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21 May 2002

Report Cites Terrorist Activity in Colombia, Peru, Tri-Border Area

(Latin America segment of 2001 "Patterns of Global Terrorism") (4390)
Terrorist activity remains a significant concern in several areas of
Latin America -- most notably in Colombia, Peru, and the tri-border
region of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, a new State Department
report indicates.
While terrorism in Colombia and Peru is of domestic origin, according
to the annual "Patterns of Global Terrorism" report for 2001,
"September 11 brought renewed attention to the activities of the
Lebanese-based terrorist organization Hizballah, as well as other
terrorist groups, in the tri-border area ... where terrorists raise
millions of dollars annually via criminal enterprises."
The report, released May 21, notes that although the tri-border region
has long been associated with various illegal activities, it is now
also characterized as a hub for Hizballah and Hamas activities,
especially logistics and finance. The report added, however, that
press reports of al-Qaida operatives in the tri-border area either had
been disproved or remained uncorroborated by year's end.
The governments of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay continued to monitor
the tri-border area and had taken steps "to rein in the individuals
most strongly suspected of materially aiding terrorist groups," the
report said. Paraguayan officials, for example, raided a variety of
business and detained "numerous suspects" believed to have materially
aided either Hizballah or Hamas.
Terrorism remains a serious problem in Colombia, the report said,
noting that in 2001 "there were more kidnappings in Colombia than in
any other country in the world, and the financial transfers from
victims to terrorists by way of ransom payments and extortion fees
continued to cripple the Colombian economy." Some 3,500 murders in
2001 were attributed to the three main terrorist groups operating in
that country -- the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the
National Liberation Army (ELN), and the United Self-Defense Forces of
Colombia (AUC).
According to the report, the FARC and the AUC "continued their deadly
practice of massacring one another's alleged supporters, especially in
areas where they were competing for narcotics trafficking corridors or
prime coca-growing terrain." Likewise, the FARC and the ELN "struggled
with one another for dominance" in the bombing of Colombia's Cano
Limon oil pipeline, launching a total of 178 attacks on the pipeline
which had a "devastating ecological and economic impact."
Another troubling development in Colombia was the capture in August of
three members of the Irish Republican Army subsequently charged with
providing expertise and training in explosives to the FARC.
In Peru, the report said that although there were no international
acts of terrorism in 2001, the 130 acts of domestic terrorism
represented a marked increase over figures for the previous three
years. Sendero Luminoso was the most active terrorist group in Peru,
the report said, noting that the arrest of two of its members in late
November 2001 thwarted a potential attack against a U.S. target in
Peru, possibly the U.S. embassy.
The report praised several Latin American nations -- including
Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Uruguay
-- either for specific anti-terrorist initiatives or for their strong
support of the United States in the aftermath of the September 11
terrorist attacks against New York and Washington.
Citing hemisphere-wide support for the United States after those
attacks, the report said "the countries of Latin America (with the
exception of Cuba) joined as one in condemning the attacks of
September 11 when the Organization of American States became the first
international organization to express outrage at the 'attack on all
the democratic and free states of the world.'" The report observed
that ten days later, OAS members invoked the Inter-American Treaty of
Reciprocal Assistance, better known as the Rio Treaty, in support of
the United States.
The full text of the Latin America section of the "Patterns of Global
Terrorism" report is as follows:
(begin text)
Latin America Overview
"Individually and collectively, we will deny terrorist groups the
capacity to operate in this hemisphere. This American family stands
united." -- Declaration by the Organization of American States, 21
September 2001
The countries of Latin America (with the exception of Cuba) joined as
one in condemning the attacks of September 11 when the Organization of
American States became the first international organization to express
outrage at the "attack on all the democratic and free states of the
world" and to voice solidarity with the United States. Ten days later,
the OAS Foreign Ministers called for a series of strong measures to
combat terrorism, and those members that are party to the
Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance took the unprecedented
step of invoking the principle of mutual assistance -- an agreement by
which an attack on any state party to the treaty is considered an
attack on them all.
Kidnapping remained one of the most pernicious problems in the region.
