February 27, 2015 | Policy Brief

Hezbollah: Alive in West Africa

February 27, 2015 | Policy Brief

Hezbollah: Alive in West Africa

The U.S. Department of the Treasury announced new designations yesterday for several Africa-based individuals and entities connected to Hezbollah’s global terrorist network. The designations – under Executive Order 13224, a post-9/11 measure for thwarting terror funding – freeze any assets the designees may have within U.S. jurisdiction and prohibit any American from working with them. The information released with the designations also reveal new details about Hezbollah’s global network.

Treasury, in its designation, identified Mustapha Fawaz as a “significant donor” to Hezbollah and a member of the group’s Islamic Jihad Organization (IJO). Based in Nigeria, Fawaz holds Lebanese, Nigerian, and Sierra Leonean citizenship. As earlier Nigerian investigations have revealed, Fawaz was arrested by Nigerian authorities in May 2013, accused of plotting attacks against Western targets in Nigeria and other related activities.

Under interrogation, Fawaz admitted that he is a member of Hezbollah and that he underwent 30 days of weapons training with the group. He also confessed that he was ordered by a Hezbollah agent, identified as “Isah,” to obtain an aerial picture of Abuja, the capital of Nigeria.

Fawaz also used his businesses for Hezbollah’s gain. He is a co-owner of both Abuja’s Amigo Supermarket and the Wonderland Amusement Park, both of which were designated by Treasury yesterday. While in Nigerian custody, he admitted that he used his businesses’ surveillance cameras to monitor the movement of expatriates, “especially those of Israeli extraction.”

Mustapha Fawaz’s arrest and interrogation led to the arrest of fellow Lebanese national Abdallah Tahini. When Tahini was arrested in May 2013 at Kano airport en route to Beirut, he was holding $61,170 in undeclared cash, which he claimed had “accrued to him from a business [deal] he did in Nigeria” and that “he was traveling to Lebanon to buy goods.” Treasury noted that Tahini had gone through military training with Hezbollah while he was a youth in Lebanon, and since then, has served as the terrorist organization’s permanent Foreign Relations Department (FRD) representative in Abuja, where he organized visiting delegations and helped collect information on western targets in Nigeria.

The third man identified by the U.S. Treasury is Fouzi Fawaz, Mustapha Fawaz’s brother and business partner. He is thought to be on the run and was therefore charged by Nigeria in absentia. He was identified by his brother and by Tahini as being a member of their cell. According to Treasury, Fouzi was an official of Hezbollah’s FRD with the primary goal of scouting “recruits for Hezbollah’s military units, as well as to create and support Hezbollah’s terrorist infrastructure for its operational units in Africa and globally.”

Investigations have revealed that Hezbollah’s activities in Nigeria may have been close to operational. In raids of a property connected to the now-designated men, Nigerian forces found large caches of weapons, including AK-47s, over 10,000 rounds of ammunition and 76 grenades. Additionally, arms and ammunition were also found in a search conducted at the amusement park. While these suspects were stopped before they could conduct an operation in Nigeria, it is possible that they are just one string of a much larger and more complicated web of Hezbollah’s international operations in West Africa.

Laura Grossman is Deputy Director for Research at Foundation for Defense of Democracies, where she is also an Africa analyst. Find her on Twitter: @Lhgrossman