11 February 2004
U.S. Says No Evidence of Al Qaida Presence in Tri-border Region
of South America
State Dept. says other terrorist backers in area
engage in fundraising
By Eric Green
Washington File Staff Writer
Washington -- The U.S. State Department says it has no "credible
information" confirming an established presence of the al-Qaida
terrorist organization in the area where the borders of Paraguay,
Brazil, and Argentina meet.
In a February 10 statement, the State Department also said it
has not uncovered information that would confirm ongoing terrorist
operational planning in this region, known as the tri-border area.
Terrorist supporters in the tri-border area are primarily engaged
in fundraising for the Middle East terrorist groups Hezbollah and
Hamas, said the State Department, adding that the United States
has worked "actively and cooperatively" with governments in the
region to disrupt this fundraising activity.
The State Department cited several "counterterrorism advances" that
have occurred in Latin America since the first half of 2003, in
the form of legal proceedings filed against several terrorist figures
involved in tax evasion and illegal possession of firearms and
The tri-border region has long been of interest to the United
States, said the State Department, and "we have undertaken initiatives
both bilaterally and multilaterally to understand the true nature
of the threat [of criminal and terrorist activity] and to design
the most appropriate counterterrorist measures."
The United States, working with the three tri-border countries,
has launched the "3+1" Counterterrorism Dialogue that is focused
on terrorism prevention, counterterrorism policy discussion, increased
cross-border cooperation, and mutual counterterrorism capacity-building,
the State Department said. The participating countries, said the
Department, have met three times -- most recently in Asuncion,
Paraguay, in December 2003 -- and are committed to strengthening
cooperation among their financial intelligence units, border security
officials, counterterrorism case prosecutors, and police investigators.
The United States has contributed $1 million specifically for
building on the success of the 3+1 Dialogue, said the State Department.
The State Department also said it did not possess information
that would lend substance to reports of a joint al-Qaida/Hezbollah
plan in late 1999 to attack Jewish targets in Ciudad del Este,
Paraguay; in Buenos Aires, Argentina; and in Ottawa, Canada.
In January 29 remarks, Cofer Black, the State Department's coordinator
for counterterrorism, said that while the United States and its
Western Hemisphere partners are cooperating to combat terrorism,
more must be done "to ensure our hemisphere develops a well-coordinated
and comprehensive counterterrorism strategy."
He encouraged hemispheric nations that have not done so to ratify
the Inter-American Convention Against Terrorism, a dozen United
Nations protocols on terrorism, and other related instruments.
"We can prevent and disrupt terrorist activity by working together
to secure our borders, strengthen customs enforcement, and develop
strong legal and financial regulatory systems to criminalize terrorism
and terrorism finance," Black said.