Hezbollah, the powerful militant movement based in Lebanon, has increased its global tentacles of terror -- including worrisome Canadian connections -- according to the author of a new report published this week by the U.S. Military Academy in West Point.
“We are seeing a recent spike in incidents with Canadians” carrying out Hezbollah activities, Matthew Levitt told the Star in a phone interview.
Levitt, a former Treasury Department intelligence official who is now a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, says Hezbollah needs Westerners such as Canadians, Australians and Swedish nationals who have been implicated in recent terror attacks or operations.
“You have people who have lived abroad or have foreign passports, they have reasons for travelling, they speak foreign languages, they are comfortable abroad,” Levitt said. “The whole idea is to operate somebody so you don’t bring undue attention to yourself. That’s when you can be the most dangerous.”
His study, “Hizb Allah Resurrected: the Party of God Returns to Tradecraft,” appears in the CTC Sentinel, published by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point.
Levitt’s report examines the inner workings of Hezbollah’s international network based on details that emerged after Hossam Taleb Yaacoub, a dual Lebanese-Swedish citizen, was found guilty last month by a court in Cyprus of being a Hezbollah operative and participating in deadly bombing that killed six people last July in Bulgaria.
The bombing of the bus that killed five Israeli tourists and a Bulgarian national has led to disturbing revelations of Canadian ties to Hezbollah’s international network.
Bulgarian officials identified two suspected Hezbollah operatives in that blast as dual Canadian-Lebanese and Australian-Lebanese citizens.
"The Burgas bombers were maintaining part of Hezbollah's structures in Canada and Australia and had contacts with other representatives of this organization," Bulgarian Minister of Interior Tsvetan Tsvetanov recently stated.
Canada has offered its “full support” and is working closely with Bulgarian authorities because of “convincing evidence” of Hezbollah’s involvement in the bus-bomb attack, foreign minister John Baird has said in February.
Last week, the Jerusalem Post reported that Bulgarian police officers last summer “arrested a Canadian citizen linked to the Iranian government who engaged in surveillance of the local Chabad center” in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia.”
The newspaper said according to “a well-placed and reliable local source," the Iranian-sponsored female agent in her 50s, holding a Canadian passport, travelled from Istanbul to Sofia several weeks after the bus bombing.
ProPublica, the New York-based investigative journalism foundation, also recently published a detailed report on Hezbollah’s global use of foreign nationals based on depositions Yaacoub made to Cypriot police.
Canada, along with the United States, has designated Hezbollah as a terror group but most European nations do not.
As both a close ally of Iran’s along with a deep war chest fuelled by profits from the drug trade and international money-laundering, Levitt says Hezbollah has become a formidable global force with a growing “cadre of terrorists.”
Levitt’s article describes how the Cyprus police investigation and court case revealed the meticulous ways Hezbollah set about to out its foreign operatives in the field, with extensive military training, secret codes and secret agent-like arrangements for “drops” and meetings.
He says that while Hezbollah initially decided “to stay out of the crosshairs of the war on terrorism after 9/11” and allowed “its global terrorist capabilities to decline,” the group has since rebuilt the networks of its international wing, the Islamic Jihad Organization.
“New operatives were recruited from the elite of (Hezbollah’s) military wing for intelligence and operational training, while existing IJO operatives were moved into new positions,” he writes in the West Point article. “Some of these new recruits are Western citizens.”
“This is not a problem that is unique to Canada,” said Levitt, the author of a forthcoming book that looks in part at Hezbollah’s connections to Canada. “They (Hezbollah) are taking a deep breath and returning to tradecraft, no longer feeling restrained from doing things in the West.”