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Exposing Hizballah’s Front Groups

How Islamists use deception to protect their funders.

by
Phillip Smyth

Bio

August 25, 2011 - 12:02 am
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The same can be said about another Hizballah front, the Organization of the Oppressed on Earth, which kidnapped and murdered Lebanese Jews and claimed responsibility for the 1988 kidnapping and murder of U.S. Marine Lt. Colonel William Higgins. Nevertheless, the names of these two earlier front groups were steeped in the same Iranian revolutionary themes found in Hizballah’s ideology, providing easy trails back to Hizballah and its Iranian backers.

Thus, making the front group in the more recent killings a “Sunni” one added another layer of deception to conceal Hizballah’s involvement. Recently, Lebanese Hizballah along with its Iranian backers have been very active in Iraq, helping train, supply, and command groups like the Mahdi Army, Asa’ib Ahl al Huq, and countless other “special groups” in their battle against the Iraqi government and American forces.

In one instance a pro-Iranian militia exploded a bomb in a Baghdad animal market. Rear Admiral Gregory Smith told reporters, “The group’s purpose was to make it appear al-Qaeda in Iraq was responsible for the attack.” This brings to mind the mysterious al-Qaeda-style group Fatah al-Islam, which was actually a Syrian front group. It began as a Sunni Islamist offshoot of the Syrian created Palestinian group Fatah Intifadah. In 2007, Fatah al-Islam sparked a huge battle outside Tripoli in the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp. Tripoli-based Sunni Islamists even told al Arabiya they were trained by Hizballah and Syria.

The secretive and not widely known Wissam Eid, one of the Lebanese investigators who actually came up with the idea to track the Hariri assassins’ cell phones (evidence that led to Hizballah and was extensively used in the STL indictment), was killed by a roadside bomb. No group claimed responsibility but for many in the media and policy elite, the blame fell upon Fatah al-Islam. Then there were a string of attacks against the UNIFIL peacekeeping forces in Lebanon, an organization that was supposed to keep Syrian client Hizballah from returning to the south and to help stop Syrian arms smuggling to Hizballah.

This summer, the Sunni Islamist and al-Qaida affiliated Abdullah Azzam Brigades denied any involvement in a spate of attacks against UNIFIL forces in Lebanon, including a 2007 bombing that killed three Spanish and three Colombian peacekeepers. A July attack injured three French peacekeepers; in May six Italian peacekeepers were also injured. It blamed Hizballah for the attacks:

This operation in Lebanon is a desperate attempt from the soon-to-collapse regime [referring to Syria’s Assad regime], which tasked its Shiite agent in Lebanon with carrying out, to ease pressure exerted by the international community against it.

The way the Hariri cover-up was conducted has broader implications for the Middle East and U.S. policy since it shows how Iran, Syria, and their various clients including Hizballah so successfully use front groups to escape any consequences for attacks they stage. We now know, for example, that the PLO used Black September and other front groups for massive terror attacks — including the one against the Munich Olympic Games and the assassination of two U.S. diplomats in Sudan — in the 1970s. Sponsoring states and terrorist groups have gotten away with kidnappings, assassinations, and terrorist attacks — often against Western targets — in places as far- flung as Argentina, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia by merely doing the assaults under other names.

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Phillip Smyth travels regularly to the Middle East and lived in Lebanon. He has written for The American Spectator, The Daily Caller, Haaretz, National Review Online, NOW Lebanon, the MERIA Journal, and the Counterterrorism Blog. You can follow Phillip on Twitter: @PhillipSmyth
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