According to Hezbollah's deputy secretary general, Naim Qassem (left), the group is structurally unified: "We don't have a military wing and a political one... Every element of Hezbollah, from commanders to members as well as our various capabilities, is in the service of the resistance, and we have nothing but the resistance as a priority." (Photo by Joseph Eid/AFP via Getty Images)
The British finance ministry has added the entirety of the Iran-backed Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah — Arabic for "The Party of Allah" — to its sanctions list and has ordered a freeze on any assets it may have in the United Kingdom.
The move, aimed at cracking down on Hezbollah's fundraising activities in Britain, adds increased enforcement teeth to the British government's February 2019 decision no longer to distinguish between Hezbollah's military and political wings and to classify the entire organization as a terrorist group.
With the exception of the Netherlands, which outlawed all of Hezbollah in 2004, the UK now has the most comprehensive set of sanctions against the terrorist group in Europe. Being a member of, or providing support for, Hezbollah is a crime in Britain punishable by up to ten years in prison.
In a so-called General Notice of Final Designation dated January 17, 2020, the Office of Financial Sanctions of the British Treasury ordered financial institutions in the UK to check whether they hold any accounts, funds or economic resources for, or provide financial services to, Hezbollah; freeze such accounts, and other funds or economic resources; suspend the provision of any financial services to Hezbollah; and report any findings to the Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation (OFSI), in compliance with the Terrorist Asset-Freezing Act 2010 (TAFA). The British Treasury noted:
"Hezbollah itself has publicly denied a distinction between its military and political wings. The group in its entirety is assessed to be concerned in terrorism and was proscribed as a terrorist organization in the UK in March 2019. This listing includes the Military Wing, the Jihad Council and all units reporting to it, including the External Security Organization."
Britain joins the Netherlands, Canada, the United States, Israel, the 22-member Arab League, the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council as well as Argentina, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras and Paraguay in making no distinction between Hezbollah's military and civilian wings. In all, more than 30 countries have banned the group in its entirety.
The European Union has resisted pressure to outlaw all of Hezbollah. European officials, who make an artificial distinction between Hezbollah's military and political wing, regularly claim that a total ban might destabilize Lebanon's political system, which is now dominated by the terrorist group. Others are worried that a complete ban of Hezbollah could hinder political and diplomatic efforts to salvage the now-defunct 2015 nuclear accord with Iran.
In Germany, the EU's largest member state, a foreign ministry official, Niels Annen, said that a complete ban of Hezbollah would be counterproductive because "we focus on dialogue." His comment has been understood to mean that the German government does not want to burn bridges with Hezbollah's main patron, the Islamic Republic of Iran, the world's leading sponsor of terrorism.
In other EU member states, government officials appear worried that a total ban of Hezbollah could jeopardize the safety of European troops deployed to the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, or UNIFIL. EU member states contribute more than 3,650 troops to UNIFIL — mostly from France, Italy and Spain.
After many years of equivocation, the European Union reluctantly banned Hezbollah's "military wing" in July 2013, after the group was implicated in the July 2012 bombing of a bus carrying Israeli tourists in Burgas, Bulgaria. Five Israelis were killed in the attack.
Hezbollah officials, however, have repeatedly affirmed that the group operates as a single organization with a unified system of command and control. In a July 2013 interview with the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel, conducted immediately after the EU announced its partial ban on Hezbollah, the group's spokesman, Ibrahim Mussawi, said:
"Hezbollah is a single large organization, we have no wings that are separate from one another. What's being said in Brussels doesn't exist for us."
Hezbollah's deputy secretary general, Naim Qassem, repeated that the group is structurally unified:
"We don't have a military wing and a political one; we don't have Hezbollah on one hand and the resistance party on the other.... Every element of Hezbollah, from commanders to members as well as our various capabilities, is in the service of the resistance, and we have nothing but the resistance as a priority."
