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Drug agencies unravel Hezbollah terror financing ring

The Shiite Lebanese Islamist group has been implicated in drug trafficking and money laundering. Several arrests in Europe have been made.

US and European law enforcement agencies have arrested top leaders of an elaborate drug trafficking and money laundering network run by Hezbollah used to fund the Lebanese terrorist group's activities, the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) said on Monday.

Working on investigative leads from the US drug agency, authorities in France, Germany, Italy, Belgium and Colombia have been investigating the US and European cocaine trafficking and money laundering operations of Hezbollah's external financing arm over the past year.

The investigation led to the arrest of several leaders last week, including Lebanese suspected money launderer Mohamad Noureddine, who is on the US terrorist list for his alleged role in using a front company to finance designated terror groups in Lebanon and Iraq.

"This ongoing investigation spans the globe and involves numerous international law enforcement agencies in seven countries, and once again highlights the dangerous global nexus between drug trafficking and terrorism," the DEA said.

Under the code name "Project Cassandra," law enforcement agencies from seven countries and Europol uncovered a network of money couriers that collect and transport drug money from Europe to the Middle East and back to South America.

Taking advantage of the informal Hawala money transfer system used widely in the Middle East, Hezbollah's external financing arm laundered drug money and made payments to South American drug cartels, including Colombia's notorious La Oficina de Envigado, the DEA said.

A large portion of the drug proceeds transited through Lebanon and a significant percentage benefited Hezbollah, the agency said. The money was allegedly used to help fund Hezbollah activities in Syria, where the group is

fighting alongside the Syria regime against rebels.

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