São Paulo, Brazil—New details emerged about Operation Trapiche (warehouse in English), which resulted in the arrest of two men in Brazil with suspected links to the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah. They were reportedly plotting to launch a series of major terror attacks against multiple Jewish and Israeli targets throughout Brazil.
It was the Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, that actually had conducted surveillance of some of the key masterminds behind the Hezbollah plot that led to the interdiction of the terrorist operatives by the Brazilian police. Though not known for issuing public statements, the Mossad issued a rare public statement on Thursday (November 8) morning thanking "the Brazilian security services for the arrest of a terrorist cell that was operated by Hezbollah in order to carry out an attack on Israeli and Jewish targets in Brazil." The Mossad duly noted that the series of attacks—which security officials told IPT News could have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Jews had they been successfully carried out—was "planned by the Hezbollah terrorist organization, directed and financed by the Iranian regime."
Authorities revealed that one of the men was already in custody facing money laundering and smuggling charges in the country. But the new arrests were made in Sao Paulo state, with one suspect being apprehended at a bakery outside the city while the other at Guarulhos International Airport upon his arrival from Lebanon. He was found to be carrying $5,000.
Investigations revealed that the two men had recently traveled to Beirut to meet with Hezbollah representatives and had negotiated prices for collaboration in terrorist attacks, created a list of addresses to be targeted, and were in the process of recruiting Brazilian operatives.
The Brazilian federal police said in a statement that "the operation aimed to prevent acts of terrorism and gather evidence of possible recruitment of Brazilians for extremist activities within the country."
The group was allegedly planning attacks on several Jewish community buildings, including synagogues and the Israeli Embassy in Brasilia. The Federal Police searched 11 locations in Minas Gerais, the Federal District, and São Paulo states. Interpol has also issued arrest warrants for two Brazilians believed to be in Lebanon, where Hezbollah operates.
According to Leonardo Coutinho, a Brazilian investigative writer and analyst with the private Washington-based firm Inbrain Consultants, "Hezbollah is using the same strategy that led to the attacks in Buenos Aires, Argentina, against the Israeli embassy in 1992 and the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) in 1994. At that time, Hezbollah exploited the country as a base for its logistical and financial operations."
"Today, Hezbollah's possible targets could be Jewish communities in neighboring countries such as Uruguay, Paraguay and Argentina. Although Argentina designated Hezbollah as a terrorist organization in 2019, it is holding a heated presidential election on November 19," Coutinho said.
U.S. agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) also took part in the investigation. On October 11, the Commander of U.S. Southern Command, Laura Richardson, warned about the potential for Hezbollah and Iran to carry out terrorist attacks in Latin America.
There has been no official statement from the Brazilian government regarding the recent police operation. Justice Minister Flavio Dino referred to the investigation as "a hypothesis," without directly naming Hezbollah. "Look, this is a hypothesis. The Federal Police are investigating and showing that, in this case, we only have one side, it's the side of the law, of the international commitments that Brazil has made," the minister said. This approach downplays the importance of the operation and is coupled with the Lula government's benevolent attitude toward Hamas, which may pose a severe threat to national security in the Western Hemisphere.
The news of the operation came at a very inconvenient time for President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Although Brazil has always been neutral in international conflicts, since the Ukrainian-Russian war, Lula has adopted a strategy of aligning the aggressor with the victims. After the October 7 offensive against Israel, the Brazilian president said that "Hamas attacks do not justify the deaths of millions of innocents. Lula's political party, Brazil's Worker's Party, accused Israel of carrying out a "genocide" against the Palestinians.
Lula called Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi—with whom Lula allied himself upon taking office—in mid-October "to discuss the release of hostages in Gaza." Still, the Israeli hostages were not mentioned in the official Brazilian statement. The communiqué lists about twenty Palestinians as hostages, some of them Brazilian citizens, whom Lula was unable to free from Gaza and bring back to Brazil.
Brazil has chosen not to designate Hamas and Hezbollah as terrorist organizations. This decision, coupled with the presence of over 30,000 Lebanese nationals in the Triple Frontier region on the border of Paraguay and Argentina, has created an environment that has facilitated Hezbollah's growth in the country.
"Operation Trapiche confirms what was already known. Since its inception, Hezbollah has taken advantage of the Lebanese diaspora in Brazil to radicalize, find funding, including through drug trafficking, and to hide," said Coutinho.
In Brazil, Hezbollah's illicit activities came to light in 2018 with the arrest of Lebanese businessman Assad Ahmad Barakat, identified as the group's financial operator. He was arrested for ideological falsehood in Foz do Iguaçu and later extradited to Paraguay. Before being arrested, he was the target of US sanctions in 2004. The document released by the Treasury Department at the time accused Barakat of maintaining "close ties with the leadership of Hezbollah."
In June, an Argentinian judge sent arrest warrants to Interpol, for four Lebanese who were allegedly involved in the AMIA attack. Among them, Farouk Abdul Hay Omairi is reported to be living freely in Foz do Iguacu, Brazil. In 2006 the Brazilian Federal Police arrested him for leading a drug trafficking network that operated between Latin America, Europe, and the Middle East. The US Treasury Department sanctioned him in 2006 for his ties to Hezbollah. Meanwhile, the companies owned by another Lebanese individual on the Argentinian list, Salman Raouf Salman, are still operating in Brazil.
Furthermore, Garip Uç, who was known as "the PCC chemist" by his accomplices, was recently arrested at a PCC drug laboratory in the coastal region of São Paulo. His brother, Eray, is still at large and has been linked to a potent drug trafficking network of Lebanese origin based in Paraguay and led by Hezbollah's financier Ali Issa Chamas. Chamas is serving a sentence for international drug trafficking in Paraguay.
This network poses a threat, and its wrath could sow terror among Israeli and Jewish communities in Latin America.
Maria Zuppello is an Italian analyst based in Brazil and an expert on the crime-terror nexus. In her book, Tropical Jihad. she explores the connections between Hezbollah, Latin American cartels, and the Italian 'Ndrangheta mafia. ( The 'Ndrangheta is the Calabrian mafia, considered one of the most powerful mafia families in the world today.) Maria tweets at @mzuppy
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