The radical Islamist presence in South America could pose an increasingly lethal threat to the United States.
Recent reports indicate that Islamic extremist groups like Hezbollah, the Islamic State (ISIS), and Boko Haram are teaming up with drug cartels and smuggling operations in Latin America. While we watch ISIS lose more ground in Syria and Iraq, they are shoring up their influence and resources south of our border. Hezbollah, a Lebanon-based terrorist group that is backed by Iran, is doing the same.
This development may not seem like an urgent threat, but several prominent U.S. government officials feel that we should be paying closer attention to what is happening between the drug cartels and terrorist groups.
Islamic Extremist Groups Are Using The Drug Trade For Funding
According to Representative Robert Pittenger, chairman of the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare (R-NC), Hezbollah and other Islamic terrorist organizations are teaming up with “violent drug lords” in Latin America to obtain funding for their activities. In a press release, the lawmaker stated that these groups are a “grave threat” to U.S. national security. Last week, Pittenger led a forum exploring the connection between radical extremists and drug cartels.
Iranian-backed Hezbollah is collaborating with drug cartels to finance their terrorist activities through drug trafficking, gun smuggling, and money laundering. “The combination of radical Islamic terrorists and violent drug lords is a serious threat to national security,” Representative Pittenger said. But Hezbollah is not the only terrorist organization working with Latin American drug cartels.
The Islamic State (ISIS) is also partnering with cartels as their territory shrinks, and their previous funding sources are drying up. However, while they are losing ground in Iraq and Syria, they are moving forward with their new plan to infiltrate western nations and carry out acts of terror.
What is most disturbing about this new trend is the fact that radical Islamic groups are not just using cartels to obtain funding for their activities overseas. They are also working to increase their influence in the region by recruiting more members.
Islamic Terrorist Groups Plan To Attack The U.S. From Latin America
General John Kelly, when he was the commander of U.S. Southern Command, warned Congress that Islamic extremists are radicalizing Muslims and other converts in Latin America. Even more, they plan to use drug traffickers to help them infiltrate the United States.
According to Kelly, Latin American countries cannot track extremists in the region, which means that terrorist organizations can operate unimpeded. The fact that these countries cannot monitor these groups means they can recruit and radicalize individuals with near impunity. The general stated that Iran had built more than 80 “cultural centers” in the area to promote Shiite Islam. However, the general also had a more dire warning for the United States.
In written testimony for the Senate panel in front of which he testified, he expressed his concerns about radical Islamists infiltrating the United States. “In addition to thousands of Central Americans fleeing poverty and violence, foreign nationals from countries like Somalia, Bangladesh, Lebanon, and Pakistan are using the region’s human smuggling networks to enter the United States,” he wrote. “While many are merely seeking economic opportunity or fleeing war, a small subset could potentially be seeking to do us harm.”
In his statement, Kelly also indicated that ISIS had called for the infiltration of the U.S. southern border on social media. While he had not seen evidence of this happening, it was a cause for alarm given that these “smuggling networks” are a vulnerability that terrorists could seek to exploit.
Latin American countries are also concerned about their citizens traveling to countries to train with terrorist groups like ISIS. Although the Islamic State has lost most of its territory, the group can still provide training for would-be jihadis.
Kelly stated that when these individuals return to their home countries, “they will possess operational experience, ties to global extremists, and possible intent to harm Western interests.” The main concern is that they will have access to smuggling routes that could take them into the U.S.
What Can We Do About It?
The idea that terrorist groups like Hezbollah and ISIS are partnering with drug cartels to raise funds for their activities is already disturbing enough. But more than that, the fact that they might be able to use Central American smuggling routes to enter the United States is even worse.
One of the main reasons why so many Americans wish to stem the flow of illegal immigration is because of the impact on our jobs and economy. However, if we are to take the words of General Kelly and Representative Pittenger seriously, illegal immigration poses a more serious threat.
Strengthening our border enforcement efforts is essential. ISIS has already declared that they plan to have their operatives infiltrate Western nations to launch deadly attacks against ordinary citizens. We have seen this happen numerous times in Europe because the European Union has forced its nations to adopt lackadaisical immigration policies that make it easier for terrorists to penetrate their borders.
With the Trump administration’s extreme vetting policies and the travel ban, it has become more difficult for jihadis to enter the United States. However, they do not need to immigrate to the U.S. legally to accomplish their objective. If we fail to provide adequate protection for our southern border, we will have more to worry about than individuals sneaking into the country to find work.
Fortunately, the president takes this issue seriously. Hopefully, Congress will not impede his efforts to secure our borders. With Islamic terrorist groups ramping up their efforts, we must take every precaution to prevent them from threatening our citizens.