June 21, 2023 | Policy Brief

In the Tri-Border Area, Hezbollah Agents Are Again in the Wind 

June 21, 2023 | Policy Brief

In the Tri-Border Area, Hezbollah Agents Are Again in the Wind 

An Argentinian federal judge issued an international arrest warrant last week against four Lebanese nationals suspected of involvement in the July 1994 terror attack against the AMIA building, the Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires. Yet one of the suspects, Paraguay resident Hussein Mounir Mouzannar, escaped days later before he could be apprehended for questioning. 

Besides Mouzannar, the other three suspects are Abdallah Salman (a.k.a. Jose El Reda), Farouk al-Haj Omairi, and Ali Hussein Abdallah. Two of them, El Reda and Omairi, are known entities: Both were previously investigated and sanctioned and have been on the run. They are unlikely to be located by authorities. All four operated out of the so-called “Tri-Border Area” (TBA), where Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay meet. The TBA is home to a sizable community of Lebanese Shiites and has become a hotspot for the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah

El Reda is already wanted for the 1992 bombing of Israel’s embassy in Buenos Aires and for trafficking in counterfeit U.S. dollars. He also helped plan the AMIA bombing, which was masterminded by his brother, a senior Hezbollah operative in charge of operations in the Western Hemisphere. The U.S. State Department’s Rewards for Justice program has offered $7M for the brother’s capture. Their current locations are unknown. 

In 2006, the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned Omairi, a Lebanese immigrant to Brazil and a long-time TBA resident. Treasury accused him of serving as Hezbollah’s point man in the TBA for document forgery and being involved in drug trafficking. But Brazilian authorities never prosecuted or arrested Omairi. He is thought to still reside in the TBA or possibly in Curitiba, the capital of the Brazilian state of Parana. 

Unlike El Reda and Omairi, this is the first time authorities have connected Abdallah and Mouzannar to the 1994 attack. They both reside in the TBA and are Lebanese-Paraguayan dual nationals. Little is known about Abdallah other than his suspected role in the plot: According to Argentinian authorities, he provided the El Reda brothers with a valid address in Ciudad Del Este, Paraguay, so they could prove residence. Mouzannar provided El Reda with false documents. Thanks to their proof of Paraguayan residence and false documents, the two brothers remained undetected in the area while they planned the attack. 

Mouzannar, like Abdallah and Omairi, remained in the TBA. He suddenly became flush with cash, reportedly thanks to his role in the terror attack, and quickly emerged as a prominent businessman. He works alongside his four brothers, all allegedly implicated in piracy and tax evasion investigations. Paraguayan corporate records show that Mouzannar, as of last week, had a stake in five Paraguayan companies and owned real estate in the country alongside his brothers and other prominent figures in the TBA’s Shiite Lebanese diaspora. 

The Argentinian arrest warrant could have led to the detention of Mouzannar, Abdallah, and potentially also Omairi. Argentinian law enforcement moved swiftly. It added the four suspects to Argentina’s Public Registry of Terrorist Entities, asked Interpol to issue a red notice, and issued requests for legal assistance and asset freezes to Brazil and Paraguay. Paraguayan authorities ordered asset freezes on June 19 and have already identified four local bank accounts and real estate to seize. 

Yet by then, Mouzannar was already in the wind. News of the indictment leaked to the press within hours after the arrest warrants were issued. Mouzannar quickly fled after entrusting his siblings as caretakers of his assets. Paraguayan authorities may still freeze those assets. But precious intelligence is now, again, beyond reach. 

Mouzannar’s escape deals a blow to Argentina’s decades-long investigation of the AMIA bombing. It is a lost opportunity both to achieve justice for the attack’s victims and to shed light on Hezbollah’s vast network and operations in Latin America. 

Emanuele Ottolenghi is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where he contributes to FDD’s Iran Programand Center on Economic and Financial Power(CEFP). For more analysis from Emanuele, the Iran Program, and CEFP, please subscribeHERE. Follow Emanuele on Twitter @eottolenghi. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD and @FDD_Iran and @FDD_CEFP. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research organization focused on national security and foreign policy. 


Hezbollah Iran Iran Global Threat Network Iran in Latin America Iran-backed Terrorism Lebanon