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A top US State Department official on Tuesday warned officials from twelve key nations in the Western Hemisphere that Hezbollah -- Iran's Lebanon-based Shi'a proxy terror group -- is "just as dangerous and just as close" as ISIS, the Sunni Islamist organization responsible for mass atrocities in Iraq and Syria.
"Despite its name, Lebanese Hezbollah operates within many of our own borders and far from the Middle East," Deputy Secretary of State John J. Sullivan told delegates to the Western Hemisphere Counterterrorism Ministerial in Washington, DC.
Among the countries represented at Monday's meeting was Argentina - on two occasions the target of savage Hezbollah terrorist attacks during the 1990s. "In 1994, Hezbollah killed 85 people and injured hundreds more in Buenos Aires when it attacked the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) just two years after it had attacked the Israeli embassy there," Sullivan reminded the delegates.
While Hezbollah has not carried out attacks in Latin America on that scale since the AMIA atrocity, Sullivan asserted that "several of your governments are still confronted with Hezbollah plots on a regular basis."
Said Sullivan: "Just this September, Brazil arrested a Hezbollah financier in the tri-border area near Paraguay and Argentina. In 2016, Paraguay arrested another Hezbollah operative smuggling out 39 kilos of cocaine, whom we in the United States are prosecuting in Miami."
The US was similarly vulnerable to Hezbollah-linked criminal activities and terrorism, Sullivan added.
"In June 2017, the FBI arrested two Hezbollah operatives in the United States, one in New York and one in Michigan," the deputy secretary of state said. "The New York-based operative was surveilling military and law enforcement facilities there, while the Detroit-based operative surveilled US and Israeli targets in Panama as well as the Panama Canal."
Sullivan praised the countries at the meeting -- Argentina, the Bahamas, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Honduras, Jamaica, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, and Trinidad and Tobago -- for having "made progress to ensure that our counterterrorism policies are more nimble and more effective to keep pace with the ever-growing terrorist threat, even shrinking the number of gaps the terrorists might seek to exploit."
Sullivan noted that "Argentina has worked on reforming criminal laws to better prosecute terrorists." Trinidad and Tobago, he said, "has established an interagency taskforce to gather terrorism-related intelligence that can be used as courtroom evidence."
Sullivan also examined the continued threat posed by Sunni Islamist terror groups such as ISIS and al-Qaeda.
"Even as ISIS clings to its last territory in Syria, it is through its videos and carefully calibrated public messaging that they can continue to assert a longer worldwide fight," Sullivan remarked. "Through these messages, ISIS continues to seek women and men across the globe whom they can radicalize and inspire to take up the cause and carry it out wherever they can."
US President Donald Trump's "'America First' policy to defend our country does not mean America alone," Sullivan emphasized. "We seek to continue leading the fight against groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda and Lebanese Hezbollah, but we're also asking our allies and partners to join us in that fight and do more as well."