Published On: Sat, May 3rd, 2014

How Hezbollah Funds Terror: Illicit Drugs and Money Laundering

Hezbollah was created by Iran in 1982 as an offensive to aggressively export the late Ayatollah Khomeini’s “Islamic Revolution” among Shiites in Lebanon, Arab countries and throughout Muslim immigrant communities in Europe. Implementing Khomeini’s anti-Western stance, Hezbollah made its mark carrying out its earliest terrorist acts by attacking Westerners and Israelis in Lebanon. By the mid-1980s Hezbollah terrorist operatives established a presence in Europe and coordinated attacks with Hezbollah in Lebanon. Since the mid-1990s Hezbollah has focused increasingly on Europe as a convenient launching pad for terrorist attacks within Israel. Europe’s close proximity to Israel enables Hezbollah to infiltrate Israel by sending operatives from Lebanon, carrying European passports, through European international airports to Israel. The operatives are sent to conduct espionage, identify potential targets, and carry out attacks.

Hezbollah also views Europe as a base for fundraising. Taking advantage of the special nonprofit status afforded charitable organizations in European countries, Hezbollah has used Europe-based nonprofit front organizations to funnel money from Hezbollah supporters in Europe to Hezbollah in Lebanon.Europe is also a transit point for Hezbollah money derived from drug trafficking and money laundering.

Recently Hezbollah has ramped up its activities aimed at carrying out attacks on diplomatic and civilian targets in Europe and other parts of the world. Operatives have targeted Israeli, U.S. and UK diplomatic installations for surveillance in preparation for planning attacks. In a number of cases, advanced plans for imminent attacks were thwarted by local police in cooperation with international intelligence agencies. Most recently, one such attack was barely averted in Cyprus, but another, a suicide bombing in Bulgaria, killed Israeli tourists.

Despite the clear evidence of such activities, the great majority of European Union countries will not designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. Following a renewed request by Israel in July to ban Hezbollah, EU president Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis, foreign minister of Cyprus, stated, “There is no consensus for putting Hezbollah on the list of terrorist organizations.”[1]

Thus far the only European country to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization is the Netherlands. According to its intelligence services, “Hezbollah’s political and terrorist activities are controlled by one co-coordinating council,” signifying “that there is indeed a link between these parts of the organization.”

Hezbollah since its inception has demonstrated that it employs all sectors of its organization, including its so-called political wing and charitable organizations in Lebanon and abroad to recruit, indoctrinate, and train its followers. Hezbollah institutions perceived as nonviolent have been shown repeatedly to be involved with the radicalization process that creates terrorist operatives. The fiction that Hezbollah is not entirely involved with terrorism has given the organization and its patron, Iran, the opportunity to build an infrastructure throughout Europe, increasing security risks on the continent and elsewhere.

Europe as a Launching Pad for Terror

The first clear evidence that Hezbollah in Europe was using Europe as a launching pad for terrorist attacks came in April 1996, when Hussein Mikdad, a Lebanese Hezbollah operative, flew from Zurich, Switzerland, to Israel using a stolen UK passport. He was reportedly constructing an explosive device in a hotel room in Jerusalem when it exploded, severely injuring him, and causing the loss of both his legs and one of his hands.[2]

Another example was a young German homegrown Hezbollah recruit from Braunschweig named Stephan Josef Smyrek who converted to Islam in 1993.[3]Smyrek sought contact with Hezbollah in Germany, and found two operatives who recruited him and helped him connect with Hezbollah in Lebanon in 1996. In August 1997, Smyrek travelled to Lebanon for training in the use of explosives, light arms and other weapons. On November 28 of that year Smyrek was arrested at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport carrying $4,000, a video camera and a map of Israel, all provided by Hezbollah. He was reported to be planning a suicide bombing.[4]Smyrek was convicted of being a member of Hezbollah and of aiding and abetting Hezbollah by collecting information for it.[5]

