External Security Organization (Unit 910)
Country Of Origin: Lebanon;
Leaders: Talal Hamiyah;
Key Members: Talal Hamiyah;
Operational Area: Worldwide;
Involved In: Plotting Terrorist Attacks, Kidnappings, Bomb attacks, Armed Attacks;
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Hezbollah’s External Security Organization is a an elite and strictly compartmented clandestine unit commanded by Talal Hamiyah, and functions as the far-reaching strategic arm of Hezbollah and Iran. The ESO (alternately known as IJO) was established in 1983, after Hezbollah’s attack on the US military in Beirut.
Its purpose is to serve as a deterrent against the West and against Israel in particular. In the past, the unit was headed by Mughniya himself.
The ESO is a discrete branch or entity within Hezbollah, responsible for procurement, intelligence, counter intelligence, surveillance, planning, coordination and the execution of terrorist attacks against Hezbollah’s enemies outside of Lebanon. Due to its secretive nature, within Hezbollah information about the organisational structure of the military wing is not widely available.
Strategy and organization:
The unit is composed of specialized units, operating jointly both from administrative and operative aspects, and is strictly compartmented from all other units within the organization.
Their frequent travels abroad are explained away to their family members, neighbors and friends as regular business trips, whereas they are in fact members of units of killers mounting various terror activity throughout the world.
As opposed to other religious Lebanese Shiites, the operatives who travel abroad shave their beards, do not visit mosques, and consort with local women in the areas where they carry out their missions.
The operatives of this unit undergo a long and complex process of security training until they are formally authorized as operatives, including field security, working under cover, sabotage techniques, as well as camouflage techniques in case they are required to escape from any given country.
The majority of these local facilitators come from Lebanese families that emigrated from Lebanon years ago, while others are natives who have converted to Islam or Shi’a Islam, and are eager to contribute to the “struggle” while accepting the risks involved in providing support to a terrorist organization.
Since entering the Lebanese Parliament in 1992 and the government in 1995, Hezbollah has sought to strengthen its public image as a respected resistance movement and shift its reputation as a terrorist group. This has resulted in the ESO operating independently of its parent body.
This also reinforces Hezbollah’s need to distance the organisation from any activity that could be construed as terrorism. Consequently, Hezbollah is unlikely to either claim responsibility for a terrorist attack or acknowledge any ESO activities.
However, there is no indication that the ESO’s role has changed in recent times, and activities over the past several years demonstrate ESO retains its separate terrorist function within Hezbollah’s overall organisational structure.
Due to its highly secretive nature, little is known about the ESO’s recruitment, and funding, as distinct from the recruitment and funding for Hezbollah in general. It is believed that the ESO values recruits with dual citizenship, and who have access to passports from Western countries.
Also due to its highly secretive nature, little is known about the ESO’s links to other terrorist organisations, as distinct from Hezbollah. Hezbollah elements have provided training, operational support and material to Palestinian extremist groups, including the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas’s Izz al-Din al‑Qassam Brigades, as well as to Shia militia elements in Iraq.
Imad Mughniyah led the ESO until his assassination in Damascus in 2008. The group’s current leader is Talal Hamiyah, previously a deputy of Mughniyah. Hamiyah was implicated in the 1992 and 1994 attacks in Argentina.
The US State Department is offering a reward of up to USD $7 million for information that leads to the location, arrest, or conviction in any country of Hamiyah.
Campaign of violence:
Activity related to preparing, and planning the doing of terrorist acts reliably attributed to the ESO include:
-In June 2017, two men were arrested in the United States (US) for undertaking terrorist activities on behalf of the ESO. The men were allegedly involved in planning, and supplying material support on behalf of the ESO for attacks against Israeli and US targets. Both men had also allegedly received training from ESO.
-One man was charged with conducting surveillance on targets in the US. Targets included military and police facilities, and Israeli military personnel in New York.
-The other was charged with conducting missions in Panama including surveillance at the Panama Canal and the US and Israeli embassies in Panama.
-In August 2015, the Kuwait Security Service arrested up to 26 members of the Al-Abdali terror cell for stockpiling munitions and armaments on behalf of Hezbollah. In January 2016, twenty-three members of the cell were found guilty of intent to carry out hostile acts against Kuwait. The methodology, including stockpiling of explosive components in preparation for hostile acts outside of Lebanon is consistent with ESO operational methods.
-In July 2015, Cyprus jailed an ESO operative, after he pleaded guilty to stockpiling explosive materials. In May 2015, Cypriot authorities uncovered an ammonium nitrate cache-partially in the form of first‑aid cold packs-maintained under ESO direction. The cold packs in Cyprus were similar to those previously used in suspected ESO operations.
The ESO has not generally publicly admitted responsibility for terrorist attacks outside of Lebanon. Significant attacks against targets outside of Lebanon reliably attributed to ESO include:
-On 18 July 2012, a bomb exploded on an Israeli tourist bus at Sarafovo Airport in Burgas, Bulgaria, killing the attacker, five Israelis and their Bulgarian bus driver. The Bulgarian authorities have charged two individuals in connection with the attack; they state the individuals were members of the Islamic Jihad Organisation (IJO), an alias of ESO.
-On 18 July 1994, a van carrying explosives was detonated outside the Argentinian‑Israeli Mutual Association in Buenos Aries, Argentina, killing 85 people and injuring more than 300 others. In 1999, Argentine authorities issued an arrest warrant for ESO leader Imad Mughniyeh for his alleged involvement. No group claimed responsibility for the attack and Hezbollah has repeatedly denied accusations that it conducted the attack. However, Argentine authorities concluded that the ESO was responsible.
-On 17 March 1992, a truck laden with explosives was used to destroy the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aries, killing 29 people and injuring 242 others. Although Hezbollah denied involvement, responsibility for the attack was claimed in the name of the IJO. Argentine authorities eventually issued an arrest warrant for ESO leader Imad Mughniyah for organising the attack.