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A man whom the US Treasury Department has designated as an operative of the terrorist organization Hezbollah has relocated from the Syria war zone to Venezuela in recent days, apparently in support the government’s violent crackdown against student demonstrators. Ghazi Atef Nassereddine was sanctioned by the US government in 2008 for providing logistical and financial support to Hezbollah.
Sources and documents substantiate Nassereddine’s role as Hezbollah’s principal representative to the Venezuelan regime and a close collaborator of President Nicolás Maduro. In recent years, his official cover has been as a diplomat assigned to Venezuela’s embassy in Damascus, where he has used his position to facilitate travel for many persons from the Middle East to Venezuela. From that post, he had extraordinary access to senior Syrian security officials who have waged war on opponents of the Assad regime.
Two witnesses also have told me that Nassereddine worked personally to obtain Maduro’s approval of Hezbollah money laundering schemes using Venezuelan entities. One plan involved the transfer of Syrian oil through a Venezuelan-operated refinery in the Caribbean to evade international sanctions. These deals would produce enormous profits for corrupt representatives of the Maduro regime as well as Hezbollah.
As part of the late Hugo Chávez’s radical, anti-US agenda, the Venezuelan regime has promoted and even funded the presence and activities of Iran and Hezbollah in the Western Hemisphere. Now that regime is turning to these allies as it faces a meltdown fueled by its virtual bankruptcy, shocking rates of violent crime, spiraling inflation, widespread shortages of food and medicine, and more recently, student demonstrations against Maduro’s regime in the country’s principal cities.
One very dangerous operative who has answered this call is Ghazi Nassereddine, who was born in 1971 in the Lebanese town of Bint Jbeil, which the Israeli’s have dubbed, “The capital of Hezbollah.” Ghazi parents emigrated to Venezuela, where he acquired citizenship soon after Chávez took power. As I stated in my testimony before the Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence Committee on Homeland Security on July 2011, “[Ghazi Nassereddine], along with at least two of his brothers, manages a network that raises and launders money and recruits and trains operatives to expand Hezbollah’s influence in Venezuela and throughout Latin America.” His brother, Oday, is a long-time activist in the so-called “Bolivarian Circles,” one of the activist groups that has received paramilitary training to defend Chavismo.
Ghazi Nassereddine appears to have returned to Venezuela to help the regime in its fight to hold to power and silence protesters against Nicolás Maduro’s criminal regime. He tweeted from Caracas on February 19 that he “supports the actions taken by the government [against the opposition]” and labeled the government’s actions against the opposition as “humanitarian and patient.”
Nassereddine’s return to Venezuela shows that the regime knows that it is in fight for survival and prepared to use violence. Already thuggish paramilitary have been videotaped beating and shooting pistols indiscriminately into crowds of student demonstrators. It is remarkable that a Hezbollah operative of Nassereddine’s prominence would be part of that repressive campaign.
In recent years, numerous policymakers and experts in the region have documented the presence of Iran’s terrorist proxy in the Hemisphere – although the State Department continues to minimize this threat. That Hezbollah operatives could be among those committing acts of terror and violence against Venezuelan demonstrators would be a dramatic demonstration of that group’s operational capability and brazenness in the Americas.
The State Department is reportedly “considering” what measures to take in response to the acts of violence and the expulsion this week of three US diplomats from Caracas. Beyond whatever diplomatic action it might be mulling over while violence rages in Venezuela, US national security agencies should direct additional resources to verify and counter the involvement of Hezbollah terrorists committing acts of violence on the streets of Venezuela.
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