The July terror attacks in London were a prime example of how an evidently ragtag team of local jihadis, possessing little funding and skill, could successfully kill dozens of their fellow citizens while plunging one of Europe’s great cities into chaos. If recent reports are to be believed, the motley group, relatively unskilled in the ways of mass terrorism and guerilla warfare, were able – using explosives mixed in a Tupperware container – to send political shockwaves across the entire continent. Their attack was the perfect practical realization of the “new terrorism,” a decentralized, low cost operation using anonymous operators resulting in maximum casualties and panic.
While Europe certainly has sufficient reason to fear its restive ranks of homegrown militants who utilize simple terrorist techniques, such a threat pales in comparison to the so-far hypothetical one posed by Hezbollah. The deadly terrorist organization - operating behind the protective aegis of Iran - has meticulously constructed an extensive and professional network of agents and terrorists that has metastasized all across Europe. What Hezbollah brings to the threat level in Europe is more dangerous than anything wielded by local extremist groups, organizational attributes such as professional training, military grade explosives, well placed spies, and centralized coordination. While the indigenous European jihadis may be the West’s current threat du jour, it would be a serious miscalculation to overlook the power of Hezbollah’s European-based terrorist enterprise.
The leader of Hezbollah’s efforts in Europe is the infamous chief of its intelligence and security organization, Imad Mugniyah. Mugniyah, one of the world’s most prolific mass murders and the mastermind of the 1983 Beirut attacks which killed 241 Americans, currently oversees Hezbollah’s terrorist operations worldwide. His recent efforts in Europe are only the latest incarnation of the organization’s long term interest in European operations, building upon its historic continental infrastructure. This history has been a particularly bloody one, with Hezbollah carrying out numerous terrorist attacks in Europe throughout the 1980s, including the 1985 bombings of a Jewish film festival in Paris and of a crowded restaurant in Spain which resulted in 18 deaths. Hezbollah was also active in attempts on author Salman Rushdie’s life, sending numerous assassins to kill him while also murdering the Italian translator of “The Satanic Verses.” While Hezbollah has not carried out any major attacks in Europe over the past several years, their murderous pedigree has already been firmly established.
Hezbollah cells in Europe have proven particularly adept at multitasking, running concurrent operations involving attack planning, espionage, fundraising, and propaganda. The group has been disturbingly energetic with regard to attack preparations, especially over the past decade. A Hezbollah cell based in Spain was broken up in 1997 after its members were caught smuggling large amounts of plastic explosives into the country via Cyprus. Spanish investigators, following up on the arrest, discovered even more explosives – including massive amounts of military grade plastique – destined for distribution to numerous other Hezbollah cells all throughout Europe. Ghulam Mahmud Qawqa, a Hezbollah agent who had engineered several attacks in Jerusalem and was captured in 2003 by Israeli police, admitted that he had been working with numerous Hezbollah cells in Europe to initiate a continent wide campaign against Israeli and Jewish targets, at the personal behest of the Hezbollah leadership. Other cells have been observed scouting out American embassies and installations, with special consideration given to creating the maximum amount of civilian death. While sporadic arrests have given European investigators some idea concerning the extent of Hezbollah infiltration, it is difficult to actually quantify their standing force on the continent. Nevertheless, European officials have successfully identified active Hezbollah cells in 20 European nations. In Germany alone, officials estimate that 800 trained Hezbollah terrorists currently reside in-country, without the knowledge of security forces.
