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Corruption Watch: June 26, 2003

26 June 2003, Volume 3, Number 22
Two separate reports in June once again underscored the dangerous possibility that so-called dirty bombs might become a terrorist weapon. According to the "Financial Times" of 18 June, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) warned in an internal report to its board in Vienna that "Illicit trafficking in nuclear materials is an increasing problem for states in Africa." The "Financial Times" reported that, in the last year, the "IAEA had sent special missions to countries such as Nigeria and Tanzania to help them cope with suspicious material seized from traffickers."

The "Financial Times" report quoted the director-general of Britain's security agency, MI5, Eliza Manningham-Buller, as saying on 17 June that it was only a matter of time before an attack using radiological weapons would be launched by a terrorist group against a Western target. "My conclusion, based on the intelligence we have uncovered, is that we are faced with the realistic possibility of some form of unconventional attack," Manningham-Buller said.

The concerns of the IAEA and MI5 were heightened by the discovery on 31 May of highly radioactive materials in a taxicab in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi. "The Guardian" on 18 June reported that during a routine check, Georgian police discovered two heavy boxes containing isotopes of cesium and strontium together with another substance, thought to be an unprocessed nerve poison.

A spokesman for the Georgian Interior Ministry told "The Guardian" that one man was arrested after the materials were discovered. Georgian police suspect the substances were to be smuggled to Turkey. RK

According to a United Nations report quoted by "The Times" on 25 June: "Al-Qaeda has been able to exploit 'loopholes' in the international banking system, using charities and informal transfer mechanisms such as 'hawala' Islamic banking, to receive and transfer funds. 'Many of the al-Qaeda sources of funding have yet to be uncovered and frozen,' the report says. Despite the worldwide arms embargo, Al-Qaeda and its members are also 'still able to acquire adequate quantities of weapons and explosives' and continue 'attempts to acquire weapons of mass destruction.'"

"The Times" writes that the UN team that is tracking UN sanctions says the present travel ban, arms embargo, and financial restrictions have had little effect on curbing Al-Qaeda: "Despite the travel ban, members of the Al-Qaeda network have retained a high degree of mobility, and have been able to carry out and contribute to terrorist attacks in several countries around the world."

The report warns of a "third generation" Al-Qaeda that is becoming more appealing to young Muslims who are willing to attack even fellow Muslims: "The image that is emerging of the network is of a new generation of Islamic fundamentalism such that al-Qaeda can be viewed both as an organization and an ideology." RK

On 17 June, French police arrested 165 members of the Iranian-exile military group Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MKO). The group, labeled by the United States as a terrorist organization, has been an opponent of the Iranian government. According to a report in "The New York Times" of 18 June, the French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, told members of parliament on 17 June "that the crackdown was necessary because the Iranian opposition group wanted to use France as an international base of operations to supplement their activities from their headquarters in Iraq." The paper added: "'The mujahedin wanted to make France their rear base,' Sarkozy said. 'We couldn't accept that.'"

According to the report in "The New York Times," U.S. and European intelligence agencies helped provide the information needed for the arrests, which were ordered by France's top antiterrorist investigator, Jean-Louis Bruguiere. A spokesman for the French Interior Ministry, Gerard Laurent, stated that investigators had uncovered a "criminal conspiracy with the intent to prepare acts of terrorism and financing of a terrorist enterprise."

Writing about the background of the MKO, "EurasiaNet" on 19 June offered the following profile: "The group has formidable fighting and intelligence-gathering credentials -- proven in Saddam Hussein's service during the first Gulf War." According to a spokesman from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, Iraq used the MKO to brutally suppress uprisings in Iraq's semiautonomous Kurdish north. "These people took their orders from the Mukhabarat [Saddam's feared secret police]," the spokesman told EurasiaNet. "They committed major crimes against our people. They are not welcome in our country."

