There has been a rising concern about Hezbollah around the world amid the Hamas-Israel conflict. Nations and law enforcement forces worldwide have been on high alert about the growing fear of terrorism. Evidence of that threat in Latin America manifested itself in Brazil, when in early November 2023 the Brazilian Federal Police (PF) uncovered and thwarted a plot by Hezbollah operatives to attack Jewish targets in the country.
“The arrest of Hezbollah members who were planning attacks against Jewish or Israeli civilians or institutions in Brazil is something very serious that the United States should monitor,” Luis Fleischman, professor of sociology and political science at Palm Beach State University in Florida, told Diálogo. “For decades, Latin America has become a center of attraction for criminal and terrorist groups, who feel they can circulate with impunity in the region.”
The PF arrested Mohamad Khir Abdulmajid, from Syria, and Haissam Housin Diab, from Lebanon, both naturalized Brazilians, as well as three native Brazilians who had made suspicious trips to Lebanon.
“Iran not only has trained Hezbollah cells [in Latin America], but also raises funds to help finance terrorist activities in the Middle East. In addition, Hezbollah maintains relations with criminal groups such as drug cartels,” Fleischman said.
The PF investigation began with an alert that the FBI sent to Brazil on December 7, GloboNews reported. “The FBI presented Brazilian authorities with an urgent alert about the possible planning of an imminent terrorist attack in Brazil and/or neighboring countries by the aforementioned individuals [Diab and Abdulmajid],” GloboNews reported. The PF then launched a police investigation and confirmed evidence of the co-opting of Brazilians into a network aimed at carrying out terrorist acts, GloboNews added.
Arrests in São Paulo, Rio, and Minas Gerais
The PF made the first two arrests on November 8 in São Paulo. It also carried out 11 search and seizure warrants in São Paulo, Minas Gerais, and the Federal District. “The recruiters and those recruited must answer for the crimes of forming or integrating a terrorist organization and carrying out preparatory acts of terrorism, whose maximum penalties, if added together, reach 15 years and 6 months in prison,” the PF said in a statement. The PF also asked Interpol to include two other Brazilians in Lebanon on its red notices for planning terrorist acts, Brazilian news site UOL reported.
On November 12, the PF arrested the third suspected Hezbollah operative in Brazil in Rio de Janeiro. “According to investigators, he was recruited by the group to carry out logistics, collecting data and addresses of people in Brazil,” Brazilian magazine Carta Capital reported.
In early December, Israel raised the travel alert level for its citizens in 80 countries, including Brazil and Argentina. The increased alert was in response to Iran’s rising efforts to hit Israeli and Jewish targets following the start of the war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Argentine news site Infobae reported.
According to the investigation, Mohamad Khir Abdulmajid and Haissam Housin Diab were responsible for locating and recruiting Brazilians to Hezbollah. “There was a preference for people with criminal records. Those pre-selected were invited on trips to Lebanon, planned and paid for by agents of the terrorist organization,” GloboNews reported.
Once in Lebanon, the potential recruits received luxury hotel accommodations, tours, gifts, and money. They were then sent for an interview with a Hezbollah leader. “During the meeting, they were questioned about their personal lives and political opinions and asked if they would be capable of killing and kidnapping at the behest of the organization. They were told to pretend they were on a sightseeing trip in Lebanon. To do this, they took photos and received gifts from the organization,” GloboNews reported.
According to the PF investigation, Abdulmajid recruited at least five Brazilians, including Lucas Passos Lima, for a potential terrorist act. The PF found that Lima had carried out reconnaissance on site for possible attacks against the Jewish community in Brazil.
According to Brazilian court documents, in September Lima took videos and photos of the synagogues in Taguatinga and Águas Claras in Brasilia, as well as the Jewish area in the Campo da Esperança cemetery in Brasilia, Reuters reported.
In addition, his search history revealed searches for an unidentified Jewish leader, the Israeli Embassy in Brazil, and Jewish sites in the neighboring state of Goiás.
“In one of the videos on his phone, filmed as he drove past the Taguatinga synagogue, someone in the vehicle can be heard saying: ‘Bingo,’” Reuters reported.
The court documents also reveal that Lima underwent weapons training and sought out a pilot with experience in crossing borders, possibly with the aim of fleeing after a possible attack.
The court released two others suspected of having links with Hezbollah: Jean Carlos de Souza and Michael Messias. Both allegedly cooperated with the investigations and, according to the court, “pose no danger to the investigation or to society,” Brazilian newspaper Folha de São Paulo reported.