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Brazil: No Mideast terror groups in region (Read 1734 times)
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Brazil: No Mideast terror groups in region
Nov 10th, 2002 at 7:30pm
By Carmen Gentile
From the International Desk
Published 11/9/2002 12:03 PM

SAO PAULO, Brazil, Nov. 9 (UPI) -- Brazil's justice minister has denied that any terrorist groups linked to Osama bin Laden, al Qaida or Lebanon's Hezbollah group are operating in the country's south, a region called the tri-border area, local news sources reported Saturday.

The denial followed a CNN report alleging that some members of the large Arab population concentrated in Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay's shared border region play an integral role in funding terror activity throughout the world.

Speaking at a meeting of Mercosur, a regional trading bloc, Justice Minister Paulo de Tarso Ribeiro said that any regional links to terror were "isolated incidents" and not directly related to the al Qaida network thought to operate on almost every continent.

"There may be isolated incidents, but up to now, no terrorist cells have been identified," the minister declared.

Ministers representing Mercosur nations -- Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay, as well as observer countries Chile and Bolivia -- met in the northeastern Brazilian city, Salvador, to discuss migration, ways to combat drug smuggling and other border issues.

Following Friday's talks, reporters asked the justice minister about the CNN report.

"The ministers will determine all the measures that are necessary, always with a view to intensifying the investigation of and war against terrorism," Ribeiro said.

Citing international intelligence sources, CNN reported earlier this week that some Arab-owned businesses and mosques in the tri-border region "serve as a revolving door for Islamic extremists."

A member of the Arab community in Ciudad del Este, a Paraguayan city right across the Brazilian border, told CNN that they had nothing to do with terrorism.

"This is a very small community, where we all know each other, and if there was some activity, we would know about it. We trust the investigation and are ready to help in any way we can," said Samir Jebai.

Last year, Paraguayan officials raided a variety of businesses and detained numerous suspects on suspicion of aiding Hezbollah, an anti-Israel Islamist group reportedly supported by Iran, and the Palestinian group Hamas.

Both groups were identified as terrorist organizations in the U.S. State Department's 2001 "Patterns of Global Terrorism" report.

The U.S. report said: "Although arms and drug trafficking, contraband smuggling, document and currency fraud, money laundering, and pirated goods have long been associated with this (tri-border) region, it also has been characterized as a hub for Hezbollah and Hamas activities, particularly for logistic and financial purposes."

CNN reported that both Argentine and Paraguayan officials have identified Assad Ahmad Barakat, co-owner of one of Ciudad del Este's largest shopping malls, as a leading regional operative for Hezbollah. He has also been implicated in the 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires and 1994 bombing of the Jewish Community Center, also in the Argentine capital.

Paraguayan officials attempted to capture Barakat in October. The terror suspect eluded law enforcement officials and is believed to be hiding in Brazil or Lebanon, according to CNN.

While regional and international reports allege al Qaida activity in the tri-border area, the State Department report notes that the stories have either "been disproved or remained uncorroborated by intelligence and law-enforcement officials."

Copyright 2002 United Press International
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Brazil's leader pledges to build nuclear arsenal
Reply #1 - Nov 12th, 2002 at 4:51pm
Lula da Silva revives Cold War fears in Washington
by Isabel Vincent, National Post
Thursday, October 31, 2002

Brazil's newly elected president, Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, has promised to expand the military in Latin America's largest country and turn Brazil into a nuclear power.

Mr. da Silva, a left-wing populist who campaigned on promises to improve conditions for the country's vast population of poor, promised military leaders he will forego Brazil's adherence to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and refocus efforts on building up nuclear weapons.

"Why is it that someone asks me to put down my weapons and only keep a slingshot while he keeps a cannon pointed at me?" said Mr. da Silva, addressing a group of high-ranking military officers in Rio de Janeiro earlier this month.

"Brazil will only be respected in the world when it turns into an economic, technological and military power."

In addition to nuclear weapons, Mr. da Silva, who takes over the Brazilian presidency on Jan. 1, has pledged support for a plan that would see Embraer, a Brazilian aircraft manufacturer, begin producing a new jet fighter and missile technology capable of competing with the U.S. F-16.

Mr. da Silva did not make clear why the country needs nuclear weapons in a region where no other country has a similar program. He also did not address how Brazil, which has been promised a US$30-billion loan from the International Monetary Fund to bail out its floundering economy, would pay for the program.

Analysts suggest Mr. da Silva made the pledge to win support from the military, which remains a powerful force in Brazil and has traditionally looked with suspicion on leftist politicians.

The spectre of nuclear weapons emerging under a leftist government in a country with a population of more than 175 million has rekindled Cold War anxieties in Washington. Mr. da Silva, a former union leader and Communist, is close to both Cuban dictator Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez, the firebrand president of Venezuela.

He has on several occasions attended conferences with Latin American terrorists, such as the FARC guerrillas of Colombia and the Tupac Amaru rebels in Peru. Mr. da Silva has been friends with Mr. Castro for more than 25 years, has praised him as "a great hero" and urged the United States to lift its trade embargo against Cuba.

In 1990, Mr. Castro and Mr. da Silva established the Forum of Sao Paulo, a group of highly-placed Latin American leftists who organize annual conferences to debate issues. Last year the conference was held in Havana and featured members of the FARC, which has waged a long civil war with the Colombian government and is largely financed by drug smuggling.

Also in attendance were high-ranking members of Tupac Amaru, who were responsible for the 1996 hostage taking at the Japanese Embassy in Lima.

"A new terrorist and nuclear/ballistic missile threat may well come from an axis including Cuba's Fidel Castro and a newly elected radical president in Brazil, all with links to Iraq," said Constantine Menges, a senior fellow a the Hudson Institute in Washington and former member of the U.S. National Security Council.

In a recent letter to George W. Bush, the U.S. President, a group of 12 Republican congressmen warned that Mr. da Silva's position on nuclear weapons was a matter of "grave concern." So far, the White House has made no comment on Mr. da Silva's ambitions.

"The fact that Lula associates with the worst elements of Latin America should make clear that this is no moderate," said Paul Weyrich, chair and chief executive of the Free Congress Foundation in Washington. "He may be wearing suits these days, but his politics could end up putting Brazil in a straitjacket."

Mr. da Silva already faces severe financial problems. He has promised extensive social reforms for the poor, who make up more than a third of the population, and needs to reassure foreign investors who fear the government will default on the country's US$250-billion debt. Stock markets in the country have plunged and the Brazilian currency, the real, has fallen sharply in recent months on fears of an economic meltdown.

Mr. da Silva has promised to adhere to the strict budgetary restrictions imposed by the IMF as a condition of the US$30-billion bailout. But, among his own economic advisors, there is little consensus on what the primary focus of a Workers' Party government economic policy might be.

Between 1965 and 1994 the Brazilian military worked to develop nuclear weapons and designed two atomic bombs. The country was reportedly on the verge of testing a nuclear device when the program was shut down by Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who was elected president in 1994.

The program also brought Brazil into alliances with Iraq and China, which sold enriched uranium to Brazil and has invested in the Brazilian aerospace industry. In several campaign speeches, Mr. da Silva said he would welcome a closer relationship with China.

Copyright  2002 National Post

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