Members a Lebanese Hizballah militant group were arrested on charges they used millions of dollars from the sale of cocaine in the US and Europe to purchase weapons in Syria, the US Drug Enforcement Administration [DEA] announced on Monday.
Hizballah has sent troops to back Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the country’s almost five-year-old civil war.
The group is designated a terrorist organisation by the US, while the EU and the UK proscribe its militant wing but do not regard the group on the whole as a terror organisation.
Those arrested include leaders of the network’s European cell, who were taken into custody last week, the DEA statement said. Among them was Mohammad Noureddine, who the DEA has accused of being a Lebanese money launderer for Hizballah’s financial arm.
“These drug trafficking and money laundering schemes… provide a revenue and weapons stream for an international terrorist organization responsible for devastating terror attacks around the world,” DEA acting deputy administrator Jack Riley said in a statement.
“[This] once again highlights the dangerous global nexus between drug trafficking and terrorism,” it added.
|Hizballah controls most cannabis farms in north Lebanon [Getty]|
Hizballah’s external financing arm has managed to launder drug money through Lebanon, where it is used to fund the group’s military activity in Syria.
The group receives funding from Iran, but amid the downturn in oil prices the Islamic Republic had cut the money it provides, forcing the group to increase its revenue from criminal rackets.
Hizballah is a staunch ally of Assad and has dispatched fighters to bolster his troops against the uprising that began in March 2011 with anti-government protests.
The US has labelled Noureddine a specially designated global terrorist, it said.
Last month, Noureddine was among four Lebanese citizens arrested in Paris based on a US arrest warrant for money laundering.
The DEA did not give the total number of those arrested or say where they were apprehended.
Seven countries, including France, Germany, Italy and Belgium, were involved in the investigation that began in February 2015 and is ongoing.
The US Treasury Department last week imposed sanctions against Noureddine and Hamdi Zaher al-Dine, another alleged Hizballah money launderer. Noureddine’s Trade Point International also was placed under sanctions.
Hizballah controls the majority of cannabis plantations across Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley and production has reportedly surged since the conflict in Syria began.