In March 2007, the intensified ties between Venezuela and Iran led to the start of weekly IranAir flights from Tehran to Caracas, the Venezuelan capital, that stop in Damascus.
The flights were highlighted in the State Department's annual assessment of global terrorism, which noted in April of this year that Venezuelan border officials at the Caracas airport often neglected to enter the arriving passengers into their immigration database and did not stamp passports. The Venezuelans have since tightened up on their procedures, informed sources say.
Despite those improvements, the IranAir flights also feature in recent intelligence gathered by Western anti-terrorism officials. Agents of Iran's Revolutionary Guard and Hezbollah have allegedly set up a special force to attempt to kidnap Jewish businesspeople in Latin America and spirit them away to Lebanon, according to the Western anti-terrorism official. Iranian and Hezbollah operatives traveling in and out of Venezuela have recruited Venezuelan informants working at the Caracas airport to gather intelligence on Jewish travelers as potential targets for abduction, the Western anti-terrorism official said.
The allegations were reinforced by a statement last week by the Israeli government, issuing an alert to citizens warning that Hezbollah plans to kidnap Israelis around the world to retaliate for the Mughniyah assassination.
Hezbollah has long operated in the Lebanese communities of Latin America. In addition to receiving a multimillion-dollar infusion from Iran, the militia finances itself by soliciting or extorting money from the Lebanese diaspora and through rackets such as smuggling, fraud and the drug and diamond trade in South America and elsewhere, Matthew Levitt, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told Congress in 2005.
Three years ago, police in Colombia and Ecuador broke up an international cocaine-smuggling ring that functioned in Latin American countries, including Venezuela, and allegedly sent profits to Hezbollah in Lebanon. The lawless "tri-border" region connecting Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina has been a center of organized crime activities and finance linked to Hezbollah, Western anti-terrorism officials say.
Hezbollah operatives based there participated, along with Iranian spies, in the car bombings in Buenos Aires of the Israeli Embassy in 1992 and a Jewish community center two years later that killed a total of 114 people, an Argentine indictment charges.
In the aftermath of that indictment, filed in 2006, Hezbollah and its Iranian sponsors, chiefly the Revolutionary Guard, decided to shift from the increasingly scrutinized tri-border area to other countries, including Venezuela, Western anti-terrorism officials say.
"It preserves the capability of Hezbollah and the Revolutionary Guard to mount attacks inside Latin America.... It is very, very important to Iran and Hezbollah right now."
This presence of hostile foreign powers and a violently hostile anti-American ideology south of our border makes for a very real threat within our borders; here are excerpts of the transcript from a 2004 TV investigative report entitled Terrorist Alley, which documents how illegals from terrorist nations are crossing the border into Arizona.
Tom McNamara and the Eyewitness News 4 Investigators have spent the last three months talking to experts and eyewitnesses.
The stories are compelling and the evidence is frightening, and just this week, Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo released a report showing that the problem is worse than anyone thought.
Here's what the Eyewitness News 4 Investigators uncovered.
"It's a Muslim prayer blanket. It was found about a mile and a half west from the Douglas port of entry in 2001."
Larry Vance is a rancher who lives near the U.S.-Mexico border in Douglas, Arizona.
For years, he says he's watched - and documented - thousands of illegals crossing the border and running away to eventual arrest... or freedom and anonymity somewhere in this country.
And in just one hour, during this stake-out along the border between Douglas and Bisbee, The Investigators count 198 illegals in five different groups crossing into the U.S. with no resistance.
Watch as they huddle in the bushes, then climb thru a few strands of barbed wire and run for freedom.
We called Border Patrol and waited another full hour, but no one ever came.
Later, we checked Border Patrol logs which note agents being dispatched following our call, but also note those agents found no signs of activity in the area.
In recent years, Vance says, the evidence some illegals leave behind is alarming.
Vance says, "Other log books, diary-type things, other bits and pieces of paper with Arabic written on them found in the area over the last few years."
We've all heard of the U.S. government's Terror Watch List: countries flagged because Americans are endangered by their citizens, yet regularly, illegals from those countries are crossing the Arizona border, blending in with groups of Mexican and South American illegal immigrants.
If apprehended, they are brought to this federal detention center in Florence, Arizona.
The investigators found that on this day, several individuals of this kind were being detained here, including some from Sudan, Iran, and even Iraq.
These are just the ones who were caught.
Individuals from Sudan, Iran and Iraq, going to Mexico, then sneaking across the border into the United States -- and that's just what was caught on that one occasion!
Do you suppose they traveled all that distance to pick vegetables as migrant laborers?
Stay tuned for Part 5!