Mexican police arrested and extradited a US citizen who has been accused of ties to Hezbollah, raising questions about the militant group’s presence in Latin America.
Alleged Hezbollah operative Rafic Labboun was arrested on September 8 during a police raid in Merida, Yucatan along with two other men, reported El Universal. He is suspected of violating the terms of his probation.
Labboun ran a mosque in San Jose, California before being convicted of credit card fraud in 2010. Authorities suspected that the money Labboun stole from several credit card companies was linked to a Hezbollah money laundering operation, though prosecutors were not able to prove these accusations and they were dropped because of a lack of evidence, reported CBS. He was released from jail in June after serving his 27 month sentence.
Labboun, a dual citizen of Lebanon and the US, handed Mexican authorities a false passport from Belize at the time of his arrest, according to El Universal. Fox News Latino reported that the two men accompanying him were wanted in the US for credit card fraud, while CBS reported that, according to the FBI, they were known Hezbollah members.
InSight Crime Analysis
The arrest of three alleged Hezbollah members in Mexico is likely to increase speculation about the Lebanese militant group’s presence in Latin America. Evidence of a substantial presence, however, remains low.
The most prominent such claim concerned the so-called “Iran-Zetas plot” which alleged that Iran, which has strong ties to Hezbollah, had joined with the powerful Mexican Zetas drug gang in October 2011 to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States. As InSight Crime reported, however, ties between Mexican gangs and Iran and Hezbollah are highly implausible, and the allegations stem from a poor understanding of the Mexican underworld.
According to the fact-checking website Politifact, which cites a US Congressional report, various Latin American enterprises send millions of dollars to Hezbollah each year. Furthermore, the US State Department confirmed that there are no known Hezbollah cells operating in the Western Hemisphere, Politifact reported.