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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 October 2018

US launches investigation into Hizbollah's backers

"We will leave no stone unturned in order to eliminate threats to our citizens from terrorist organisations,” says US attorney-general Jeff Sessions.

US Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Mandel Ngan / AFP Photo
US Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Mandel Ngan / AFP Photo

The US government is to investigate the alleged involvement of Hizbollah in illegal activities, including drug trafficking.

The US department of justice (DOJ) yesterday launched the inquiry by assigning a team of prosecutors to a Hizbollah financing and narcoterrorism team (HFNT).

Attorney-general Jeff Sessions described the team as “a group of experienced international narcotics trafficking, terrorism, organised crime, and money laundering prosecutors”.

The HFNT prosecutors and investigators will be “tasked with investigating individuals and networks providing support to Hizbollah, and pursuing prosecutions in any appropriate cases”.

Mr Sessions referred to examining evidence from earlier investigations, including cases resulting from Project Cassandra, a law enforcement initiative targeting Hizbollah’s drug trafficking and related operations which – according to a Politico investigation last month – was scaled back and shelved by the Barack Obama administration.

“The justice department will leave no stone unturned in order to eliminate threats to our citizens from terrorist organisations and to stem the tide of the devastating drug crisis,” said Mr Sessions.

The US attorney-general took a swipe at the Obama administration’s record, pledging to “ensure that all Project Cassandra investigations as well as other related investigations, whether past or present, are given the needed resources and attention to come to their proper resolution.”

Tactically, “the team will initiate prosecutions that will restrict the flow of money to foreign terrorist organisations, as well as disrupt violent international drug trafficking operations.”

Leading the team will be acting assistant attorney Gen John P Cronan of the justice department’s criminal division. He will supervise the HFNT, and “will convene a co-ordination meeting focused on identifying and combating such support to Hizbollah”.

The team tasked by the DOJ will co-ordinate with, among others, “investigators from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), including the DEA’s special operations Division; Federal Bureau of Investigation; Homeland Security Investigations; assistant United States attorneys; and lawyers from the justice department’s criminal division and national security division.”

The DOJ announcement came as the Trump administration finalises its decision on the Iran nuclear deal, which sources say the president will not abandon today.

Mr Trump met his national security team in Washington yesterday ahead of the deadline for deciding on sanctions on Iran’s nuclear programme.

Congressional and administration sources said Mr Trump will sign the waiver and save the deal by continuing to offer Iran sanctions relief on the nuclear side but at the same time impose targeted sanctions on other sectors, possibly including individuals and businesses involved in the crackdown against the recent street protests.