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Proxy Groups

Despite a decrease in terror attacks in Lebanon and the introduction of counterterrorism legislation, Lebanon remains host to numerous US-designated terrorist groups. At the same time, a number of legislative, legal, and operational initiatives showed some promise in Lebanon's counterterrorism efforts. However, Beirut continued to demonstrate an unwillingness to take steps against Lebanese Hizballah, the PIJ, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), the Abu Nidal organization (ANO), and HAMAS.

The Lebanese Government recognizes as legitimate resistance groups those organizations that target Israel and permits them to maintain offices in Beirut. Beirut goes further by exempting what it terms "legal resistance" groups -- including Hizballah -- from money-laundering and terrorism- financing laws. Lebanese leaders, including President Emile Lahud, reject assessments of Hizballah's global reach, instead concentrating on the group's political wing and asserting that it is an integral part of Lebanese society and politics. In addition, Syrian and Iranian support for Hizballah activities in southern Lebanon, as well as training and assistance to Palestinian rejectionist groups, help promote an environment where terrorist elements flourish. Hizballah conducted multiple attacks in the Shab'a Farms region during 2003, including firing antitank rockets.

The Lebanese security forces remained unable or unwilling to enter Palestinian refugee camps -- the operational nodes of terrorist groups such as 'Asbat al-Ansar and the Palestinian rejectionists -- and to deploy forces to much of the Beka'a Valley, southern Beirut, and the south of the country bordering Israel. Furthermore, Syria's predominant role in Lebanon facilitates the Hizballah and Palestinian rejectionist presence in portions of Lebanon.

The Lebanese Government acknowledges the UN 1267 Sanctions Committee's consolidated list but does not acknowledge groups identified by only the US Government: Beirut will not take action against groups designated solely by the United States. In addition, constitutional provisions prohibit the extradition of Lebanese nationals to a third country. Lebanese authorities further maintain that the Government's provision of amnesty to Lebanese individuals involved in acts of violence during the civil war prevents Beirut from prosecuting many cases of concern to the United States -- including the hijacking in 1985 of TWA 847 and the murder of a US Navy diver on the flight -- and the abduction, torture, and murder of US hostages from 1984 to 1991. US courts have brought indictments against Hizballah operatives responsible for a number of those crimes, and some of these defendants remain prominent terrorist figures.

The Lebanese Government has insisted that "Imad Mugniyah" -- wanted in connection with the TWA hijacking and other terrorist acts, who was placed on the FBI's list of most-wanted terrorists in 2001 -- is no longer in Lebanon. The Government's legal system also has failed to hold a hearing on the prosecutor's appeal in the case of Tawfi z Muhammad Farroukh, who -- despite the evidence against him -- was found not guilty of murder for his role in the killings of US Ambassador Francis Meloy and two others in 1976.

Syrian government provided terrorists with safe haven, allowed them to operate over a dozen terrorist training camps in the Syrian-controlled Bekaa Valley in Lebanon, and permited the Iranian government to re-supply these camps.

It is also widely believed that the Bekaa Valley in Syria-occupied Lebanon served as the epicenter for training the world's most dangerous terrorists. The Bekaa is a one-stop shop for terrorist training. Terrorists from every corner of the international community come together in training camps to learn how to conduct lethal operations. Terrorists learn how to transform themselves into suicide bombers. They also learn how to utilize various types of weapons, including long-range Katyusha rockets, high-explosive anti-tank mines and modern plastic explosives. The effects of this comprehensive training can be seen in such devastating acts as the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing. Other attacks that originated from the Bekaa Valley include the kidnapping and murder of former CIA Beirut station chief William Buckley in 1984.

Such groups as Al-Qaeda, Al-Jihad (Egyptian Islamic Jihad) Hamas, Hezbollah, the Japanese Red Army, Abu Nidal's organization, Force-17, New People's Army (Phillipines), the IRA, Chechen Rebels, Fatah, the Red Brigade, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Medellin Drug Cartel were just some of the terrorist organizations who have received training in the Valley and continue to operate there.

Hezbollah, the Iranian backed Moslem fundamentalist militia, is the largest single militia in the Bekaa. The largest city in the valley, Baalbeck is the headquarters of Hezbollah.

The Bekaa Valley was an incredibly fertile and varied agricultural land. The Bekaa Valley in central Lebanon, with the warm Mediterranean sun beating down on it, is one of the most ideal places in the world to cultivate cannabis and poppies. Before the civil war in Lebanon began in the late 1970's drug production was minimal. Lebanon was a prosperous country. Beirut was known as the `Paris of the East' and tourists, not drug crops were soaking up the Sun.

Then war destroyed Lebanon and its economy. Numerous factions, each with their own militias, split up and occupied different parts of Lebanon. Each needed a source of income for weapons and ammunition to supply their armies. Many illegal activities were tried such as counterfeiting and kidnapping, but eventually the narcotics trade came to be seen as the most effective way to raise money. As the war continued and weapons became increasingly expensive and more difficult to get, drug production increased as well. Battles would often be fought over fertile fields and drug crops. Narcotics growing and trafficking became a way of life for an entire generation in Lebanon. By the early 1990s cannabis or opium crops covered almost 75 percent of the 4,280 square kilometer Bekaa Valley.

In addition to Lebanese cannabis, Hezbollah may traffick heroin out of Iran and distributing it through their Lebanon-based cannabis trafficking network. Money from narcotics goes to support Hezbollah's militia within Lebanon, and presumably also to support their terrorist attacks around the world.

The whole system of narcotics trafficking from Lebanon, from the farmer on the local level to arms purchases on the international level, is very smooth. Probably the greatest advantage Lebanese traffickers had over their foreign counterparts was that they only had to worry about getting narcotics and money past European or American borders, since there were essentially no border controls in Lebanon, and no serious domestic law enforcement, interdiction or eradication programs.

One of the most worrisome aspects of the drug trade in Lebanon was the involvement of the Syrian military. With tens of thousands of troops stationed in the Bekaa, Syria controlled virtually everything that goes on within the valley. While President Hafez Assad had not been tied to the Lebanese drug trade, his brother Rifaat and other high ranking Syrian military officials had been. Apparently Syrian soldiers jump at a chance to get a tour in the Bekaa because fortunes and futures are made there. At every exchange and checkpoint soldiers routinely receive bribes and often collect extortion money.

Not only did the Syrian military turn a blind eye to drug trafficking, reports suggest they aid and abet it as well. There were many reports that Syrian military equipment is used in the transportation of narcotics and that mobile labs are often built into military trucks. While Syria promised stricter narcotics control and has made several large, highly publicized seizures, Lebanon's drug trade remained uncontrolled by Syrian authorities.

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Page last modified: 28-07-2011 00:53:48 ZULU