Iranian-backed militant group Hezbollah may have hundreds of operatives based in the United States, and Hezbollah – not al-Qaida – poses the greatest terrorist threat to Americans, the Republican chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Peter King, said today.
Since September 11 2001, America’s counter-terror officials have focussed on al-Qaida and home-grown radicalised American extremists, said the New York representative at a hearing of his committee. But, now, the terrorist threat to the United States is shifting.
‘As Iran moves closer to nuclear weapons and there is increasing concern over war between Iran and Israel, we must also focus on Iran’s secret operatives and their number one terrorist proxy force, Hezbollah, which we know is in America. That’s right, we know Hezbollah operatives are here.
‘The question is whether these Hezbollah operatives have the capacity to carry out attacks on the homeland and how quickly they can become fully operational,’ King said.
Opening the hearing, King said, ‘we have a duty to prepare for the worst’, and referred to the 20 Hezbollah-related prosecutions that have taken place in the United States since 9/11.
He also referred to a murder plot allegedly directed by the Iranian government to kill the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. last year as a further warning sign of the potential threat that the country poses to Americans.
King warned that there were hundreds – at a minimum – of Hezbollah operatives in the United States, including 84 Iranian diplomats at the United Nations and in Washington who, ‘it must be presumed, are intelligence officers.’
Prosecuted: King said Mahmoud Kourani was a Hezbollah militant trained in weapons, explosives and spy-craft, in Lebanon and Iran
‘Several of their comrades, of these UN mission types in New York, were removed from the mission and sent back to Iran after the NYPD caught them photographing the city’s rail system in the years since 9/11,’ he said.
Mitchell Silber, the NYPD’s director of intelligence analysis and one of the witnesses to the panel, confirmed that said since 2005, New York law enforcement officers have interviewed at least 13 people with ties to Iran’s government who were seen taking pictures of New York City landmarks. Police considered the activity to be pre-operational surveillance.
He added that New York’s international significance as a terror target and its large Jewish population make the city a likely place for Iran and Hezbollah to strike.
In May 2005, Silber said, tips led the NYPD to six people on a sight-seeing cruise who were taking pictures and movies of city landmarks like the Brooklyn Bridge. In September 2008, police interviewed three people taking pictures of railroad tracks. And in September 2010, federal air marshals saw four people taking pictures and videos at a New York heliport.
Interviews with law enforcement revealed that all were associated with the Iranian government, but they were ultimately released and never charged, Silber said.