We’re here today to discuss Hizballah’s activities in Europe, and what more our European allies can do to address this threat. I’d like to start by commending our British and German friends for their leadership on this issue. They’ve taken a strong and principled stand and we hope more countries follow their lead.
I’ll make three key points today. First, Hizballah is a unitary organization that cannot be subdivided into a “military wing” and a so-called “political wing.” Second, led by countries like the UK and Germany, the world increasingly is recognizing this reality and designating or banning Hizballah in its entirety. Third, more governments need to do the same – particularly in Europe, where Hizballah’s presence represents a significant threat.
I’ll have more to say on that last issue in a moment.
As a starting point, we reject the false distinction that the EU and others have made between Hizballah’s terrorist wing and a purported “political wing.” Hizballah is one organization. It is a terrorist organization. Period. Hizballah itself acknowledges as much. In October 2012, a top Hizballah commander was crystal clear: “We don’t have a military wing and a political one… Every element of Hizballah is in service of the resistance, and we have nothing but the resistance as a priority.”
The gaps resulting from this skewed approach are not merely symbolic. If a country only restricts Hizballah’s so-called “military wing,” that can limit its ability to freeze Hizballah assets, shut down its front companies, eliminate its fundraising and recruiting capabilities, and prosecute Hizballah-associated networks. This gaping loophole is an exception that swallows the rule. Money is fungible, and any support to Hizballah frees up resources to buy bombs and rockets.
The U.S. has long recognized Hizballah’s true nature. We designated Hizballah as a Foreign Terrorist Organization in 1997 – one of the first groups we ever listed – and we’ve maintained this designation over the past 23 years.
In fact, earlier today, the U.S. imposed additional sanctions on Hizballah, with the Treasury Department designating two Hizballah-linked companies – Arch Consulting and Meamar Construction – along with Sultan Khalifa Assad, a Hizballah Executive Council member with ties to these businesses. These actions build on our September 8 sanctions against former Lebanese Minister Yusuf Finyanus, who colluded with the companies designated today to conceal their activities and support Hizballah’s self-enrichment. This is yet another example of how Hizballah and its supporters exploit Lebanon’s economy to advance their own interests at the expense of the Lebanese people.
Fortunately, the world is recognizing the truth about Hizballah, and a growing number of countries are taking action. As we’ve heard, in early 2019, the UK expanded its designation to encompass the entire group. And in April of this year, Germany banned Hizballah from operating on its soil. These examples lay down a clear marker: the EU’s Hizballah sanctions are a floor, not a ceiling, and member states are free to impose stricter limits at the national level.
More recently, Lithuania banned Hizballah and Kosovo designated Hizballah in its entirety, completing this process early this year. Serbia has announced that it will designate Hizballah as a terrorist organization as well.
Closer to home, our Central and South American partners are taking the same path. In July 2019, Argentina announced its designation of Hizballah at a counterterrorism ministerial tied to the 25th anniversary of Hizballah’s deadly attack on the AMIA Jewish Community Center, which killed 85 and wounded hundreds more. Paraguay soon followed suit. And in January 2020, Colombia and Honduras both announced that they were sanctioning Hizballah.
To give a sense of the growing international momentum against Hizballah, four of the G7 members – Canada, Germany, the United States and the UK – have now designated or banned Hizballah in its entirety. That includes the two largest economies in Europe. In the Middle East, the Gulf Cooperation Council and the Arab League have both classified Hizballah a terrorist group.
But there’s still more work to do. Some countries haven’t sanctioned Hizballah at all, while others persist in the fiction that its terrorist activities can somehow be cordoned off from the rest of the organization. We call on governments that have yet to designate or ban Hizballah in its entirety to do so.
Action by the European Union and its member states is particularly critical. Hizballah has long been active in Europe on a variety of fronts, including in terrorist plotting, military and dual use procurement, and in a range of illicit schemes. Let me recount some recent history.
In 2012, Hizballah conducted an attack in Bulgaria that killed six. The perpetrators are currently being tried by the Bulgarian government in absentia. Hizballah has also planned two separate plots in Cyprus, which were disrupted in 2012 and 2015. The first involved collecting information about Israeli tourists, and the second involved stockpiling more than eight tons of ammonium nitrate, which of course can be used to create powerful bombs. Hizballah operatives were convicted in Cypriot courts for planning both plots.
Additionally, according to press reporting, in 2015, authorities in the United Kingdom arrested a Hizballah operative, a dual British-Lebanese citizen, who had amassed 12,500 first aid cold packs in a London auto garage. The cold packs contained over three metric tons of ammonium nitrate.
Hizballah members and supporters are also involved in a wide range of large-scale criminal schemes in Europe, including money laundering, fraud, counterfeiting, bulk cash smuggling, narcotics trafficking, and weapons procurement.
In 2016, authorities in France, Germany, Italy and Belgium – working with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration – arrested Hizballah affiliate Mohammed Nouredine and more than 20 others who were running an extensive money laundering network. The network laundered more than $1 million a week using used vehicles, watches, and charcoal, funneling a portion of the proceeds to Hizballah. In November 2018, a French court sentenced Noureddine to seven years in prison for engaging in a criminal conspiracy to financially support Hizballah, among other charges.
Unfortunately, this isn’t ancient history. Hizballah remains active in Europe right now. As the EU and European countries weigh further steps against Hizballah, it’s important that they and their citizens have the full picture of the group’s terrorist activities on European soil. So today, the U.S. government is unveiling new information about Hizballah’s presence in Europe.
Since 2012, Hizballah has established caches of ammonium nitrate throughout Europe by transporting first aid kits whose cold packs contain the substance. I can reveal that such caches have been moved through Belgium, to France, Greece, Italy, Spain, and Switzerland. I can also reveal that significant ammonium nitrate caches have been discovered or destroyed in France, Greece, and Italy. We have reason to believe that this activity is still underway. As of 2018, ammonium nitrate caches were still suspected throughout Europe, possibly in Greece, Italy, and Spain.
The question then becomes, why would Hizballah stockpile ammonium nitrate on European soil? The answer is clear. Hizballah put these weapons in place so it could conduct major terrorist attacks whenever it – or its masters in Tehran – deemed necessary. This is not what we’d expect from a political organization; it is, however, exactly what we’d expect from a terrorist group.
The horrific explosion last month at Beirut’s port was a vivid reminder of how dangerous ammonium nitrate can be. The fact that Hizballah has stockpiled the same substance across Europe shows why more European countries need to act now.
The bottom line is that the EU’s approach hasn’t worked. The EU’s limited designation of Hizballah’s “military wing” hasn’t dissuaded Hizballah from preparing for terrorist attacks in Europe.
Hizballah continues to see Europe as a vital platform for its operational, logistical, and fundraising activities. And it will continue to do so until Europe takes decisive action, as the UK and Germany have done. The United States encourages more of our European allies to follow their lead and designate or ban Hizballah in its entirety. Strong action is needed to demonstrate to Hizballah that its behavior is unacceptable and that it can no longer prepare for terror with impunity on European soil.