Key Hezbollah financier arrested in Brazil after years on the run

Assad Ahmad BarakatBrazilian police have announced the arrest of Assad Ahmad Barakat, a Lebanese national who is believed to be one of the most prolific international financiers for the Shiite group Hezbollah. Barakat was born in Lebanon but fled to Paraguay in the mid-1980s in the midst of Lebanon’s brutal civil war. He began an import-export business and eventually acquired Paraguayan citizenship. He gradually built a small business empire in Paraguay, which included engineering and construction, as well as transportation firms. Throughout that time, however, Barakat maintained strong connections with Hezbollah, the paramilitary group that has a strong following among Lebanon’s large Shiite Muslim community.

By the mid-1990s, Barakat was one of Hezbollah’s most active representatives in the Americas and operated as the Shiite group’s head of paramilitary and fundraising activities in South America. It is believed that he used his Paraguayan passport to travel to Iran and Lebanon for meetings with Hezbollah’s leadership at least once a year. In 2001, following pressure from the United States, Paraguay charged Barakat in absentia with money-laundering. He was eventually caught in Brazil in 2002 and extradited to Paraguay, where he was tried and sentenced to six years in prison. Upon his release in 2008, Barakat returned to his role as Hezbollah’s fundraiser. Using fake passports, he traveled frequently to Brazil, Chile, Argentina, and other Latin American countries, despite having been described by the US government as “one of the most prominent and influential members of the [Hezbollah] terrorist organization”. He was wanted in Paraguay for identity theft and in Argentina for laundering in excess of $10 million in casinos in the north of the country.

Last Friday, the Brazilian Federal Police announced that Barakat had been arrested in the city of Foz do Iguaçu, which is adjacent to the Paraguayan and Argentinian borders. The city of 250,000 is the largest urban center of the so-called Tri-Border tropical region, known for its tropical climate, spectacular mountain views and casinos. Aside from being a year-round tourism center, the area is a known as a hotbed of money-laundering, forged currency smuggling and drug-trafficking activity. It is now known whether Barakat will face charges in Brazil or whether he will be extradited to Paraguay or Argentina.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 25 September 2018 | Permalink

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Lebanese media accuses Mossad of assassination attempt in Sidon

Mohammad HamdanMedia reports from Lebanon claim that Israel was behind a bomb explosion that injured an official of the Palestinian group Hamas in the southern Lebanese city of Sidon eight days ago. The official, Mohammad Abu Hamza Hamdan, who is originally from the Gaza Strip, suffered light wounds when his parked car blew up on January 14. Television footage posted online by Lebanon24 from the site of the alleged attack shows smoke coming out of a white BMW car, parked on the courtyard of Hamdan’s home. Reporters at the site said the car belonged to Hamdan and that it had been booby-trapped by unknown assailants. Hamdan was reportedly transported to a nearby hospital, where he received treatment for light wounds.

Reports quoted Lebanese officials who pointed to the fact that the booby-trapped car was parked inside the enclosed courtyard of Hamdan’s home as evidence that the attack was specifically targeted at Hamdan. Others said that the attackers may have originally planned to kill Hamdan’s brother, Osama Hamdan, also from the Gaza Strip, who has served as Hamas’ Lebanon representative for 30 years. Now a new article published by Lebanon’s Al Akhbar newspaper has accused Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency of having orchestrated the assassination attempt. The paper also said that Lebanese security officials had managed to identify the Mossad operatives that carried out the attack. It said they were headed by Ahmed Battiya, a Dutch-born Lebanese man who was recruited by the Mossad in Holland and has participated in prior assassination operations perpetrated by the Israeli spy agency. Al Akhbar said that Battiya had traveled extensively inside Lebanon on behalf of the Mossad, in order to identify Hamas officials and track their movements. The article was published hours after Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the Shiite paramilitary group Hezbollah, also accused Israel of attempting to kill Hamdan.

In Israel, however, government officials appeared to reject claims that the Mossad was behind the attack on Hamdan. The country’s Minister of Defense, Avigdor Liberman, told reporters that the Lebanese media blames Israel for everything that happens in Lebanon, and warned Hamas not to open a “new front against Israel from Lebanon”. Yisrael Katz, Israel’s Minister for Intelligence, said that, if Israel had been involved in the attack against Hamdan, “this wouldn’t have ended with him lightly wounded”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 22 January 2018 | Permalink

Lebanese spy agency used Android app to spy on thousands, say researchers

GDGS EFF LookoutThe spy agency of Lebanon used a virus designed for the Android mobile operating system to compromise the cell phones of thousands of people in at least 20 countries, according to a new mobile security report. The 50-page report was published on Thursday by a team of researchers from Lookout, a mobile security company, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation in Washington, DC. In an accompanying press release, the researchers said that the virus, which they named Dark Caracal, has been in existence for at least six years. They added that it was traced to a building in Beirut belonging to the General Directorate of General Security (GDGS), Lebanon’s primary external intelligence agency.

