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Patterns of Global Terrorism 2001 - Triborder (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay)

Publisher United States Department of State
Author Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism
Publication Date 21 May 2002
Cite as United States Department of State, Patterns of Global Terrorism 2001 - Triborder (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay), 21 May 2002, available at: [accessed 26 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

South America's triborder area (TBA) – where the borders of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay converge and which hosts a large Arab population – took on a new prominence in the wake of the September 11 attacks in the United States. Although arms and drug trafficking, contraband smuggling, document and currency fraud, money laundering, and pirated goods have long been associated with this region, it also has been characterized as a hub for Hizballah and HAMAS activities, particularly for logistic and financial purposes. At year's end, press reports of al-Qaida operatives in the TBA had been disproved or remained uncorroborated by intelligence and law-enforcement officials.

All three governments, especially Paraguay took steps to rein in the individuals most strongly suspected of materially aiding terrorist groups – most prominently Hizballah – and continued to monitor the area as well as hold outstanding arrest warrants for those not yet captured. Security officials from each country, as well as a contingent from Uruguay, continued to coordinate closely on sharing information. The four nations also were trying to improve very limited joint operations in the fight against terrorism. The governments also condemned the September 11 attacks and generally stood in strong support of US counterterrorism efforts.

Argentina suffered no acts of terrorism in 2001. The oral trial for alleged Argentine accomplices to the terrorist attack in 1994 on the Argentine-Israeli Community Center (AMIA) began in late September. Twenty suspects are being tried – of whom 15 are former police officers, and include a one-time Buenos Aires police captain – and are accused of supplying the stolen vehicle that carried the car bomb. The trial is expected to last through much of 2002.

Argentine authorities also continued to investigate the bombing in 1992 of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires and to seek those directly responsible for the AMIA attack. A team of FBI investigators – at Argentina's request – visited the country in June to work jointly with the legal and judicial officials involved in the AMIA bombing to review the investigation. Despite the elapsed time since the attacks, the public trial of the accessories now underway has led some to expect that new information relating to one or both of these terrorist acts will come to light.

In Brazil, one incident occurred during 2001 that could be characterized as a terrorist incident – an after-hours bombing of a McDonald's restaurant in Rio de Janeiro in October. The incident resulted in property damage but no injuries, and while Brazilian police suspect antiglobalization extremists perpetrated the attack, no arrests were made.

Following the September 11 attacks, Brasilia initiated and led a successful campaign to invoke the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (the Rio Treaty) in support of the United States. Brazil also played host to a conference in November on regional counterterrorism initiatives and participated in several other regional meetings on counterterrorist cooperation. Brazil raided several clandestine telephone centers from which calls to numerous Middle Eastern countries had been traced. Brazilian officials were still investigating possible links to terrorist activities.

Since September 11, Paraguay has been an active and prominent partner in the war on terror. It has, inter alia, arrested some 23 individuals suspected of Hizballah/HAMAS fundraising, initiated a ministerial-level dialogue with regional governments, cracked down on visa and passport fraud, and hosted, in late December, a successful regional counterterrorism seminar that included a keynote speech by the United States Coordinator for Counterterrorism.

Paraguayan officials raided a variety of businesses and detained numerous suspects believed to have materially aided either Hizballah or HAMAS, primarily in the triborder city of Ciudad del Este or in Encarnación. Prominent among the raids were the arrests on 3 October of Mazen Ali Saleh and Saleh Mahmoud Fayad (on criminal association/tax evasion charges) and the arrest on 8 November of Sobhi Mahmoud Fayad (on criminal association and related charges); all three are linked to Hizballah. In addition, the businesses that were raided revealed extensive ties to Hizballah – in particular, records showed the transfers of millions of dollars to Hizballah operatives, "charities," and entities worldwide. Several other TBA personalities, including Assad Barakat and Ali Hassan Abdallah, are considered fugitives. Barakat, who is considered Hizballah's principal TBA leader, lives in Foz do Iguazu, but owns a business ("Casa Apollo") in Ciudad del Este; Paraguay has sought an INTERPOL warrant for his arrest.

Among the others arrested were some 17 ethnic Arabs (mostly Lebanese) on charges of possessing false documents; Paraguayan officials suspect some have links to HAMAS. Three Paraguayans – an attorney, a consular officer, and an Interior Ministry employee – also were arrested in connection with fraudulently issuing immigration documents to the 17 individuals.

Asunción, through its money-laundering unit, also identified 46 individuals who transferred funds in a suspicious manner from accounts held by Middle Eastern customers or to Middle East organizations.

Despite the apparent successes, Paraguayan counterterrorist enforcement continued to be impeded by a lack of specific criminal legislation against terrorist activities, although such a bill was introduced before the legislature. Until its passage, Paraguay must rely on charges such as criminal association, tax evasion, money laundering, or possession of false documents to hold suspects. Pervasive corruption also continued to be a problem for Paraguay, and some suspected terrorists were able to co-opt law-enforcement or judicial officials.

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