• April 20, 2024

Tehran’s shadow over failed Hezbollah attacks in Latin America

 Tehran’s shadow over failed Hezbollah attacks in Latin America

by Maria Zuppello
Special to IPT News
March 12, 2024

Operation Trapiche revealed the shadow of Iran behind the failed Hezbollah plot in Brazil. According to Brazilian Federal Police documents exclusively obtained by the Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT), the two masterminds wanted by Interpol, Mohamad Khir Abdulmajid, a naturalized Syrian-Brazilian, and Haissam Houssim Diab, a Lebanese national, had strong connections to the Islamic Beneficent Cultural Center of Brasilia (CCBIB). This Shiite center has been funded by Iran since 2019.

Last November IPT reported on Operation Trapiche which exposed a Brazilian network with suspected links to the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah. Abdulmajid and Diab lured at least six Brazilians to Beirut, where they offered them large sums of money to carry out a series of major terror attacks against multiple Jewish and Israeli targets throughout Brazil.

The Brazilian Federal Police documents reveal Mohamad Khir Abdulmajid as the primary promoter of establishing the Shia Islamic Center of Brasilia CCBIB in 2019. Additionally, the center’s board members include Hicham Hussein Diab, the brother of Haissam Houssim Diab, the other mastermind uncovered by Operation Trapiche.

According to the Brazilian police report, “it is noteworthy that Abdulmajid, believed to be one of the main backers of the Islamic Center’s establishment, is not listed in the corporate structure of the center, despite the overwhelming evidence suggesting his involvement.”

Abdulmajid’s decision to remain behind the scenes may be part of a strategy. The police report notes that Abdulmajid’s WhatsApp communications cite a project drawn up by Sheikh Mohammed Sadeq Maadel, also known as Moaddel Ebrahimi, as a model for the bylaws of the new center. In a photo posted on Abdulmajid’s social networks in 2018, he is pictured at the Syrian embassy in Brasilia with Ebrahimi.

Ebrahimi, a Sheikh originally from Iraq based at Shia Brás mosque in São Paulo, has long been Bilal Mohsen Wehbe’s right-hand man in Latin America. According to the Treasury‘s designation in 2010 Wehbe was “Hezbollah’s chief representative in South America responsible for oversight of the group’s counterintelligence activities in the Tri-Border area”, made up of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay.

A recent report titled “Hezbollah Terror Plot in Brazil“, published by the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism at Reichman University, suggests that “it is possible that Sheikh Ebrahimi, who worked with Wehbe, is part of Hezbollah’s clerical nomenclature and maybe the new Foreign Relations Department (FRD), person in Brazil. If so, his connections to both Haissam Diab and Mohamed Abdulmajid would not just be that of a pastoral guide to his spiritual flock but possibly more – that of a handler”. Hezbollah Foreign Relations Department serves as a link between Tehran and the global Shia communities.

Iran’s increasingly close relationship with Hezbollah in Latin America and Hezbollah’s shift in strategy from using trained agents to employing local recruits are the main highlights of Operation Trapiche.

Rising Antisemitism Provides Cover for Hezbollah terror

The reason for Hezbollah’s change in tactics may have to do with the ongoing Gaza war. Hezbollah may use Brazil and Latin America as a proxy battleground to provoke Israel without facing severe consequences. Given the surge in antisemitic events worldwide, a successful assault by unidentified Brazilians may have been passed off as a hate crime orchestrated by radical locals and not a terrorist attack.

Hate speech and anti-Semitic incidents in Brazil have increased by 236 percent following statements by Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, according to the Israel Federation of the State of São Paulo. (FISESP). The Brazilian president has repeatedly accused Israel of committing “genocide” against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

Recently, Foreign Minister Israel Katz declared the Brazilian president persona non grata over his comparison of Israel’s war against Hamas to the Holocaust. “What is happening in the Gaza Strip with the Palestinian people hasn’t happened at any other moment in history except one: When Hitler decided to kill the Jews” said Lula.

