In the latest US escalation against Hezbollah, the Justice Department designated the Lebanese armed group a “transnational crime organisation” on Monday, a move which will enable broader scrutiny into its role outside Lebanon.
Hezbollah was one of five groups designated by the Department of Justice in an announcement made by US Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The other groups included Latin American gangs and cartels.
A new task force directed by Mr Session’s deputy Rod Rosenstein will be appointed to tackle these “transnational crime organisations” (TCO). The task force will “develop a plan to take these groups off our streets for good,” Mr Sessions said.
A subcommittee on Hezbollah will be led by assistant US attorney Ilan Graff. Mr Graff is already overseeing the prosecution of two alleged members of Hezbollah’s external security organisation, Mr Sessions said, “the first such operatives to be charged with terrorism offenses in the United States.”
The subcommittee will staffed by members of the Hezbollah Financing and Narcoterrorism Team created by the Justice Department last January. Within 90 days the subcommittee will provide recommendations to Mr Sessions on how to prosecute Hezbollah.
The TCO designation aims to give the Department of Justice tools to pursue Hezbollah’s overseas network, especially in Latin America, and aims to pressure governments in countries where Hezbollah operates to cooperate with the United States.
According to US website Politico, US investigators believed Hezbollah was collecting $1 billion a year "from drug and weapons trafficking, money laundering and other criminal activities."
The Justice Department announcement came the week after the Senate unanimously passed the "Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Amendments Act of 2017" (HIFPAA) and the "STOP Using Human Shields Act" (known as STOP), both of which enabled increased sanctions on the group.
The HIFPAA’s passage in its amended form targets foreign individuals and companies that voluntarily provide financial, material or technological support to Hezbollah and its affiliates and targets Hezbollah’s transnational activities. It asks the US President, who is expected to sign it in the coming days, to report to Congress every 120 days on these activities. That report would cover money laundering and narcotics activities across Latin America, the African continent or Asia and Europe.
Hezbollah was designated as a terrorist organisation by the US government in October 1997. Since then, successive US administrations have struggled to challenge the group’s ability to wage war and to raise funds.