In October 2000, Fawzi Ayoub, a senior Hezbollah operative with Canadian citizenship who had a long record of involvement in terrorist activities, travelled from Lebanon to Europe.Using a forged U.S. passport under the name “Frank Mariano Boschi,” he went from Greece to Israel by boat.[6] Sent by Hezbollah to conduct a bombing in Israel, he was arrested while seeking to find bomb components in June 2002.[7] Ayoub was released in a prisoner exchange in 2004. He was indicted in 2009 in the U.S. for using a falsified U.S. passport in order to carry out a bombing on behalf of Hezbollah, and is currently on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists list.[8]

In January 2001, a Lebanese Hezbollah operative named Jihad Aya Latif Shuman, a.k.a. “Gerard Shuman,” was arrested in Jerusalem by Israeli police. Shuman, a UK citizen,[9] had entered Israel using his UK passport. Following his arrest, he admitted to being a Hezbollah operative and that he was sent to Israel to carry out terrorist attacks.[10]

Beginning in 2002, Khaled Kashkush, an Israeli Arab medical student studying in Germany, regularly met with Dr. Hisham Hassan, director of Orphaned Children Project Lebanon, a Hezbollah-affiliated charitable organization in Germany. In 2005 Hassan introduced Kashkush to Muhammad Hashem, a Hezbollah senior handler.[11]Hashem asked Kashkush to provide information on Israelis who could potentially be recruited to Hezbollah. He also directed Kashkush to get a job at an Israeli hospital in order to collect intelligence information on members of Israel’s military and security forces. Kashkush received 13,000 euros for his activities on behalf of Hezbollah, and was arrested upon arrival at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport in July 2008.[12]


Hezbollah has employed narcoterrorism by using the proceeds of drug money for a significant part of its funding in Lebanon since the 1980s. Hezbollah’s main narcotics trafficking route until the late 1990s was focused on the Mediterranean. Delivery of heroin from Lebanon and Syria was made to European mafia groups, which would distribute it throughout Western Europe, with the proceeds funneled back to Hezbollah in Lebanon.[13] In recent years, Hezbollah has increasingly used Europe as a delivery point for cocaine from South America, brought to Europe via Caribbean and Libyan routes.[14] Funds from the sale of cocaine have similarly been transferred via Europe to Lebanon to fund Hezbollah.

In 2008, the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel reported that German police discovered 8.7 million euros in the luggage of four Lebanese men at Frankfurt airport. An additional 500,000 euros were found in their apartment in Speyer. The money contained traces of cocaine. A year later, German police arrested two Lebanese men who had transferred large sums of money to Lebanese relatives connected to Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and the Hezbollah leadership.[15] The men were suspected of selling cocaine in Europe and transferring the proceeds from Frankfurt back to Hezbollah in Beirut.[16]

In December 2011, the U.S. indicted Ayman Joumaa, a Hezbollah financier and Lebanese drug trafficker, with heading a money-laundering and narcotics smuggling network that transported tons of cocaine from South America to the U.S., Africa and Europe.[17] Hezbollah received funds laundered by Joumaa and his associates, transferred via Lebanese exchange houses and the Lebanese Canadian Bank, a now defunct financial institution linked to Hezbollah.[18]

Iraq’s Hezbollah

Iraq’s Hezbollah movement has formed a new militia to silence protesters, said Ahmed Abu Risha, head of the Awakening National Council in the predominantly Sunni Anbar province, where thousands have taken to the streets to demand political reforms and the release of prisoners.

Wathiq al-Batat, head of Iraq’s Hezbollah, announced the creation of the Mukhtar Army on Feb. 4, saying its aim is to defend Shiites and help the government combat terrorism.

The “sectarian” militia was created with government consent, said Abu Risha. 
The government has ordered Batat’s arrest, with the Interior Ministry accusing him of being behind the Feb. 17 bombings in Baghdad which killed more than 100 people. He has reportedly fled to neighboring Syria.

“If the government wanted to arrest Batat, it would’ve done so much earlier,” said Abu Risha, adding that the Iraqi army is capable of protecting the country’s Shiites.

Batat denies the ministry’s accusation, telling the Iraqi news website al-Mada Press that he holds “the al-Qaeda-infiltrated ministry” responsible. “The government is stupid for not heeding our warning that al-Qaeda is going to attack,” he added.