The MKO was formed in the 1960s and has shown itself capable of organizing sophisticated terrorist attacks. According to the website: "In April 1992 [the MKO] conducted attacks on Iranian embassies in 13 different countries, demonstrating the group's ability to mount large-scale operations overseas. The normal pace of anti-Iranian operations increased during the 'Operation Great Bahman' in February 2000, when the group claimed it launched a dozen attacks against Iran. During the remainder of the year, the [MKO] regularly claimed that its members were involved in mortar attacks and hit-and-run raids on Iranian military, law enforcement units, and government buildings near the Iran-Iraq border. The [MKO] also claimed six mortar attacks on civilian government and military buildings in Tehran." RK

The Czech Interior Ministry released a report titled "Security Situation in the Czech Republic in 2000" ( that presents an interesting picture of the criminal situation in the country and provides a comprehensive section on organized-crime groups operating in the republic.

According to the report, most organized-crime gangs in the Czech Republic are from the former Soviet Union, and in the last four years they have noticeably increased their activities. These groups are involved in different criminal enterprises but distinguish themselves in violent crimes, most often connected to protection rackets primarily targeting Russians doing business in the Czech Republic. In 2000, there were approximately 10 major organized-crime "brigades" from the former USSR operating in the country. The report has this to say about them: "The 'brigades' operating in the Czech Republic are as follows: Luhanska Brigade (the main seat was detected in Brno, a principal representative is known as 'Pascha'; the person responsible for activities in Prague and surrounding areas is 'Krava' or 'Great Andrey'); Kiev Brigade (operating mainly in East Bohemia); Mukatchev Brigade (North and West Bohemia); Lvov Brigade (the whole territory of our country), Uzhorod Brigade (Prague, North and West Bohemia), Irschava Brigade (Central and North Bohemia); Solncevska Brigade (mainly West Bohemia) �- the majority of these brigades operate also in other European Countries."

According to the report, the Russian groups are mostly involved in financial crimes, while Ukrainian groups deal in bank robberies and illegal migration into the republic. The report notes that organized-crime groups from the former USSR also"finance drill camps for Muslim warriors from Chechnya in the Czech Republic."

A separate section of the report deals with narcotic manufacturing and trafficking: "The dominant group of organizers involved in illicit trade in heroin consist of citizens of Turkey and Kosovo (Albanians). Heroin is transported to Europe by the Balkan route. Czech nationals are increasingly involved in this kind of trade (in terms of numbers of couriers as well as support personal -- "landlords" hiring their flats, fictitious company owners, car owners, telephone holders). Cocaine still remains of marginal interest to consumers.... The most sought-after drug remains pervitin, which is 'cooked' from ephedrine. Compared with 1998 the situation has remained unchanged. However the production and storage of ephedrine is better monitored which has had a positive impact.... Producers are predominantly Czech citizens; however Russian and Asian groups are currently becoming more involved. A massive growth in the consumption of ecstasy was recorded�the price of this drug has reduced drastically. Marijuana remains very popular (it is imported but it is also grown in the Czech Republic)."

An interesting section of the security report deals with Vietnamese organized-crime groups operating in the country: "Vietnamese criminal groups have been involved especially in organizing illegal migration and smuggling goods. Increasing abuse of drugs in the Vietnamese community has led to the creation of a drug dealing network." According to the report, these groups have come under the influence of Vietnamese arriving from Germany, many of whom are wanted on international warrants and whose experience is mainly in the area of recovery of debts, protecting market places as well as pressure on competitors. These kinds of crimes have resulted in a shift from street gangs to the establishment of more elaborate organizations. Vietnamese crimes of violence have remained a problem and contract murders were recorded.

The police have noted that there is little willingness on the part of Vietnamese victims to cooperate with the Czech Police and that robberies of Vietnamese people are organized mainly by the citizens of Ukraine.

Trends noticed by the Interior Ministry show growing cooperation between Vietnamese and Chinese criminal groups, as well as increased cooperation with criminal groups from the former Soviet Union. RK

Russia plans to establish two new federal units to fight economic and tax crimes, a source in the Interior Ministry was reported to have told ITAR-TASS on 17 June. The new units are expected to begin operations on 1 July and will take over the functions of the former Federal Tax Police, who have now been assigned the task of combating drug trafficking. The new organizations plan to employ 33,000 people, many of whom are tax investigators.

