In October 2014, Peruvian police in Lima arrested a Lebanese Hizballah operative named Mohammed Hamdar; their subsequent investigation led them to believe he was there to plan a major terrorist attack. Hamdar’s trial is still under way, but Ilan Berman argues that it could be a turning point in the battle against Islamist terrorist organizations in Latin America:
Latin America has long been notorious as a permissive operating environment for an array of local radical groups. But the region’s empty political spaces have, likewise, afforded foreign terrorists fertile soil in which to take root. In some cases, this intrusion has been made possible by widespread corruption and a lack of effective governance. In others, however, [certain] regimes—including Venezuela and several other “Bolivarian” nations—have ignored or even abetted the activities of extremist elements from the Middle East [for ideological reasons].
Arguably, the most prominent of these is the terrorist powerhouse Hizballah, which has maintained an active presence in South America. It has done so since the 1980s, when, with Iran’s assistance, it established a beachhead in the Tri-Border Region where Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay intersect. Since then, Hizballah has succeeded in building an extensive network of operations in the Americas—encompassing a wide range of illicit activities and criminal enterprises, from drug trafficking to recruitment to fundraising to militant training. Over time, Hizballah has been joined by other terrorist organizations, such as al-Qaeda and even Islamic State (IS). . . .
Such freedom of action is possible largely because of the region’s lack of robust counterterrorism laws. Simply put, the countries of Latin America currently lack a standard legal framework that criminalizes and blacklists foreign terrorist organizations in the same way that the United States does. . . .
Hamdar could change all that. If the prosecution succeeds in securing a guilty verdict, it would be tantamount to a criminalization of Hamdar’s membership in Hizballah—a milestone in a region that currently lacks any such legal precedent. The local effects would be immediate, empowering Peruvian authorities to track down and unravel the network of operatives and supporters that Hizballah has erected throughout the country. But a conviction would likewise send a powerful signal to Hizballah and other groups now active in the region that their activities in Latin America can no longer be considered cost-free.
Read more on Ilan Berman: http://www.ilanberman.com/19578/peril-in-peru