Unlike other terrorist groups who are usually content with planning future attacks and recruiting new killers, Hezbollah – with the help of Iranian intelligence - has built a first class intelligence organization which runs extensive operations inside most European countries. The primary mission for these Hezbollah agents is to recruit spies who can easily infiltrate other nations, especially Israel, using their European identification papers. In 2001, British national Jihad Shuman met with Hezbollah agents in Britain, who then sent him to Israel to carry out numerous espionage assignments. A year later, Canadian citizen Fawzi Ayoub was briefed by his Hezbollah handlers in Europe before traveling to Jerusalem, in order to facilitate arms transfers. Hezbollah agents also recruited Danish citizen Ayad al-Ashuah in 2004 for espionage purposes, including trips to Israel, where he scouted several targets for future terrorist attacks. Spy networks, made up of visiting Palestinian college students, have also been nurtured by Hezbollah, which uses them to report on the movements of foreign officials and dignitaries. Additionally, Israeli security experts charge that dozens of unidentified Europeans have been recruited by Hezbollah intelligence for reconnaissance missions within Israel over the past three years.
Europe has also proven to be especially conducive to Hezbollah fundraising operations. The organization, which accrues an estimated $250 million dollars a year, has utilized lax European charity and monetary laws to fill its coffers with untraceable donations. Numerous European charities are little more than fronts for Hezbollah’s money flow, including charities such as the Lebanese Islamic Association, the al-Shahid Social Relief Institution, the Help Foundation, Lebanese Welfare Committee, and the Association of the Righteous, all of which operate or have operated in nations such as Britain and Germany. European governments have done little to stem this tide of unregulated funding, concerned more with the sensitivities of their native Muslim populations than the violence the money stream is funding.
In addition to their physical efforts on the continent, Hezbollah has built an extensive propaganda and media apparatus aimed at Europe’s burgeoning immigrant Muslim population. The main conduit for this outreach has been the al-Manar, or “the beacon,” television network. Based in Lebanon, the network regularly calls for the deaths of Americans and Jews, while instructing viewers on how to commit suicide attacks. Until December 2004, French based satellite provider Eutelsat carried the hateful message of Al-Manar to an estimated 10-15 million viewers, many of whom live in Europe. Only when an al-Manar program suggested Jews were spreading AIDS among Arabs did Eutelsat finally pull the plug on al-Manar’s televised savagery. However, European viewers can still view al-Manar on several alternate satellite feeds. The EU is currently considering a complete ban of the station from European airwaves, but efforts have been slow and ineffectual. Hezbollah also produces a mass distribution newsletter in Germany, Al-Ahd, which carries the same fanatic message as al-Manar to a large audience of sympathetic readers.
European governments have done little to stem this growth of Hezbollah influence, primarily due to the fact that they are unable to summon the requisite political will to simply declare Hezbollah a “terrorist” group. Hezbollah, which has the blood of thousands of innocent people on its hands, is still considered a “political” organization by many in the EU. Some individual nations and their courts have taken limited steps against Hezbollah infiltration, only to be stonewalled by the EU’s extensive bureaucracy, which persistently fails to even admit the existence of a threat. These EU officials are, in effect, allowing Hezbollah to lay the groundwork for a future terror war totally unimpeded.
Critics of the argument concerning the high-level threat Hezbollah poses towards Europe would point out that Hezbollah has not attacked any European target for the past ten years, while the more decentralized jihadist groups have carried out numerous attacks, such as the bombings in Madrid and London. However, the absence of overt action is hardly of much comfort to those who have watched Hezbollah create a veritable terrorist army under the noses of European security services. These same critics must answer the critical question of why, why is Hezbollah pouring so many resources into Europe if they have no interest in ever carrying out attacks there?
One of the more disturbing explanations for Hezbollah’s growing interest in Europe rests in the groups close connections to the leadership of Iran. Any Hezbollah action, no matter how minor, must be supervised and approved by the Iranian intelligence service. Considering the leading role played by European nations in the ongoing diplomatic effort to halt the Iranian nuclear program, it would benefit the Iranian leadership immensely to possess a large and professional intelligence and terrorist apparatus which has already ingrained itself into the larger European society. Were European nations to align themselves too closely with any future hard-line American bargaining initiative, they could easily find themselves at the mercy of the terrorist group they dutifully ignored for so long.