According to the Lookout/EFF research team, the trojanized phone application was camouflaged as a secure messaging service, resembling popular applications like Signal or WhatsApp. However, once an Android user downloaded it, it gave remote users access to the compromised phone’s cameras and microphone, thus turning it into a bugging device. The virus also stole email and text messages, pins and passwords, lists of contacts, call logs, photographs, as well as video and audio recordings stored on the compromised device. The report states that compromised devices were found in over 20 countries, including Lebanon, France, Canada, the United States and Germany. The majority of those targeted by the virus were civilian and military officials of foreign governments, defense contractors, and employees of manufacturing companies, financial institutions and utility providers.

On Thursday, Reuters contacted Major General Abbas Ibrahim, who serves as director general of GDGS. He insisted that the GDGS is known for collecting intelligence using human sources, not cyber technologies. “General Security does not have these type[s] of capabilities. We wish we had these capabilities”, General Ibrahim told the news agency.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 19 January 2018 | Permalink

Western agencies warned Lebanese prime minister of assassination plot, say Saudis

Saad al-HaririWestern intelligence services warned Lebanon’s former Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri of an assassination plot against him, thus prompting him to resign on Sunday, according to Saudi news media. Hariri is a Saudi-born Lebanese politician, reputed to be one of the world’s wealthiest people. He is the second son of the late Rafiq Hariri, who ruled Lebanon for much of the 1990s but was assassinated in 2005. Saad al-Hariri spent most of his life in Saudi Arabia, the United States and France, but returned to Lebanon in 2014 to lead the Future Movement, a center-right political party supported by Sunni Muslims and some Christians. He became prime minister in 2016.

On Friday, Hariri flew from Beirut to Riyadh for a scheduled high-level visit. But on Sunday he shocked the Arab world by announcing his resignation from the post of prime minister. He did so in a surprise television address from the Saudi capital, which was broadcast live in Lebanon. Hariri told stunned Lebanese audiences that he was resigning in order to protect himself from a plot that was underway to assassinate him. He added that the political climate in Lebanon was intolerably tense and reminded him of the conditions that led to the assassination of his father 12 years ago. He also accused Iran and Hezbollah of acting as the primary destabilizing factors in Lebanon and much of the Middle East. Hariri and his supporters believe that Hezbollah was behind his father’s assassination in 2005. There was intense speculation in Lebanon on Monday that Hariri would remain in Saudi Arabia for the foreseeable future, fearing for his life if he returned to Lebanon.

On Sunday, the Saudi-based newspaper Asharq al-Awsat claimed that Hariri decided to resign after he “received warnings from Western governments” that there would be an assassination plot against him. The newspaper did not name the Western governments, nor did it identify those who are allegedly trying to kill Hariri. Later on Sunday, Saudi television station al-Arabiya al-Hadath alleged that an assassination attempt against Hariri had been stopped at the last minute in the Lebanese capital Beirut earlier in the week. Both news media cited “sources close” to the Lebanese leader, but did not provide specific information, nor did they give details of the alleged plot or plots. It is worth noting, however, that Lebanese security officials denied these reports from Riyadh. Lebanese media quoted senior security official Major General Abbas Ibrahim as saying that no information about assassination plots had been uncovered. Major Ibrahim, who heads Lebanon’s General Directorate of General Security, said that his agency had no information about attempts to kill Hariri or other Lebanese political figures.

This could mean that the information about a possible assassination plot against Hariri was given directly to him by Western intelligence agencies, probably because the latter fear that Lebanese security agencies are infiltrated by Hezbollah sympathizers. Or it could mean that the Saudi media reports are inaccurate. Lebanon is now awaiting further details by Hariri regarding the alleged assassination plot against him. In the meantime, the already fragile political life of Lebanon appears to be entering a period of prolonged uncertainty.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 07 November 2017 | Permalink | Research Credit: B.M.

Alleged Israeli spying device concealed inside fake rock found in Lebanon

Cyprus, Israel, Syria, LebanonA sophisticated spying device disguised as a rock, which was allegedly planted by Israeli intelligence, was found by Lebanese Army troops on a hill located a few miles from the Lebanese-Israeli border. The discovery was reported early on Saturday by several Lebanese news websites, including Al-Mayadeen and Al-Manar, which are closely affiliated with Hezbollah. Al-Manar said that the spy device had been found in the outskirts of Kfarchouba, a predominantly Shiite Lebanese village, located in Arkoub, 100 miles southeast of Lebanon’s capital, Beirut. Kfarchouba’s location is extremely strategic, as the village overlooks northern Israel on the south and the Golan Heights on the east. It has been bombed by Israel several dimes between the 1970s and today, and is remains heavily militarized.

Reports from Lebanon said that a Lebanese Army patrol found the device hidden inside a fake rock, which had been placed on a hill outside Kfarchouba. The device had been placed in direct view of a major Lebanese military outpost, known as Rawisat. As soon as the device was detected, the patrol reportedly called in the Lebanese Army’s intelligence corps for support. Technical experts soon examined the discovery and determined that it contained a sophisticated thermographic camera. Also known as infrared or thermal imaging cameras, thermographic cameras capture images using infrared radiation, instead of using visible light, as is the case with commonly used cameras. This allows them to capture relatively clear images in the darkness, and are thus used for military operations that require night vision. Some Lebanese websites published photographs showing parts of the alleged spy device, which appear to bear writing in Hebrew.

