Ties between Lebanon's Shiite Hizbullah
organization and Mexican drug cartels have been strengthening over the past few years, the Washington Times
Hizbullah relies on "the same criminal weapons smugglers, document traffickers and transportation experts as the drug cartels," said Michael Braun, former administrator and chief of operations at the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
"They work together," added Braun, "They rely on the same shadow facilitators. One way or another, they are all connected. They'll leverage those relationships to their benefit, to smuggle contraband and humans into the US; in fact, they already are (smuggling)."
A number of American security officials, counterterrorism experts and drug trade law enforcement officials agreed with Braun's comments and said Hizbullah's use of the Mexican drug routes continued to increase with time.
The routes in question start in South America's tri-border region of Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil and continue to smuggling routes above and below the US-Mexico Border. Hizbullah is also suspected of operating similar routes through Venezuela and Columbia.
To finance its operations, Hizbullah relies in part on funding from a large Lebanese Shiite Muslim diaspora that stretches from the Middle East to Africa and Latin America. Some of the funding comes from criminal enterprises.
There have been no confirmed cases of Hizbullah moving terrorists across the Mexico border to carry out attacks in the United States, but it is believed that members and supporters of the group have entered the US in this way in the past.
Last year, Salim Boughader Mucharrafille was sentenced to 60 years in prison on charges of organized crime and immigrant smuggling. Mucharrafille, a Mexican of Lebanese descent was arrested in 2002 for smuggling 200 people, said to include Hizbullah supporters, into the US.
Mahmoud Youssef Kourani was convicted by an American court of providing "material support and resources ... to Hizbullah" in 2003 after crossing the border two years earlier.
"The Mexican cartels have no loyalty to anyone," a US law enforcement official told The Washington Times. "They will willingly or unknowingly aid other nefarious groups into the US through the routes they control. It has already happened. That's why the border is such a serious national security issue."
Another US counterterrorism official confirmed that the US is keeping a close eye on the links between Hizbullah and drug cartels and said it is "not a good picture." A senior US defense official warned that al-Qaeda
could also make use of the trafficking routes to infiltrate operatives into the US.