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ICT Global Terrorism Brief – Mughniyeh killing triggers spate of Hezbollah alerts

The aftermath of the 12th of February, 2008 assassination of Hezbollah’s Imad Mughniyeh – which Hezbollah attributed to Israel – has seen a string of warnings about increased Hezbollah activity worldwide. Israeli intelligence experts increasingly think Hezbollah is determined to attack an Israeli target – most likely Israeli embassies or officials abroad, especially in third-world countries.

One of the first to issue Hezbollah warnings, was the U.S. Treasury, which criticized the Venezuelan government for “providing safe harbor” to Hezbollah operatives in its Executive Order 13224 – issued on June 18th. The Treasury designated Venezuelan-based individuals and two travel agencies with Hezbollah connections.

On June 19th, 2008, Hezbollah agents were overheard discussing a possible strike against the Israeli embassy in Ottawa, Canada. Up to 20 individuals in sleeper cells were reportedly active in Canada, and a known Hezbollah weapons expert was followed to Canada where he was seen at a firing range south of Toronto. 

On 16 July 2008, Khaled Kashkush, 29, originally from the Israeli Arab town of Kalansua, was arrested at Ben-Gurion Airport in Israel in a joint Shin Bet – Israel Police operation, on suspicion of being a member of Hezbollah and spying for them, according to the Jerusalem Post. The newspaper stated that he had been residing in Germany and was a medical student in Gottingen, Germany. Following his arrest, Kashkoush was transferred for questioning, during which he revealed his ties with Hezbollah. The Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that Khaled had been paid 13,000 Euros for his Hezbollah activity.

On the same day, Israel and Hezbollah engaged in a prisoner exchange at the Rosh Hanikra border crossing between Israel and Lebanon. In exchange for the bodies of captured soldiers Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser and the remains of several Israeli soldiers killed in the Second Lebanon War, Israel released notorious terrorist Samir Kuntar, four additional Hezbollah militants, and 199 bodies of Lebanese and Palestinian fighters killed in the last three decades.

On 4 August 2008, Israeli intelligence sent out a specific warning of Hezbollah’s intent to attack Israeli citizens in West Africa. The Israeli Counter Terrorism Bureau did not issue a travel advisory to Israelis going to West Africa or present there. Instead, Israeli officials visited communities of Israelis to warn them. According to Haaretz newspaper, there are hundreds of Israelis in the region, working both in large construction projects and in the diamond trade. 

On 11th of August 2008, new evidence suggested militant Hezbollah sleeper cells could be planning an attack on Germany, according to Joerg Ziercke, German Federal Criminal Police chief. He was quoted in the German daily newspaper Der Tagesspiegel, saying that investigators were monitoring as many as 200 suspected Hezbollah militant sleeper cells in the country. Security authorities reported that more than 50 militants living in Germany had traveled out of the country, allegedly for training at terrorist training camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan. He said some of the suspects had already returned to Germany: “A single-digit number of militants had returned to Germany from training camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan and were among around 100 suspects considered a threat.” 

Asharq Alawsat reported on August 18, 2008, that Hezbollah operatives were involved in attacks against U.S. and Iraqi forces in four Iraqi provinces. A senior U.S. intelligence officer said that activists of the “Special Groups” (Shiite terror cells in Iraq) undergo training and military instruction administered by the Iranian Revolution Guards’ Qods Force and Lebanese Hezbollah at training camps in the Iranian cities of Qom, Tehran, Ahwaz, and Mashad.

On 20 August 2008, the government of Israel renewed its warning to Israelis abroad regarding Hezbollah’s intent to abduct or attack Israeli citizens around the world. 

The Jerusalem Post reported that on 1 September 2008, the Israeli government announced that the Shin Bet had foiled two attempts by Hezbollah to kidnap Israeli businessmen abroad. According to Haaretz, the officials stated the kidnapping plots were stopped at advanced stages. 

The latest Hezbollah related warning is from the 4th of September: terror cells had recently been seen observing El Al crew members in Toronto, apparently in preparation for a terror attack targeting airline personnel. Haaretz stated that the suspected terrorists were seen at the Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel, one of the hotels where the pilots and crew of the Boeing 767s that fly El Al’s direct Tel Aviv-Toronto route stay between flights. The sighting triggered a higher alert level, and the Shin Bet security service ordered El Al procedures altered.