Hamas’ thanks were not long in coming. In a recent video, Hamas’ head of political and international relations, Basem Naim, expressed gratitude for Lula’s strong support for the Palestinian cause. “We are very honored by all of President Lula’s recent statements about his commitment and courageous stances to support the Palestinian cause,” Naim said.

Recruiting Locally to Strengthen Hezbollah in Brazil

In this political backdrop, Operation Trapiche also confirmed the strengthening of Hezbollah in Brazil. For several years the group has used local networks to establish illicit finance networks at the TBA, and support terror attacks.

Haissam Houssim Diab and Mohamad Khir Abdulmajid were small business owners in the local Shia diaspora. They were also relatives, as Abdulmajid’s mother is a Lebanese national from the Diab family, and they spent a significant amount of time at the TBA. However, they could not afford the money they had allegedly promised their recruits, leading police to wonder where they had obtained the funding.

According to investigations, by recruiting locals, Hezbollah External Security Organization (ESO) which is in charge of international terror attacks merely funded the plot in Brazil through its subsidiary, the Hezbollah Business Affairs Component (BAC). BAC oversees drug trafficking and money laundering operations to fund terrorist activities, procure weapons, and support terrorist families.

Hezbollah’s Criminal Operations

Haissam Houssim Diab may be involved in the BAC, as he has been linked to Lebanese drug trafficker Akram Abed Ali Kachmar. During a police raid in 2017, Kachmar’s home in Ciudad Del Este, Paraguay, was searched while the two were together. Diab was briefly detained but not charged. Authorities also discovered Kachmar’s ties to a powerful drug trafficking network of Lebanese origin based in Paraguay, led by Hezbollah financier Ali Issa Chamas. In 2017 Chamas was sentenced to 42 months in prison in Miami for conspiring to distribute massive amounts of cocaine to the United States. He is currently serving another sentence in Paraguay for international drug trafficking.

“Diab could very well have been one of the network members, a money transmitter for Hezbollah, helping move drug money from his traffickers’ contacts to the exchange houses. Some clues emerge from his phone, seized during the Kachmar police raid,” said the author of the report Emanuele Ottolenghi, Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Diab’s phone connections led to several money exchange businesses, including the Chams Exchange. The U.S. Treasury sanctioned it in 2019 due to its involvement in narcotics money laundering activities between Australia, Colombia, Italy, Lebanon, the Netherlands, Spain, Venezuela, France, Brazil, and the United States. Additionally, Diab has contact with Sobhi Fayad, a Hezbollah financier based in TBA, who was sanctioned by the Treasury in 2006.

Last week Brazil’s Federal Prosecutor’s Office approved a complaint against Lucas Passos Lima, the primary investigator, for surveillance videos of potential Jewish targets. The trial is set to begin on March 21, while Diab and Abdulmajid are believed to be eluding authorities in Lebanon. Despite facing charges related to Operation Trapiche, it is unlikely that they will be found guilty under Brazilian anti-terrorism legislation. This is the likely result because only five out of the 33 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean have officially designated Hezbollah as a terrorist group, with Brazil not being one of them.

This legal vacuum, combined with Lula’s anti-Israel stance, could pose fresh threats, not just in Brazil, but across Latin America in the months ahead.

Maria Zuppello is an Italian analyst based in Brazil and an expert on the crime-terror nexus. In her book, Tropical Jihad. she explores the connections between Hezbollah, Latin American cartels, and the Italian ‘Ndrangheta mafia. ( The ‘Ndrangheta is the Calabrian mafia, considered one of the most powerful mafia families in the world today.) Maria tweets at @mzuppy

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Related Topics: Maria ZuppelloHezbollahOperation TrapicheBrazilIranMohamad Khir AbdulmajidHaissam Houssim DiabLulaBasem Naim

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