The United States fears the Iranian-backed Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah may be planning imminent attacks in Europe and around the world, a senior security official in Washington said Friday.
"Our assessment is that Hezbollah and Iran will both continue to maintain a heightened level of terrorist activity and operations in the near future," said Daniel Benjamin, the US State Department's counter-terrorism coordinator.
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"We are increasingly concerned about Hezbollah's activities on a number of fronts, including its stepped up terrorist campaign around the world," he said.
"And we assess that Hezbollah could attack in Europe or elsewhere at any time with little or no warning," he warned, in a conference call with reporters to announce new US sanctions against Hezbollah, Iran and Syria.
Benjamin warned Hezbollah might step up violent action as international economic sanctions turn the screw on its backers in Iran and Western-backed Syrian rebels threaten to overthrow its sponsor in Damascus.
"Hezbollah maintains a presence in Europe and its recent activities demonstrate that it is not constrained by concerns about collateral damage or political fallout that could result from conducting operations there," he said.
"Hezbollah believes there have been sustained Israeli and western campaigns against the group and its primary backers Iran and Syria over the past several years and this perception is unlikely to change," he continued.
"Both remain determined to exact revenge against Israel and to respond forcefully to the Western-led pressure against Iran and Syria," he said.
"This suggests more acts of terrorism by both Hezbollah and Iran are likely and they will continue to pose a serious threat for the foreseeable future.
"We have not detected any operational activity of the group in the United States," he added. "We do not have any information on any operational targeting or anything like that in the US.
"But, that said, it's a very ambitious group with global reach."
Sanctions target Hezbollah, Syria
The new, largely symbolic, sanctions on Hezbollah and Syria's state-run oil company were seen as a move designed to underscore Iran's key role in propping up the Syrian regime over the span of its civil war.
State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said the penalties against energy firm Sytrol come after it delivered $36 million worth of gasoline to Iran in April. At the same time, Tehran was "actively advising, supplying, and assisting the Syrian security forces and regime-backed militias that are carrying out gross human rights abuses against the Syrian people."
Meanwhile, the Treasury Department targeted Hezbollah for "training, advice and extensive logistical support to the government of Syria's increasingly ruthless efforts to fight against the opposition." It also blamed the terrorist group for coordinating Iranian assistance to the Syrian government.
"Hezbollah's extensive support to the Syrian government's violent suppression of the Syrian people exposes the true nature of this terrorist organization and its destabilizing presence in the region," the Treasury Department's sanctions chief, David S. Cohen, said. "Long after the Assad regime is gone, the people of Syria and the entire global community will remember that Hezbollah, and its patron Iran, contributed to the regime's murder of countless innocent Syrians."
Associated Press contributed to the report
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