The Globalisation of Terror: Hezbollah in Africa
The globalisation of terror networks is a reality. Lakshar-e-Taiba emerged to challenge New Delhi on the issue of Kashmir but increasingly its demands have expanded; its operations have gone global, whilst its list of enemies has grown. Similarly Al Shabaab’s activities has not been confined to Somalia or the Horn of Africa – rather its pernicious influence has spread as a far afield as Copenhagen, Cape Town and Minneapolis.
However, neither of these terror networks can compete with the malignant cancer that is Hezbollah in scope, magnitude and variety. An early indication of Hezbollah’s global reach came in July 2000 when law enforcement officials came across a cigarette smuggling ring in Charlotte, North Carolina with some profits being channeled back to Hezbollah in Lebanon whilst other profits were used to purchase night-vision goggles, cameras and scopes, surveying equipment, global positioning systems, mine and metal detection equipment, video equipment, advanced aircraft analysis and design software, laptop computers, stun guns, radio and laser finders. This equipment was also sent to Hezbollah.
Whilst the US demonstrates Hezbollah’s criminal activities, South America demonstrates its lethality. It was here on the 17th March 1992 that Hezbollah operatives, with the assistance of Iranian “diplomats” bombed the Israeli embassy, killing 29 people.
It is in Africa, however where a far fuller range of Hezbollah’s activities are exposed. These include ideological indoctrination, military training, criminal activities, the setting up of local proxies, the destabiliSation of existing regimes and support for other, more odious regimes.
Hezbollah’s support for local organisations in the form of radical Shi’ite cleric Shaykh Ibrahim Zakzaky’s Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) also serve to destabilise existing regimes. This was graphically illustrated when IMN members audaciously attacked the motorcade of the Emir of Zazzau, Alhaji Shehu Idris, who was on his way to a security meeting in Kaduna where the IMN was under discussion. It subsequently emerged that IMN members were instructed on religious and military matters in Iran. Military training by Hezbollah has also been undertaken on the African continent itself. As early as 1996, Israel lodged a complaint with the South African government regarding the existence of five Hezbollah training camps in the country.
Hezbollah’s support for Africa’s rogue regimes is seen in their proximity to Liberia’s warlord president Charles Taylor currently standing trial in The Hague, Zaire’s (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) kleptocratic President Mobutu Sese Seko, as well as Zimbabwe’s Mugabe regime. In all three cases it was not ideological conviction but rather the criminal enterprise around diamond smuggling which was the cement which bound these parties together. Consequently conflict diamonds from West Africa via Hezbollah-aligned Lebanese dealers found their way to Beirut, Antwerp, Dubai and Mumbai. Similarly a Partnership Africa Canada (PAC) report suggested Lebanese involvement in the smuggling of rough diamonds out of Zimbabwe to Dubai and Mumbai. Whilst ruling apparatchiks drew benefits from this illicit trade, their people languished in poverty and their democratic aspirations were suppressed.
Meanwhile, Hezbollah received tremendous economic largesse from these criminal endeavours. Whilst exact figures are unknown, it is said to accrue tens of millions of dollars per annum. Some insight into this occurred on 25th December 2003 when a charter flight – UTA 141 – from Cotonou, Benin to Beirut crashed killing all the passengers including senior Hezbollah members. They were carrying US $2 million in cash. In recent years Hezbollah criminal activities have also encompassed drug-trafficking from South America to West Africa and from there into Western Europe. Money from Hezbollah’s criminal arm then found its way to fund Hezbollah’s terrorist operations.
Whilst understanding the financial imperative behind any terrorist entity, what is the larger game plan? Here we need to understand that Hezbollah is not an independent entity but part and parcel of Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security (VEVAK) as well as its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The underlying objective behind Hezbollah’s activities then seems to be an attempt by Iran to create multiple fronts from which to strike at Western (largely American) and Israeli targets in the event of a military strike on its nuclear facilities. The existence of such an unconventional capability they hope would also serve to deter any such attack.
Understanding the nature of the threat is one thing, eradicating it is much harder. Whilst Washington has attempted to disrupt the financial activities of Hezbollah supporters like Kassim Tajideen and Abd Al Menhem Qubaysi, as long as corruption remains endemic in Africa, these networks will continue to grow. Moreover more needs to be done by Dubai, Antwerp and other such diamond hubs to minimise terror financing opportunities. Combating global terrorism demands truly global co-operation. In addition to the financial front, more needs to be done by the West to beef up Africa’s state capacity on a variety of fronts. It is precisely the African state’s weakness which allows its penetration by terrorist entities such as Hezbollah.