Report: US hunting Hizbullah cells
Sources tell New York Post terror group may be planning to activate sleeper cells in New York, other big cities to stage attack as nuclear showdown with Iran heats up; FBI, Justice Department launch investigations targeting Hizbullah members, report says. ‘Hizbullah is a group that the U.S. has to be concerned about in the current climate,’ terror expert says
Sources told the New York Post that Hizbullah may be planning to activate sleeper cells in New York and other big cities to stage an attack as the nuclear showdown with Iran heats up.
The FBI and Justice Department have launched urgent new probes in New York and other cities targeting members of the Lebanese terror group, the Post said.
Law-enforcement and intelligence officials told The Post that about a dozen hard-core supporters of Hizbullah have been identified in recent weeks as operating in the New York area.
Sources said the activities of these New York-based operatives are being monitored by FBI counterterrorism agents as part of a nationwide effort to prevent a possible terror strike if the confrontation with Iran over its nuclear program spins out of control.
According to the Post, additional law-enforcement attention is being centered on the Iranian Mission to the United Nations, where there have already been three episodes in the last four years in which diplomats and security guards have been expelled for casing and photographing New York City subways and other potential targets.
The nationwide effort to neutralize Hizbullah sleepers in the United States, headed by the FBI and the Justice Department's counterterrorism divisions, was launched in January in response to reports that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad met with leaders of Hizbullah and other terror groups during a visit to Syria.
Among those attending the meetings, according to reports, was Hizbullah’s chief operational planner, Imad Mugniyah, who is responsible for the bombings of the 1983 U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut and who, more recently, provided Iraqi guerrillas with sophisticated explosive devices.
'They are well funded and very well organized'
The Post reported that U.S. officials stressed there is no intelligence information pointing to an imminent attack by Hizbullah.
However, officials did say that they have detected increased activity by Hizbullah operatives - including more heated rhetoric by its leaders and in internet chat rooms as the U.S.-Iran showdown heats up.
"Hizbullah is a group that the U.S. has to be concerned about in the current climate. It is already coming under heavy pressure by the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon, and Ahmadinejad is under pressure on the nuclear issue," the Post quoted terror expert Walid Phares as saying.
"They are well funded, very well organized, and we assume that their penetration of the U.S. is deeper than al Qaeda's. It is only rational for the U.S. to think in pre-emptive ways. An attack here is clearly in the realm of the possible," Phares said.
The Post said Hizbullah has so far limited its activities in the United States to fund-raising and criminal enterprises. The FBI has already taken down two major rings, one in Charlotte, N.C., and one in Detroit, in which members were smuggling cigarettes, Viagra and baby formula, and sending profits back to Hizbullah,” the report said.
Hizbullah says won't aid Iran if US attacks
Meanwhile, Lebanon's Hizbullah, a close ally of Iran, would not jump to Tehran's defence if the U.S. launched a strike against its nuclear programme but would step in if the conflict spread to Lebanon, its deputy chief said on Monday.
Sheikh Naim Kassem told Reuters that the guerrilla group, which was established by Iran in the early 1980s but has since grown into a political party with 14 seats in parliament, had no plans to get involved in regional battles.
"Hizbollah is not a tool of Iran, it is a Lebanese project that implements the demands of Lebanese," Kassem said in an interview in the Hizbollah-controlled southern suburb of Beirut.
"Iran is a big country with real capabilities and can defend itself if it is exposed to American danger."
Reuters contributed to this report