People gather to ask justice for late Sarah Halimi on Trocadero plaza in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris on April 25, 2021. (AFP)
June 16, 2021
The prominent French weekly magazine Le Point shined a spotlight in its new issue on the Iranian regime-backed terrorist organization Hezbollah’s operations in France.
In an article titled “Hezbollah weaves its web in France” for the magazine, the investigative journalist Rachel Binhas reported the French government authorized the extradition of the Lebanese national Mazen al-Atat, who is alleged by the US to be an agent for Hezbollah.
Binhas noted that the extradition order of al-Atat “could have serious consequences for the person concerned.” According to Le Point, a New York court ordered the extradition of al-Atat based on criminal conspiracy to provide material support to Hezbollah.
The US government along with Canada, Britain, Germany, Austria the Netherlands, Israel, the Arab League, and many additional European Union and Latin American countries classify Hezbollah’s entire organization as a terrorist movement.
However, France and the European Union have split Hezbollah into so-called military and political wings, only designated its militia a terrorist entity.
The French authorities detained al-Atat in 2016 as part of the US Drug Enforcement Agency international operation “Project Cassandra” involving a complex enterprise of money laundering and trafficking of narcotics for Hezbollah.
The annual Hezbollah-controlled operation resulted in millions of dollars in annual elicit revenues for Hezbollah.
France’s judiciary sentenced al-Atat to a prison term in 2018 and he has since been released.
Le Point states that “The Lebanese Shi’ite militia…has long ramifications in Europe, especially in France. But its activities there have reportedly increased worryingly in recent years.”
A second member of the Hezbollah ring in France, Mohamad Noureddine, who was sentenced to seven years in prison, is slated to be extradited to the US, according to Le Point.
Al-Atat, who denied connections with Hezbollah, told Le Point “I was contaminated by Noureddine,” explaining that he “was doing secretarial work for him” as [Noureddine]’s calls were sometimes transmitted to [Al-Atat] phone, “but it was because Noureddine had a mistress. In fact, I would cover him when his wife called him,” said Al-Atat.
Noureddine’s lawyer rejected that his client is affiliated with Hezbollah.
Baudoin Thouvenot, an investigating judge for the “Project Cassandra” case in France, said that “I cannot say that there is a direct link with terrorism and Hezbollah
, but I cannot say that there is not either.”
It is unclear how aggressive French authorities are in cracking down on Hezbollah’s networks in France. In September, 2020, French President Emmanuel Macron blasted the Le Figaro journalist Georges Malbrunot for reporting that he met with a Hezbollah member of Lebanon’s parliament. Macron has shown no appetite to classify all of Hezbollah’s movement as a terrorist entity.
Le Point reported that Quentin Mugg, who has recently authored a book on international money laundering networks, said “Groups like Hezbollah weaken the enemy that we represent for them: They sell the drugs to our children and they recover our money.”
The investigator recalls that the Al-Qaeda attacks in Madrid in 2004, for example, “were widely financed by drug trafficking.”
A hacker group called Spiderz said in 2020 that it discovered accounts in France that belong to Hezbollah’s Al-Qard Al-Hassan financial organization.
Le Point said the Al-Qard Al-Hassan financial accounts were tied with “several were entities or individuals based in France.”
The US sanctioned Al-Qard Al-Hassan for illicit terror finance.
The magazine reported that France is a natural target for Hezbollah activities because“ France is a convenient base because of its traditional ties to Lebanon, but also because it is home to a large Shiite community, estimated at around 150,000 to 200,000 people.”
One of the three Hezbollah operatives who blew up an Israeli tourist bus in 2012 in Burgas, Bulgaria was identified as the Lebanese-French dual national, Mohamad Hassan El-Husseini.
The terror attack murdered five Israelis and their Bulgarian Muslim bus driver. An additional 32 Israelis suffered injuries.
The French magazine quoted the Israeli Hezbollah expert, Lieutenant Colonel (Res.) Sarit Zehavi, who is the founder of the Alma education and research center, which analyzes the security situation on Israel’s northern borders.
Zehavi said about Hezbollah activity in France that “It is possible to create religious associations and to have criminal activities without using the term Hezbollah, adding that “Only 70% of the funds of Hezbollah today come from Iran.”
Zehavi added that, “for a decade, the terrorist group has been organizing its self-financing…And Europe is one of its areas of action.”
The magazine said that Zehavi believed the French authorities were underestimating the risks of Hezbollah.
“Hezbollah, like Hamas, is not just an Israeli affair, she said, adding These are issues between two ideologies, and clashes are violent.” Zehavi said Isreal “defends the values of the West – like those of the French Revolution” and Hezbollah “believes in the radical values of Shiite Islam.”
The Jerusalem Post