Nineteen U.S. citizens were kidnapped in Latin America in 2001,
including five each in Colombia and Haiti, and four in Mexico. Elite
counterterrorism units in Colombia arrested 50 persons in connection
with the abduction in October 2000 of five U.S. oil workers in Ecuador
and the subsequent murder in January 2001 of U.S. hostage Ron Sander.
September 11 brought renewed attention to the activities of the
Lebanese-based terrorist organization Hizballah, as well as other
terrorist groups, in the tri-border area of Argentina, Brazil, and
Paraguay, where terrorists raise millions of dollars annually via
criminal enterprises. There is evidence of the presence of Hizballah
members or sympathizers in other areas of Latin America as well: in
northern Chile, especially around Iquique; in Maicao, Colombia, near
the border with Venezuela; on Margarita Island in Venezuela; and in
Panama's Colon Free Trade Zone. Allegations of Usama Bin Ladin or
al-Qaida support cells in Latin America were investigated by U.S. and
local intelligence and law-enforcement organizations, but at year's
end they remained uncorroborated.
On 10 September, Secretary of State Powell officially designated the
Colombian paramilitary organization United Self-Defense Forces (AUC)
as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) due in part to their
explosive growth -- the AUC swelled to an estimated 9,000 fighters in
2001 -- and reliance on terrorist tactics. Colombia's largest
terrorist organization, the 16,000-member Revolutionary Armed Forces
of Colombia (FARC), unleashed such a wave of violence and terror in
2001 and early 2002 that Colombian President Andres Pastrana decided,
in February 2002, to terminate the peace talks that had been a
cornerstone of his presidency and to reassert government control over
the FARC's demilitarized zone, or despeje.
Three members of the Irish Republican Army -- alleged explosives
experts helping the FARC prepare for an urban terror campaign -- were
arrested as they departed the despeje in August. Allegations of
similar support by the terrorist group Basque Fatherland and Liberty,
or ETA, to the FARC were reported by Colombian media. Ecuador is
viewed by many analysts as a strategic point in the international
weapons transshipment routes for arms, ammunition, and explosives
destined for Colombian terrorist groups.
In Peru, the Shining Path showed signs of making a comeback as a
terrorist organization, albeit with a greater focus on narcotics than
on ideological insurgency. The MRTA, largely wiped out in the late
1990s, did not take any terrorist actions in 2001.
Cuba, one of the seven state sponsors of terrorism, is discussed in
the state sponsorship portion of this report.
Bolivia
Although no acts of international terrorism took place in Bolivia in
2001, there were numerous incidents of domestic terrorism, capped by
the car-bomb explosion on 21 December near the entrance to the
Bolivian National Police Department district office in Santa Cruz. The
attack killed one and caused numerous injuries; nearby buildings,
including one that houses U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency offices, also
sustained collateral damage. Bolivian officials suspect the bombing
may have been related to recent police successes against a captured
group of robbery suspects, including some Peruvians, apparently led by
a former Bolivian police official.
Most other incidents were thought to be perpetrated by illegal coca
growers ("cocaleros"), including using snipers against security forces
and boobytrapping areas where eradication efforts take place
principally in the Chapare area of Cochabamba Department.
In the months following September 11, Bolivia became a party to all 12
U.N. and the one OAS counterterrorism conventions. In addition,
Bolivia issued blocking orders on terrorist assets.
Chile
Two apparently terrorist-related incidents occurred in Chile during
2001. In late September, the U.S. Embassy received a functional
letter-bomb that local police successfully destroyed in a controlled
demolition. The second incident involved an anthrax-tainted letter
received at a Santiago doctor's office; the anthrax strain, however,
did not match that found in U.S. cases, and it was possible that this
incident was perpetrated locally.
In the letter-bomb case, two Chilean suspects, Lenin Guardia and
Humbero Lopez Candia, were taken into custody, charged with
obstruction of justice and possession of illegal weapons, and
manufacturing and sending the bomb, respectively. Although they both
face 20-year prison sentences upon conviction under Chile's
anti-terrorism law, it appeared that the U.S. Embassy was a
high-profile target of opportunity for persons acting out of personal
and selfish motivations.
