AMIA 25th Anniversary: Improving Regional Counterterrorism Cooperation in the Wake of a Tragedy

On Thursday, July 25, 2019, the Center for a Secure Free Society held an event entitled, “AMIA 25th Anniversary: Improving Regional Counterterrorism Cooperation in the Wake of a Tragedy” from 9:00am to 12:00pm in the Russell Senate Office Building, Room 485.

The event featured opening remarks by Senator Ted Cruz (R. TX); John P. Cronan, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General of the U.S. Department of Justice; and Malcolm Hoenlein, Executive Vice Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. These powerful statements were followed by two all-star panels.

The first, “Improving Regional Counterterrorism Cooperation,” was comprised of experts Joseph Humire, Executive Director, Center for a Secure Free Society; Ilan Berman, Senior Vice President, American Foreign Policy Council; Celina Realuyo, Professor of Practice, William J. Perry Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies; and was moderated by Leah Soibel, the founder & CEO of Fuente Latina.  

The second panel, called, “Designating Hezbollah as a Terrorist Organization in Latin America,” included Congressman Jeff Duncan (R-SC), Co-Chair of the Congressional Argentina Caucus; Congressman Robert Pittenger, Chairman, Parliamentary Intelligence-Security Forum; Congressman Luis Petri, 2nd Vice President, Chamber of Deputies, National Congress of Argentina; and was moderated by Hugo Acha, SFS Research Fellow on Counter-Transnational Organized Crime.

SFS Senior Fellow EJ Kimball took to the podium first to welcome attendees. He remarked that the designation of Hezbollah is long overdue, but proudly broke the news of Latin America’s first designation of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization in Argentina.

SFS Executive Director Joseph Humire followed to state that before the AMIA attack in 1994, no one believed Hezbollah operated outside of Israel. But through SFS investigations, we found out that Hezbollah is very much entrenched in Latin America- the networks that operate in our hemisphere have become a convergence of illicit actors that are moving through the Latin American region.

This is paired with a growing conversation about Hezbollah and Iran in Latin America and what was once politically impossible (Hezbollah’s terrorist organization designation) is now politically inevitable.

Senator Ted Cruz took to the podium with the first keynote remarks of the day to discuss the dangers posed by Hezbollah cells operating in Latin America and urged Americans that these actions cannot be ignored. PDAAG John Cronan then spoke on the national security threats that are more complex and transnational than ever, making it is essential to work productively with our international partners. He stated Hezbollah, because of its global reach and sizable financial support, poses a severe threat to international security.

Because of this, countering Hezbollah has remained a top priority of this administration.

Cronan called for an aggressive response, clarifying that prosecutors and law enforcement across the country need to make sure that Hezbollah related prosecutions are being prioritized and evidence is shared, and that destroying Hezbollah’s threat networks and neutralizing their activity is a major prerogative of the US Justice Department.

Malcom Hoenlein then gave a touching, commemorative speech on the lives lost in the AMIA attack. He stated, “the AMIA bombing remains so salient because these remembrances are essentially because of our obligations to future generations,” and by failing to act 25 years ago, Hezbollah has gotten a pass to continue its “barbaric rampage,” so we must never give up our fight for justice.

Our first panel began shortly after 10am and detailed implications of the designation of Hezbollah on regional counterterrorism cooperation. SFS Executive Director Joseph Humire began by lauding the Argentine government for their actions and stated these actions have de facto created a political and technical path (roadmap of sorts) for other countries looking to designate Hezbollah.  

Moderator Leah Soibel then asked Celina Realuyo about the financial implications of such designations. She stated that without support networks, terrorist groups can not realize their agendas. Hezbollah takes advantage of their worldwide criminal networks and money laundering and the designation of Hezbollah in Argentina is very important, but we also must continue to pursue more than just the terrorists themselves, but those who support/fund them.

Overall, the expert panel had three takeaways for what the US can do to continue gaining ground against Hezbollah and their activities in Latin America:

1. There needs to be continued political will. There has been a tendency to sit on the sidelines of this issue. There are countries willing to take a larger role in creating a less permissible environment for terrorist groups. This must be fostered to reduce the freedom of action of the supporters of terror groups.

2. There needs to be administrative restructuring: Latin America does not have a coherent framework for counter terrorism; of 33 Latin American countries, less than half had a framework similar to that of the U.S. Latin America is still very permissible and this needs to change in order to move forward.

3. We must be cognizant not just in terms of our weakness in the region but of potential political changes that could bring conflict. Iran is a dynamic actor whose interests change because its relationship with the U.S. is very volatile. This might make Iran and its proxies even more volatile. We must think creatively about how we will change this relationship over the next years.

Next, our last panel took the stage to discuss the AMIA bombing and the work that went into achieving Argentina’s designation of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. Congressman Luis Petri of Argentina explained in detail the process of designation in Argentina and how the Macri administration was able to achieve this and create the Public Registry of People or Entities Linked to Terrorism Financing (RePET).

Congressman Robert Pittenger and Hugo Acha closed the event, with Hugo Acha remarking that Hezbollah is a global threat- their ability is not confined to the borders of a single nation; it could affect us all. He added this is a completely new form of warfare that uses rogue states that want to attack our values, principles, and way of life. Congressman Pittenger followed stating how important events like these are. Events that will bring together experts in a forum where they can collaborate and share success while looking towards the future.

This demonstrated just a brief overview of the topics discussed during the event. For more information, follow the link to our YouTube page for full event video coverage and download Congressman Luis Petri’s presentation below.