses facilitating Hizballah transactions.
Likewise, the rewards will be provided for information on the businesses or investments owned or controlled by Hizballah or its financiers, the front companies engaged in international procurement of dual-use technology on behalf of Hizballah; and criminal schemes – involving Hizballah members and supporters – that financially benefit the organization.
Hizballah receives weapons, training, and funding from Iran, which the U.S. government designated as a state sponsor of terrorism in 1984. Hizballah generates about a billion dollars a year from a combination of direct financial support from Iran, international businesses and investments, donor networks and money laundering activities.
The State Department designated Hizballah as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) in October 1997 under the Immigration and Nationality Act, and as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) in October 2001 under an Executive Order.
The U.S. government has identified three individuals as the key Hizballah financiers or facilitators about whom it seeks information. All three have been designated as the Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGTs).
They are: Adham Tabaja, a Hizballah member and facilitator disguised as a real estate entrepreneur; Mohammad Ibrahim Bazzi, a key Hizballah financier masked as an owner of several international trading groups; and Ali Youssef Charara, yet another key Hizballah financier posing himself as the owner of a Lebanese telecom company.
Addressing a joint press conference in Washington DC and New York on Monday, April 22, 2019, top U.S. officials declared that they would use all available resources to make sure Hizballah gets no funding and financial support, at all.
“Make no mistake: the United States government will use all available tools to extinguish Hizballah’s sources of revenue. We will also target any and all financial means of the group and its masters in Iran, and every mechanism that they together use to support terrorist activities in the Middle East and, in fact, around the world,” said the U.S. Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, Mr. Marshall Billingslea.
On the question of illegal drugs smuggling from Latin America to fund Hizballah’s terrorist activities, Mr. Billingslea said there are a number of Hizballah financiers who, in addition to running various types of import-export businesses, are involved in the illegal drug trades, too.
“Mohammad Ibrahim Bazzi is an excellent example of an individual who traffics in narcotics in addition to his other nefarious behaviors. Last week, for instance, we designated a money exchange house in Lebanon, the Chams Exchange, run by an individual who launders money – extremely large amounts of money – for narcotics organizations, including Colombian narcotics organizations, and who also moves money for Hizballah.”
According to U.S. Assistant Secretary of Diplomatic Security Mr. Michael Evanoff, Hizballah has generated about $1 billion annually through the direct financial supports from Iran, international businesses and investments, donor networks and money-laundering activities in the previous years.
“The group uses these funds to support its malign activities throughout the world, which includes the development of militia to Syria in the support of Assad dictatorship; and to Yemen in support of the Iran-aligned Houthi rebels; surveillance and intelligence-gathering operations in the American homeland; and enhanced military capabilities, including its claim to possess precision-guided missiles,” said Mr. Evanoff.
“Such terrorist operations are funded through Hizballah’s international network of financial supporters and activities. We intend to stem that critical flow of money using the Reward offer, as well as sanctions and other tools available to the U.S.,” he added.
U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Counter-terrorism, Mr. Nathan Sales said any conversation about Hizballah must begin in Tehran, the Iranian capital, first.
“We’re talking about Hizballah today, but any conversation about Hizballah must begin in Tehran. Iran remains the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. This is a reprehensible distinction that the regime has held since 1984. The regime spends nearly a billion dollars a year on its terrorist proxies around the world, and that includes up to $700 million for Hizballah alone,” Ambassador Sales said.
“In 2017, two suspected Hizballah operatives were arrested in New York and Michigan. We believe they were conducting surveillance of the U.S. Government facilities as well as the Panama Canal,” he added.
Since 1984 the United States Government has paid more than $150 million to over a hundred people who have provided actionable information that put terrorists behind bars or prevents acts of international terrorism worldwide under the Rewards for Justice Program.
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