Is the Brazilian President Interfering in the Hezbollah Terrorist Investigation?

Is the Brazilian President Interfering in the Hezbollah Terrorist Investigation?

Brazilian President Lula’s harsh attacks on Israel risk undermining Operation Trapiche, which resulted on November 8th in the arrests 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.

When greeting a group of Palestinians on Monday the 13th, who had just arrived in Brazil from Gaza, Lula said, “If Hamas committed an act of terrorism and did what it did, the state of Israel is also committing various acts of terrorism in not considering that children are not at war, that women are not at war, and that they are not killing soldiers. They are killing children.”

“If they show no suffering in exploding a bomb to kill people in hospitals, to kill newborn babies, I honestly don’t know what kind of human being we are talking about,” Lula said, referring to Israel.

Operation Trapiche already provoked a diplomatic crisis between the Brazilian Justice Ministry and the Israeli ambassador to Brasilia, Daniel Zonshine, who made public statements about the presence of Hezbollah representatives in the Latin American country. The operation was launched by Brazilian Federal Police in collaboration with Israeli Mossad.

Referring to Hezbollah, Zonshine said, “If they chose Brazil, it is because there are people there to help them,” Zonshine said.

Justice Minister Flávio Dino reacted by stating that, “no foreign force is in charge of the Federal Police.” “Any country that is a source of information must respect Brazilian sovereignty. No one who cooperates with us may claim to replace Brazilian institutions,” said Dino.

Hezbollah has had a known presence in Brazil for years, particularly in the Tri-Border Area of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay, where the group has been historically involved in money laundering through its financiers and supporters.

IPT has obtained exclusive information that sheds light on the intricate network of contacts and companies associated with Mohamad Khir Abdulmajid, a Syrian national, one of the operations’ most wanted individuals. Along with an unidentified Lebanese national, he is accused of being a top recruiter for Hezbollah in this plot and is the subject of an Interpol arrest warrant. He is believed to be in Lebanon.

According to the investigations, Mohamad Khir Abdulmajid, 36, arrived in Brazil from Paraguay in 2008 and obtained citizenship. Since 2014, he has been on the radar of the Brazilian police after he was caught selling alcohol to a minor in the state of Minas Gerais. Brazilian police have identified Abdulmajid as a member of Hezbollah. Photos from his Facebook profile show him posing with Hezbollah flags and in military uniform on a tank in Syria, where he reportedly fought against the Islamic State alongside Hezbollah in 2016.

Abdulmajid operates two tobacco stores in downtown Belo Horizonte, registered under the name of his wife. In 2021, police investigated him for smuggling electronic cigarettes to finance terrorist activities.

According to the Brazilian company registry, Abdulmajid had owned an electronics store in an imported goods gallery in Brasilia since 2012, but later closed it down.

The “Feira dos Importados” gallery, also known as the “Paraguay Fair,” is located about 10 kilometers away from the Presidential Planalto Palace. This marketplace has been the subject of several investigations for money laundering activities. In 2014, the Car Wash anti-corruption operation uncovered a case involving Lebanese national Sleiman Nassim El Kobrossy. El Kobrossy was part of a smuggling and laundering network operated by seven Lebanese brothers related to Abdulmaji. They owned nine stores within the gallery. According to Brazilian police, the network used front companiesand false documents to import goods from Paraguay without paying taxes.

The U.S. Treasury Department in 2006 sanctioned the Galeria Pagé, a shopping center in Asunción Paraguay, for being “locally considered the central headquarters for Hezbollah members.” Its stores were operated by Hezbollah members, who fundraised for the organization and sent remittances directly to Lebanon. Renamed as Shopping Uniamerica, the mall continues to operate today.

Brazilian authorities also released the names and custody hearing video of the two men arrested at the beginning of the operation, on November 8th, Lucas Passos Lima, 35, and Jean Carlos de Souza, 38. A third Brazilian man, a musician named Michael Messias, was apprehended on November 12th in Rio de Janeiro. He claims to have traveled to Lebanon multiple times for work while facing trials in Brazil.

Passos Lima was arrested at Guarulhos airport upon his return from Lebanon, where he said had traveled on a business expansion proposal. During the custody hearing, he claimed to be a grain representative for Italy and was negotiating real estate there. He was arrested in Brazil seven years ago for illegally carrying a firearm.

De Souza, a resident of Joinville in southern Brazil, claimed in court that he frequently travels “in search of new business opportunities.” He expressed his frustration with being repeatedly stopped by the police at customs. However, the investigation revealed that the financial status of the two men neither justified their trips to Lebanon, nor explained the discovery of $5,000 in the pocket of one of them. Both individuals denied any involvement in the alleged plot.

“It’s absurd to tell me, ‘Jean, you are a member of Hamas, of Hezbollah’; I’m not a terrorist,” de Souza said.

During the custody hearing, their lawyer, Jose Roberto Timoteo da Silva, said their case “is absurd” and “without any factual basis.” “It’s another thing that shames Brazilian justice,” da Silva added.

Another Brazilian, whose identity was undisclosed, confessed to police that he had traveled to Beirut in February. Hezbollah members offered him $700,000 to set up the structure and recruit Brazilians to carry out an attack in Brazil. The man had been arrested three times and faced two trials for receiving stolen property.

Operation Trapiche revealed that the Brazilians involved had no cultural or religious ties to Hezbollah but were recruited to act as common criminals. Due to increased surveillance by intelligence agencies worldwide, Hezbollah has adopted the “proxy strategy,” subcontracting mercenaries in countries outside of Lebanon.

Hezbollah’s modus operandi shift had already emerged in Colombia with increasing requests of Hezbollah members for Colombian citizenship to conceal their network. In 2021, they attempted to assassinate U.S. and Israeli nationals, reportedly to avenge the January 2020 killing of Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Should Operation Trapiche be scaled back or nullified because of Lula’s hostility toward Israel, Brazil risks compromising the security of the entire Western Hemisphere, which cannot afford another tragedy like that of the massive AMIA bombing in 1994.

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