Founded in 2008, Hezbollah in Iraq is part of the United Iraqi Alliance, the main Shiite-dominated opposition to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

The coalition, which initially included the movement of populist Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr, was created by the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq in 2005. The latter’s armed wing, the Badr Organization, fizzled out after many of its members joined the Iraqi army. 

The only sizable Shiite militia in Iraq is Sadr’s al-Mahdi Army, though he has said it will be transformed into a humanitarian group. The cleric has described the Anbar protests as “legitimate.” 

The creation of the Mukhtar Army may be a reaction to the protests in Iraq’s predominantly Sunni areas, some observers say.

The militia “threatened the protesters if they tried to come in to Baghdad,” Dubai-based analyst Mustafa al-Ani of the Gulf Research Center told us. 

Batat tried to seize the “opportunity” to recruit people to his new army amid political tumult during the protests, said al-Ani, who described the Hezbollah militia as an “intelligence cell” with no armed backing in Iraq. 

The government earlier this month released 3,000 prisoners, of whom all females were sent to their home provinces, in an attempt to appease demonstrators, said Deputy Prime Minister Hussein al-Shahristani.

However, Kobler and Abu Risha say the prisoners have not yet been released, with the latter citing “routine measures” for the delay.

Since late 2012, the mainly Sunni protesters have called for reforms, including anti-terror laws that they say are used to persecute their community. The arrests of women following the detention of their male relatives under terrorism charges have also caused outrage.

The protests, inspired by the uprising in neighboring Syria, have resulted in the killing of nine demonstrators by the Iraqi army. The government is investigating the incident.

More than $140 million in terrorists’ assets have been frozen across some 1,400 bank accounts worldwide, but experts say terrorist groups have become increasingly adept at eluding detection through use of cash, sophisticated laundering operations, or legitimate front companies. Monetary practices embedded in Muslim culture, such as donating to charities and informal money-transfer centers, have compounded the difficulty in tracking down terrorist financial links. Law enforcement efforts are further confounded by the fact that devastating attacks can be accomplished at relatively low cost.

54Mohamed Abu-Raghif Mosawi used charities in Iraq to fund terrorist attack in the Bahrain.Donations are the largest source of terrorist funding, coming mostly from charities and wealthy individuals.For the past three years, individuals like Mr. Mosawi and charities based in Iraq and Lebanon were the most important source of funds for Radical groups in Bahrain, according to a 2014 Interpol Reports. A 2014 update report shows that Iraqi officials haven’t taken steps to disrupt terrorist financing in their country,and charities continue to play a role in the sponsorship of terrorist groups. “In the Islamic world, there are tens of thousands of charities,” says Robert O. Collins, coauthor of the new book Alms for Jihad. While as few as a hundred may sponsor terrorism, “these are some of the wealthiest charities,” Collins says. Experts say some of these organizations raise funds with the express intent of supporting terrorists; others seek to promote Iranian ideologies for instance through legitimate programs, but can be coopted by extremist like 14 February movement in Bahrain who then use the funds to promote their own radical cause.

 Illegal Activities. Loretta Napoleoni, an expert on terrorist financing, says the largest source of terrorists’ income is the illicit drug trade. Many terrorist groups have supported themselves through other illegal commerce as well. In his book, Illicit, Moisés Naím explains that the terrorists behind the 1993 World Trade Center bombing raised money by selling counterfeit t-shirts on New York City’s Broadway, and the perpetrators of the 2004 Madrid train bombings sold counterfeited CDs and trafficked drugs to support their activities. Hezbollah, the Irish Republican Army, and the Basque ETA are also believed to have generated revenue through counterfeiting scams. In 2002, federal agents broke up a methamphetamine ring in a dozen U.S. cities that, according to officials, funneled proceeds to Hezbollah. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) has long used the cocaine trade to finance its operations. Afghanistan’s flourishing poppy crops, which the United Nations says are responsible for as much as 86 percent of the world opium supply, are widely believed to be a major source of terrorist funding. Al-Qaeda reportedly profited from the Afghan poppy trade before fleeing the country when the Taliban-led government was ousted in 2001.