Terrorism: December 20, 2003


The war on terror is spreading into more out-of-the-way places. Hounded by police and intelligence agencies in their normal haunts, al Qaeda cells are showing in several parts of South America. The "Moslem Triangle" (where the borders of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay meet) has long been a center for smuggling and all manner of illegal activity. Many of the local officials have been bribed, or otherwise compromised. Smuggling  goods between the three nations got the local gangs started, but many other criminal activities are now common, including forgery (of travel documents and currency especially.) Arabs began emigrating to the area generations ago, and these people are now part of the legal, and illegal, trading in the region. The local Arabs are not into terrorism, but recent Arab migrants have included al Qaeda operatives and recruits. Since al Qaeda has long used illegal activities to fund their operations, the triangle makes an excellent base. The area has also gotten a lot of attention from local and international counter-terrorism organizations. But exactly what is going on down there is hidden behind the normal discretion and violence that masks the long standing criminal activities. 

Moslem radicals have also been showing up in areas where the drug trade is a major activity. Colombia and Bolivia have witnessed more Moslems operating, usually not openly. While most of this activity appears to be fund raising, and a lot of it may just be Arab drug gangs going international, it's likely that al Qaeda has settled in as well. The local drug gangs don't want added attention from international counter-terrorism efforts, so the al Qaeda element is keeping its head down so as not to upset the heavily armed drug cartels. But both the drug gangs and al Qaeda have a strong dislike for the United States, and might join forces to strike at their mutual enemy.

And then there's Argentina, where anti-Semitism has long been tolerated and Arab terrorists, apparently backed by Iran, have bombed several Jewish organizations in the past two decades. The local Arab community can provide cover for anti-Jewish or al Qaeda terrorists. The government has been more forceful in fighting local terrorist groups since September 11, 2001, and revelations that a former president took a bribe from Iran to shut down investigations of terrorist bombings against Jewish targets has spurred a crackdown on al Qaeda.

Last month, Bolivian police arrested 16 young Moslem men from the Middle East and accused them of planning terrorist attacks. Interrogations revealed that they were Islamic radicals, looking to strike American targets. French police reported that four of the men had histories of Islamic radicalism in France. Further north, Moslem men are among those being moved, by professional smuggling rings, through Mexico and into the United States. 

Arab communities throughout South America have reported recent immigrants who were more interested in Islamic radicalism than in making a new life in Latin America. Such radicalism has not found much acceptance among the locals, no matter where their ancestors came from. But there has not been a lot of effort to find out who's naughty or nice either. So the potential for an increasing al Qaeda presence in South American grows. 


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