Hezbollah, the most powerful force in Lebanon, backed the election of Michel Aoun as president. Aoun assumed the office after it lay vacant for more two years. (Photo: © MARWAN TAHTAH/AFP/Getty Images)

December 26, 2016

Where do terrorists get their money? Although we think of Islamic State as the richest terror group in the world, a recent report prepared by the U.S. House Task Force to Investigate Terror Financing yields a shocking result: The largest terror “fund raiser” in the world is close to the U.S. border in Central and South America.

Hezbollah, the Lebanese terrorist group — essentially an arm of Iran — has been linked to drug trafficking organizations in the Americas since 2010.

Yet fifteen years ago, when the group began smuggling cocaine into Europe and the Middle East, it was only able to moving small quantities. Now, Hezbollah is moving hundreds of tons of the drug into these locations, amassing “hundreds of millions, perhaps billions of dollars” in currency around the world.

The report calls Hezbollah’s operations “the most sophisticated money laundering scheme[s] that we have ever witnessed. They have metastasized into a hydra with international connections that … ISIS and groups like al Qaeda could only hope to have.”

Hezbollah has expanded its operations “like many criminal organizations.” It “established itself firmly within the vastly unregulated, virtually lawless region defined by the confluence of the Paraná and Iguazú rivers in Paraguay, and Argentina and Brazil, known as the Tri-Border region.”

Hezbollah is also becoming more proficient at smuggling cocaine from the Andes in Chile, Bolivia and Peru. It is then shipped to European through West and North Africa.

In addition, quoting Joseph Humier, an expert on Iran’s presence in the Western Hemisphere, Breitbart reports “various Latin American transnational criminal organizations, including Mexican drug cartels, are paying Hezbollah a ‘tax’ to move people, narcotics, weapons, and other contraband in and out of the Americas.”

That puts Iran at America’s southern border, if not closer.

Although the report does not mention Hezbollah’s presence in the U.S. itself, as early as the 1990’s, Hezbollah was running smuggling operations through the illegal sale of cigarettes in North Carolina, creating shell companies in the U.S. to finance its terrorist activities.

In addition to Hezbollah, the report notes the immense operations of the main terrorist players in the world:

Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL)

Although the financial assets of Islamic State have declined from the group’s peak, which occurred in late 2014 to early 2015 when the group had an estimated $2 billion in financial assets, the money still coming into ISIS is significant.

ISIS’ largest source of income is still oil, previously estimated at close to $500 million per year and now about half of that figure. The report notes significantly much of the oil being sold by ISIS is still clandestinely crossed into Turkey.

ISIS also finances its operations through looting antiquities in Iraq and Syria. The small size of the antiquities makes their movement easy. Iraq estimates ISIS could generate as much as $100 million annually from selling antiquities.

The task force also quotes an expert saying the U.S. is “the single largest market for art in the world, with 43 percent market share.”

ISIS also racks in an estimated several million dollars per month (and up to $360 million per year) in sophisticated extortion and taxation rackets, in addition to kidnapping and ransom fees.

The group infiltrated Latin American terrorist organizations and now profits from criminal activity in Latin America.


Boko Haram

The net income of this horrifically-brutal terrorist organization is estimated at $10 million per year.

Most of Boko Haram’s money comes from kidnapping. Ransoms can range from an estimated $1 million, which was reportedly paid for a wealthy Nigerian, to the $3 million paid for a French family of seven the group kidnapped in Cameroon.

The group finances its operations as well from drug smuggling (primarily cocaine) and receives a small amount of funds from al-Qaeda.



The Somali jihadi group receives funds from other terrorist groups as well as state sponsors of terrorism, Somali ex-pats, charities, piracy, kidnapping, an extensive system of extortion from local businesses and the extremely profitable charcoal trade.

Governments of Eritrea, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Qatar and Yemen have been cited as financiers of al-Shabaab, although each of these governments has denied this claim.

Money from the charcoal trade and extortion fees has been significantly stymied of late due to government operations against the group.

The Clarion Project



About Track Persia

Track Persia is a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, in due process we fall upon many indications of growing expansionary ambitions on the part of Iran in the MENA region and the wider Islamic world. These ambitions commonly increase tensions and undermine stability.