The Chilean Government also opened an investigation into the
activities in the northern port city of Iquique of Lebanese
businessman Assad Ahmed Mohamed Barakat -- the same Barakat wanted by
Paraguayan authorities and who, at year's end, continued to reside in
Brazil. In Iquique, authorities suspect Barakat, along with his
Lebanese partner, established two businesses as cover operations to
transfer potentially millions of dollars to Hizballah.
Chile also began taking concrete steps to improve its own
counterterrorism capabilities and to comply with its international
treaty obligations. Aside from becoming party to all 12 U.N.
counterterrorism conventions, the steps include proposals for new
money-laundering laws to target terrorist financing, special
counterterrorism investigative units, and a new national intelligence
agency.
Chile -- working with Brazil and Argentina -- has led efforts to
coordinate hemispheric support for the United States in the aftermath
of September 11 in its capacity as the 2001 head (Secretary pro
Tempore) of the Rio Group. The efforts included convening the OAS
Permanent Council and OAS foreign ministers in the week following the
attacks, the historic invocation of the Rio Treaty, and taking part in
a special session of the OAS Inter-American Committee Against
Terrorism.
Colombia
An increased international awareness of terrorism did nothing to stop
or even slow the pace of terrorist actions by Colombia's three
terrorist organizations -- the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia
(FARC), National Liberation Army (ELN), and United Self-Defense Forces
of Colombia (AUC) -- in 2001. Some 3,500 murders were attributed to
these groups.
On 10 September, Secretary of State Colin Powell announced the
designation of the AUC as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, citing the
AUC's explosive growth-to an estimated 9,000 fighters by year's end --
and their increasing reliance on terrorist methods such as the use of
massacres to purposefully displace segments of the population, as
primary reasons for the designation. With this addition, all three of
Colombia's major illegal armed groups have now been designated by the
United States as Foreign Terrorist Organizations (the FARC and ELN
were designated in 1997). Colombian estimates for 2001 suggested that
the AUC was accountable for some 43 percent of Colombia's internally
displaced persons, mostly rural peasants, while the FARC and ELN were
responsible for some 35 percent.
In 2001, as in years past, there were more kidnappings in Colombia
than in any other country in the world, and the financial transfer
from victims to terrorists by way of ransom payments and extortion
fees continued to cripple the Colombian economy. The FARC and ELN were
purportedly responsible in 2001 for approximately 80 percent of the
more than 2,800 kidnappings of Colombian and foreign nationals --
including some whose governments or agencies (the U.N., for example)
were helping mediate the ongoing civil conflict. Since 1980, the FARC
has murdered at least ten U.S. citizens, and three New Tribes
Missionaries abducted by the FARC in 1993 remain unaccounted for.
The FARC and the AUC continued their deadly practice of massacring one
another's alleged supporters, especially in areas where they were
competing for narcotics-trafficking corridors or prime coca-growing
terrain. The FARC and ELN struggled with one another for dominance in
the bombing of the Cano-Limon-Covenas oil pipeline -- combining for an
unprecedented 178 attacks which had a devastating ecological and
economic impact -- with the larger FARC (an estimated 16,000 fighters
vs. under 5,000 for the ELN) beginning to gain the upper hand by
year's end.
As in past years, the on-again, off-again peace talks between Bogotá
and the FARC or the ELN did not lead to substantive breakthroughs with
either group. (As of press time, President Pastrana had broken off
talks with the FARC following the group's 2 February 2002 hijacking of
Aires Flight 1891, the abduction of Colombian Senator Jorge Gechen, as
well as the separate abduction of presidential candidate Ingrid
Betancourt; the Colombian military also had reasserted control over
the FARC's demilitarized zone, or despeje.) Talks with the ELN were
ongoing. For its part, the AUC continued to press, without success,
for political recognition by the Government of Colombia.