This is not the first time that alleged Israeli spy devices have been found in southern Lebanon. In September of 2014, one person was killed when a mysterious device found near the Lebanese village of Adloun suddenly exploded as Hezbollah troops were examining it. It was later suggested that the device had been attached by Israeli troops to the Hezbollah-owned telecommunications network that spans southern Lebanon. Hezbollah said that the device had been remotely detonated by an Israeli drone in order to prevent it from being reverse-engineered. Two other devices found by a Lebanese Army patrol in the same region in October of 2009 suddenly exploded, as Lebanese security personnel were approaching. A Lebanese Army official said on Sunday that the device found in Kfarchouba will be dismantled by Lebanese Army engineers.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 11 September 2017 | Permalink

Israel’s chief of staff says Hezbollah killed its own commander in Syria

Mustafa Amine BadreddineAn Israeli military official has repeated claims in the Arab media that the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah killed its own military commander in Syria, following a dispute with Iran. Mustafa Amine Badreddine, 55, an expert in explosives and former bomb-maker, was a senior military commander in the military wing of Hezbollah. He rose through the ranks of the organization to become a trusted adviser to Hezbollah’s Secretary General, Hassan Nasrallah. In 2011, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, set up by the United Nations, charged Badreddine with organizing the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Hariri was killed with over 20 other people in a massive bomb blast in Beirut, in February of 2005.

Soon after the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War, the leadership of Hezbollah dispatched Badreddine to the Syrian capital Damascus. His stated mission was to command thousands of Hezbollah troops, who fought under Iranian guidance in support of the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. But on May 13, 2016, Badreddine was reportedly killed in Damascus, causing observers to describe his death as the biggest setback for the Shiite militant group since the 2008 assassination of its leading commander, Imad Mughniyeh. Initial reports in Hezbollah-controlled Lebanese media suggested that Badreddine might have been killed in an Israeli air attack. But a press statement issued later by Hezbollah said the commander had been killed as a result of an armed attack by Sunni rebels. However, on March 8 of this year, the Saudi-owned pan-Arab television network al-Arabiya said it had conducted its own investigation into Badreddine’s death, and had concluded that he was killed by Hezbollah itself. The network claimed that Hezbollah’s Secretary General Nasrallah had ordered Badreddine’s killing, after the Iranians demanded it. Apparently the Iranians wanted him killed because he disputed the authority of Major General Qasem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, who is often credited with having saved the Syrian government from demise during the Civil War.

The claim that Badreddine was killed by Hezbollah was echoed on Tuesday by Lieutenant General Gadi Eisenkot, Chief of the General Staff of the Israel Defense Forces. Speaking to the Associated Press, Lt Gen Eisenkot said that reports from Arab media that Badreddine was killed by his own forces agreed “with intelligence we have”, referring to the Israeli military. It is worth noting that Israeli officials rarely comment on intelligence operations, including assassination operations, choosing instead to adhere to a “refuse to confirm or deny” policy.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 22 March 2017 | Permalink

Lebanon claims arrests of five Israeli spies holding third country passports

GDGS LebanonThe security services of Lebanon announced on Wednesday that they had arrested five foreign nationals who were allegedly spying of Israel. A brief statement issued by Lebanon’s General Directorate of General Security (GDGS, also known as the General Security Directorate) said the five individuals were members of a “spy ring” set up by the Mossad, Israel’s external intelligence agency. The five —three men and two women— are accused of contacting Israeli embassies in countries in the Middle East, Europe and Asia, with the aim of passing information about domestic Lebanese affairs.

The statement from the GDGS said the alleged spy ring consisted of two male holders of Lebanese passports, a Palestinian Arab man (passport not specified), and two women with Nepalese passports. It said that the five foreigners were interrogated and “confessed to the charges”, which include “spying for Israeli embassies abroad”. According to articles in the Lebanese media, the members of the alleged spy ring admitted that they had dialed telephone numbers that were operated by the embassies of Israel in: Amman, Jordan; Ankara, Turkey; London, United Kingdom; and Kathmandu, Nepal. The reports state that the five foreigners said the reason they contacted the Israeli embassies was to “pass on information”, but no specifics were offered.

According to An Nahar, Lebanon’s leading daily newspaper, the two Nepalese women had been tasked with recruiting other Nepalese women working in Israel as maids or nannies. The recruits were allegedly instructed to call telephone numbers belonging to Israel’s embassy in Nepal and share information about their employers’ activities. No information has been given about the identity and occupation of those who employed the domestic workers. The GDGS statement said that the agency was seeking to arrest “the rest of the culprits”, but did not specify whether these were members of the same alleged spy ring.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 26 January 2017 | Permalink