The ITAR-TASS report quotes the source in the Interior Ministry as saying: "The fact that the Federal Tax Police Service and the Interior Ministry are duplicating their functions has become apparent long ago. In reality, the better half of all tax crimes was investigated by the (Ministry of) Interior departments."

According to Gerald M. Easter of Boston College in his article "The Russian Tax Police" published in "Post-Soviet Affairs," (Vol. 18, No. 4, October-December 2002): "Russia's first tax police was set up in March 1992 within the State Tax Service (GNS) as the Main Administration of Tax Investigations (GUNR). Its officers, drawn from the old KGB, the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD), and the Ministry of Defense, had the job of enforcing revenue claims and protecting (mainly female) GNS personnel from death threats.

"The GUNR resented subordination to the civilian GNS and pressed for autonomous status. In June 1993 the two bodies were separated and the GUNR's mandate expanded to cover prevention as well as exposure and suppression of tax crimes and official corruption. Soon it was given the right to initiate investigations on its own, even of companies that had passed GNS audits, and refer criminal cases directly to the procuracy instead of through the MVD.

"In December 1995, the GUNR was upgraded to the Federal Service of the Tax Police (FSNP), while the GNS became the Ministry of Taxes and Collections (MNS). But its autonomy was still contested: attempts were made to subordinate it to the MNS, the MVD or the Ministry of Finances. The issue was settled in December 1998 when the FSNP was placed directly under the president.

"The FSNP was further strengthened in the period following the 1998 crash. It was given greater powers to seize property, recruit informants, and conduct secret investigations, and crimes pertaining to banking, trade, foreign currency, real estate, bankruptcy, and licensing were added to its mandate." RK


By Roman Kupchinsky and Bill Samii

Can the Lebanese Hizballah ("Party of God") organization be divided into two separate wings -- a so-called political arm and a fighting arm? This, far from being an academic question, has been asked numerous times by analysts and politicians in many countries because the mysteriously elusive answer can have a serious impact on events in the Middle East. And furthermore, does the Iranian government sponsor Hizballah's terrorist activities? The most serious answer to these questions might have been found because of a tragedy that took place nine years ago on Pasteur Street in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Buenos Aires has been the home to large Jewish and Lebanese Shi'a communities that lived in harmony for many years. In the minds of a few men living thousands of miles away, however, the notion of Jews living in Argentina was somehow disturbing and, in turn, made them a target for a terrorist attack.

On 18 June 1994 at exactly 9:53 a.m. -- the time was accurately recorded on a nearby wall clock whose hands were stopped by the force of the blast -- a massive explosion took place outside AMIA, the Jewish Community Center on Buenos Aires' Pasteur Street. The attack killed 85 people and wounded 265 others.

This incident was eerily similar to the March 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires. University of St. Andrews Professor Magnus Ranstorp writes in "Hizballah of Lebanon" (1997) that the 1992 bombing was retaliation for the February 1992 execution of Hizballah Secretary-General Shaykh Abbas Musawi by Israeli forces. The bombing was claimed by Islamic Jihad in the name of the "Martyr Child Hussein" (Musawi's son). Ranstorp writes that Islamic Jihad was a "nom de guerre" used during the 1980s in Lebanon by groups involved in suicide bombings and kidnappings. In May 1999, the Argentinean Supreme Court blamed Hizballah for the 1992 bombing, saying, "The attack was organized and carried out by the terrorist group Islamic Jihad, the armed wing of Hizballah," according to Reuters.

Nevertheless, Argentinean authorities searched for the organizers of the 1994 terrorist act for nearly nine years, and finally in 2003 the Argentinean Judge Juan Jose Galeano signed international extradition requests to bring four Iranians suspected of organizing the attack to justice.

In a recent article in the 10 April issue of the Italian weekly magazine "Panorama," author Alvaro Ranzoni reports in chilling detail how the decision to destroy 85 lives was taken. He describes how the leaders of the Iranian government, along with members of Hizballah, plotted to expand their jihad to Argentina.

