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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 explosives.

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.