Throughout 2001, Colombia's government acted against all three
terrorist groups through direct military action as well as through
legal and judicial means. The Prosecutor General successfully
prosecuted many FARC, ELN, and AUC members on domestic terrorism
charges. Bogotá also pursued insurgent and paramilitary sources of
financing with some success, capturing in a short period in late 2001,
for example, four FARC finance chiefs. In May, raids on high-ranking
AUC residences in Monteria netted key evidence regarding that group's
financial backers. On a more disturbing note, the Government alleged
links between these groups and other terrorist organizations outside
Colombia. The capture in August of three Irish Republican Army members
who have been charged with sharing their expertise and providing
training on explosives in the FARC's demilitarized zone is perhaps the
most notable example.
The Colombian Government has been very supportive of U.S.
anti-terrorist efforts in international fora, particularly the United
Nations and the Organization of American States (OAS). Colombia was
one of the region's leaders in the effort to impose sanctions against
the Taliban in the United Nations before the events of September 11,
and it continues to cooperate in enforcing UNSC and UNGA antiterrorist
resolutions, including Resolutions 1267, 1333, and 1368. Colombia also
signed the U.N. Convention on the Suppression of the Financing of
Terrorism. In the OAS, Colombia continued to be an active member of
the Inter- American Committee Against Terrorism and was selected to
chair the subcommittee that deals with monitoring and interdicting
terrorist financial flows. Colombia also planned to broaden its
capability to combat terrorism within its borders by means of a
three-part strategy unveiled in late October. The main components
include strengthening the public security forces, modernizing the
penitentiary system, and expanding and improving civil and criminal
investigation mechanisms. Also included are provisions for the seizure
and forfeiture of terrorist assets, reduction of bank secrecy rights,
and measures to insulate municipal and departmental finances from
corruption. At year's end, the implementation of this strategy was
awaiting passage of additional legislation.
Ecuador
The kidnapping on 12 October 2000 of a group of eight oil workers
(including five U.S. citizens) by an armed band played out well into
2001. On 31 January, the hostage takers executed U.S. hostage Ron
Sander. The remaining seven hostages, including the four surviving
U.S. citizens, were released in March, following payment of a
multi-million-dollar ransom. In June, Colombian police arrested more
than 50 Colombian and Ecuadorian criminal and ex-guerrilla suspects,
including the group's leaders, connected to the case. At year's end,
five of the suspects were awaiting extradition to the United States.
Beyond the murder of Ron Sander, there were no significant acts of
terrorism in Ecuador in 2001, although unidentified individuals or
groups perpetrated some low-level bombings. Two McDonald's restaurants
were firebombed in April. Over a four-day period in mid-November, four
pamphlet bombs containing anti-U.S. propaganda were detonated in
downtown Quito.
As did most Latin American nations in the wake of the September 11
attacks in the United States, Ecuador voiced its strong support for
U.S., OAS, and U.N. anti-terrorism declarations and initiatives put
forth in various international fora, including UNSC 1373, as well as
for Coalition actions in Afghanistan. Ecuador, however, neither
improved control over its porous borders nor cracked down on illegal
emigration/immigration. Quito's weak financial controls and widespread
document fraud remained issues of concern, as did Ecuador's reputation
as a strategic corridor for arms, ammunition, and explosives destined
for Colombian terrorist groups.
Peru
Although there were no international acts of terrorism in Peru in
2001, the number of domestic terrorist acts (130 by year's end)
increased markedly and eclipsed the number perpetrated in the previous
three years. Most incidents occurred in remote areas of Peru
associated with narcotics trafficking. Sendero Luminoso (SL) was the
most active terrorist group -- in fact, the level of SL-related
activity and its aggressive posture appeared to be on the rise through
2001. The Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, although active
politically, was not known to have committed any terrorist acts in
2001. U.S. citizen Lori Berenson received a civilian re-trial and was
once again convicted for terrorism based on her involvement with the
Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Front, or MRTA. (The conviction and sentence
were upheld by the Peruvian Supreme Court 18 February 2002.) Peruvian
police also were investigating a series of attacks against Lima's
electric power companies' infrastructure throughout the fall.
In a notable case in late November, Peruvian police thwarted a
possible SL terrorist attack against a likely U.S. target -- possibly
the U.S. Embassy -- when it arrested two Lima SL cell members. At the
time of his arrest, one cell member possessed paper scraps with route
diagrams and addresses of several U.S.-affiliated facilities in Lima.