According to "Panorama," Argentina's SIDE intelligence service received information that the decision to attack AMIA was made on 14 August 1993 during a meeting of Iran's Supreme National Security Council. The proposal to blow up the center was the brainchild of a Colonel Vahidi, allegedly the commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps' Qods Force, which is used for special operations, according to that report. Vahidi was reportedly supported in his plan by two other men who also were present in the meeting: Ahmad Reza Ashgari, a political counselor in the Iranian Embassy in Buenos Aires; and Mohsen Rabbani, an agent of the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS). Other alleged participants in the meeting were Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei; then-President Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani; then-Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati; then-MOIS chief Ali Akbar Fallahian-Khuzestani; and Mohammad Hejazi, allegedly the head of Intelligence and Security in Khamenei's Bureau.

The details of the attack are recorded in the volumes of materials collected by the Argentinean court and reported by "Panorama": "After the signal was given, the suicide bomber, Ibrahim Hassin Berro, entered the vehicle (a Renault transporter van filled with about 400 pounds of TNT). He started the engine, and began to drive slowly toward his destination. He was a member of the Hizballah -- the extremist militarist Shi'ite party. A few days earlier, he had left his refuge in Lebanon and infiltrated the South American country via the 'gray zone' of drug trafficking and terrorism: the Argentine-Brazil-Paraguay tri-border area. A few hours earlier, he had phoned his family in Lebanon and told them that he would soon be 'reuniting with his dear brother' (who was killed five years earlier in another suicide car-bomb attack against a group of Israeli soldiers who controlled southern Lebanon at the time)."

The SIDE provided information on the movements of Iranian diplomats in Buenos Aires allegedly involved in the planning and logistical support of the attack and it was on this basis that the court made its decision to issue the extradition warrants for the following men: Mohsen Rabbani (who served as cultural attache in the Iranian Embassy in Buenos Aires, although "Panorama" claims the he was actually working for the MOIS and was responsible for the entire Latin American region), former MOIS chief Fallahian; and two other associates, Ali Akbar Parvaresh and Ali Balesh Abadi.

The AMIA extradition warrants notwithstanding, there is little doubt about Iranian government involvement in Hizballah and its terrorist activities. Iran's ambassador to Syria, Hussein Sheikholeslam, had said in advance of a presidential visit to Syria in May 1999: "There is no doubt the talks will cover the Lebanese resistance. The Syrian-Iranian backing is the most important support for this resistance." Sheikholeslam went on to say: "We should not ignore this Syrian-Iranian backing, which is allowing the resistance to continue with strength and force to achieve its objectives in the future." "There will be a meeting in Damascus between [Iranian President Mohammad] Khatami and the Palestinian opposition leaders.... Iran's support for these groups did not and will not cease," Sheikholeslam concluded. President Khatami met with Hizballah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah later that month (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 17 May 1999).

The U.S. State Department has described Hizballah as a "foreign terrorist organization" in its annual "Patterns of Global Terrorism" reports. Iran is described in these reports as a state sponsor of terrorism, generally, and as a sponsor of Hizballah, specifically.

Statements by Hizballah's leaders shed light on the lingering question about the nature of Hizballah: Is it one organization, or does it have a social and political wing and a military and terrorist wing, just as Hamas does?

The situation was summed up by the Hizballah representative to the Lebanese parliament, Mohammed Raad. who told Al-Manar television on 9 November 2001: "There is no separation between politics and resistance."

In a response to a question concerning authorization for terrorist operations, Hizballah Secretary-General Nasrallah stated, according to "Al-Majallah" of 24 March 2002: "The Hizballah leadership [decides]. The issue no longer relates simply to operatives. The organization's leadership is a leadership of resistance, and it considers all the information, the interest of resistance, and its operations policy. The brothers on the ground are those implementing the policy."

Hizballah Deputy Secretary-General Naim Qasem said on Lebanese television on 23 January, "We are a political party that prioritizes the resistance, since the fighting against Israel and the policy of confrontation with the occupation are activities of a political party." Qasem added, "We believe that the political activity is integrated into the resistance operations, since it is an inseparable part of the political activity."

If the Hizballah operatives are found guilty of the Argentinean attack, the answer to all these questions will have been answered. If they are not handed over to stand trial, then it is likely that the organization will view this as a victory and an incentive to strike again and again.