Although they were still investigating the incident at year's end,
Peruvian officials suspected that the SL had planned a car-bomb attack
against U.S. interests to coincide with the 3 December birthday of
jailed SL founder Abimael Guzman. (Car bombings were a regular
component of SL's modus operandi during the 1980s and early 1990s.)
Peru continued to pursue a number of individuals accused of committing
terrorist acts in 2001, and notable captures included several key SL
members. Among these were the arrests in October of Ruller Mazoombite
(a.k.a. Camarada Cayo), chief of the protection team for SL leader
Macario Ala (a.k.a. Artemio), and Evoricio Ascencios (a.k.a. Camarada
Canale), the logistics chief of the Huallaga Regional Committee. By
the end of November, some 259 suspected terrorists had been arrested.
Since September 11, Lima has been a regional leader in strongly
supporting antiterrorism initiatives through the drafting and passage
of key legislation (some still pending at year's end) against money
laundering as well as adopting an even more active stance against
terrorism in general. In late September, Peru introduced a draft
Inter-American Convention against Terrorism at the OAS and, in
October, assumed the chair of the Border Controls Working Group of the
OAS Inter-American Committee Against Terrorism. Peru has remained very
receptive to antiterrorism training opportunities and has participated
in the U.S. State Department Antiterrorism Training Assistance program
since 1986. Peru has yet to issue blocking orders on terrorist assets,
however.
Tri-border (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay)
South America's tri-border area (TBA) -- where the borders of
Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay converge and which hosts a large Arab
population -- took on a new prominence in the wake of the September 11
attacks in the United States. Although arms and drug trafficking,
contraband smuggling, document and currency fraud, money laundering,
and pirated goods have long been associated with this region, it also
has been characterized as a hub for Hizballah and HAMAS activities,
particularly for logistic and financial purposes. At year's end, press
reports of al-Qaida operatives in the TBA had been disproved or
remained uncorroborated by intelligence and law-enforcement officials.
All three governments, especially Paraguay, took steps to rein in the
individuals most strongly suspected of materially aiding terrorist
groups -- most prominently Hizballah -- and continued to monitor the
area as well as hold outstanding arrest warrants for those not yet
captured. Security officials from each country, as well as a
contingent from Uruguay, continued to coordinate closely on sharing
information. The four nations also were trying to improve very limited
joint operations in the fight against terrorism. The governments also
condemned the September 11 attacks and generally stood in strong
support of U.S. counterterrorism efforts.
Argentina suffered no acts of terrorism in 2001. The oral trial for
alleged Argentine accomplices to the terrorist attack in 1994 on the
Argentine-Israeli Community Center (AMIA) began in late September.
Twenty suspects are being tried -- of whom 15 are former police
officers, and include a one-time Buenos Aires police captain -- and
are accused of supplying the stolen vehicle that carried the car bomb.
The trial is expected to last through much of 2002.
Argentine authorities also continued to investigate the bombing in
1992 of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires and to seek those directly
responsible for the AMIA attack. A team of FBI investigators -- at
Argentina's request -- visited the country in June to work jointly
with the legal and judicial officials involved in the AMIA bombing to
review the investigation. Despite the elapsed time since the attacks,
the public trial of the accessories now underway has led some to
expect that new information relating to one or both of these terrorist
acts will come to light.
In Brazil, one incident occurred during 2001 that could be
characterized as a terrorist incident -- an after-hours bombing of a
McDonald's restaurant in Rio de Janeiro in October. The incident
resulted in property damage but no injuries, and while Brazilian
police suspect anti-globalization extremists perpetrated the attack,
no arrests were made.
Following the September 11 attacks, Brasilia initiated and led a
successful campaign to invoke the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal
Assistance (the Rio Treaty) in support of the United States. Brazil
also played host to a conference in November on regional
counterterrorism initiatives and participated in several other
regional meetings on counterterrorist cooperation. Brazil raided
several clandestine telephone centers from which calls to numerous
Middle Eastern countries had been traced. Brazilian officials were
still investigating possible links to terrorist activities.
Since September 11, Paraguay has been an active and prominent partner
in the war on terror. It has, inter alia, arrested some 23 individuals
suspected of Hizballah/HAMAS fundraising, initiated a
ministerial-level dialogue with regional governments, cracked down on
visa and passport fraud, and hosted, in late December, a successful
regional counterterrorism seminar that included a keynote speech by
the United States Coordinator for Counterterrorism.
Paraguayan officials raided a variety of businesses and detained
numerous suspects believed to have materially aided either Hizballah
or HAMAS, primarily in the tri-border city of Ciudad del Este or in
Encarnación. Prominent among the raids were the arrests on 3 October
of Mazen Ali Saleh and Saleh Mahmoud Fayad (on criminal
association/tax evasion charges) and the arrest on 8 November of Sobhi
Mahmoud Fayad (on criminal association and related charges); all three
are linked to Hizballah. In addition, the businesses that were raided
revealed extensive ties to Hizballah -- in particular, records showed
the transfers of millions of dollars to Hizballah operatives,
"charities," and entities worldwide. Several other TBA personalities,
including Assad Barakat and Ali Hassan Abdallah, are considered
fugitives. Barakat, who is considered Hizballah's principal TBA
leader, lives in Foz do Iguazu, but owns a business ("Casa Apollo") in
Ciudad del Este; Paraguay has sought an INTERPOL warrant for his
arrest.
Among the others arrested were some 17 ethnic Arabs (mostly Lebanese)
on charges of possessing false documents; Paraguayan officials suspect
some have links to HAMAS. Three Paraguayans -- an attorney, a consular
officer, and an Interior Ministry employee -- also were arrested in
connection with fraudulently issuing immigration documents to the 17
individuals. Asunción, through its money-laundering unit, also
identified 46 individuals who transferred funds in a suspicious manner
from accounts held by Middle Eastern customers or to Middle East
organizations.
Despite the apparent successes, Paraguayan counterterrorist
enforcement continued to be impeded by a lack of specific criminal
legislation against terrorist activities, although such a bill was
introduced before the legislature. Until its passage, Paraguay must
rely on charges such as criminal association, tax evasion, money
laundering, or possession of false documents to hold suspects.
Pervasive corruption also continued to be a problem for Paraguay, and
some suspected terrorists were able to co-opt law-enforcement or
judicial officials.
Uruguay
Uruguay suffered no acts of international terrorism in 2001. Before
September 11, Montevideo had been involved in an effort to create a
permanent working group on terrorism with neighboring countries. Since
September 11, Uruguay has actively supported various regional
counterterrorism conventions and initiatives, paying particular
attention to the tri-border area as well as to its shared border with
Brazil.
Egypt has asked Uruguay to extradite a suspected terrorist in a case
that came before Uruguay's courts in 2001. The defendant, al-Said
Hassan Mokhles, is a member of the Gama'a al-Islamiyya (Islamic Group,
IG) -- a group with ties to al-Qa'ida. Although the Court of Appeals
granted his extradition, Mokhles has appealed his case to the
Uruguayan Supreme Court. Mokhles was imprisoned, charged with document
fraud, as his suspected IG activities took place before he arrived in
Uruguay; there is no reported IG cell presence in Uruguay.
Venezuela
Following the events of September 11, Venezuela joined the rest of the
OAS in condemning the attacks, and Venezuelan officials worked closely
with U.S. officials to track down terrorist assets in Venezuela's
financial system. Venezuela condemned terrorism but opposed using
force to combat it.
It was widely reported in the press that Venezuela maintained contact
with the FARC and ELN and may have helped them obtain arms and
ammunition; the press reports also included turning a blind eye to
occasional cross-border insurgency and extortion by FARC and ELN
operatives of Venezuelan ranchers.
In December 2001, Venezuela extradited Colombian national (and accused
ELN member) Jose Maria Ballestas, wanted as a suspect for his role in
the hijacking of an Avianca aircraft in Colombia in April 1999.
(end text)
(Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S.
Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)



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