Qassem, in an interview with the Lebanese newspaper Al-Mustaqbal, said:
"Hezbollah has one single leadership, and its name is the Decision-Making Shura Council. It manages the political activity, the jihad activity, the cultural and the social activities. Hezbollah's Secretary General is the head of the Shura Council and also the head of the Jihad Council, and this means that we have one leadership, with one administration."
Hezbollah official Muhammad Fannish, in an interview with the group's Al-Manar Television, stated:
"I can say that no differentiation is to be made between the military wing and the political wing of Hezbollah."
Hezbollah official Ammar Moussawi, speaking to Lebanon's National News Agency, said:
"Everyone is aware of the fact that Hezbollah is one body and one entity. Its military and political wings are unified."
Five years after the EU announced its partial ban of Hezbollah, counter-terrorism expert Matthew Levitt assessed that it has had no impact at all on the group's operations in Europe:
"Hezbollah's military wing is still active across Europe, carrying out a wide range of criminal enterprises geared toward funding and arming the group's military and terrorist activities and even concocting sporadic terrorist plots. In other words, the EU's partial ban of Hezbollah has not set back the organization in any way."
The reluctance of European officials to outlaw all of Hezbollah may stem from a fear of retribution from the group or its patron, Iran, on European soil. Europe's permissive stance has emboldened Hezbollah and Iran to conduct fundraising and logistical activities as well as terrorist acts and assassinations across Europe, often with impunity, for more than three decades. Criminal activities in Europe by Hezbollah since its founding in April 1983, and by Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, include:
- Germany. January 20, 2020. The trial began in Koblenz of an Afghan couple accused of spying for Iran. The 51-year-old man, Abdul Hamid S., was a German-Afghan translator and cultural consultant for the German army. He is said to have violated official secrets in 18 cases. He was arrested in the Rhineland on January 15, 2019. His 40-year-old wife remains at large.
- Albania. October 23, 2019. Albanian police said that they had thwarted an attack planned by the Iranian Quds Force, a branch of Iran's Islamic Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC) for operations outside Iran, against opponents of the Iranian regime in Albania.
- Germany. June 27, 2019. Germany's BfV domestic intelligence agency reported that more than 1,000 members of Hezbollah are currently living in the country, where they engage in fundraising, recruiting and propaganda activities.
- United Kingdom. June 9, 2019. The Sunday Telegraph reported that a Hezbollah operative was caught stockpiling three tons of ammonium nitrate, a chemical used to make homemade bombs, in a secret bomb factory on the outskirts of London. The plot was uncovered by MI5 and the Metropolitan Police, after a tip-off from Israel in the fall of 2015, just months after Britain signed up to the Iran nuclear deal. The UK did not press charges against the operative, who was released from custody. The Telegraph speculated that the incident was kept quiet because the Obama administration had just signed the Iran nuclear deal: "It raises questions about whether senior UK government figures chose not to reveal the plot in part because they were invested in keeping the Iran nuclear deal afloat."
- Germany. February 4, 2019. A 47-year-old Iranian dissident in Berlin told German police that he was attacked by three men who called him by name and threatened him in Persian before beating and kicking him.
- Albania. December 20, 2018. The Albanian government expelled Iran's Ambassador, Gholamhossein Mohammadnia, and the Iranian intelligence station chief in Albania, Mostafa Roudaki, for planning terrorist activities against Iranian dissidents and members of the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK).
- France. November 29, 2018. A court in Paris sentenced Mohamad Noureddine, a 44-year-old Lebanese money launderer, to seven years in prison for leading a crime ring that laundered Colombian drug money and funneled the profits to Hezbollah. Noureddine worked directly with Hezbollah's financial apparatus to transfer Hezbollah funds via his Lebanon-based company and maintained direct ties to Hezbollah commercial and terrorist elements in both Lebanon and Iraq, according to the US Treasury Department.
- Denmark. October 30, 2018. Danish police announced the arrest in Sweden of a Norwegian citizen of Iranian origin who was suspected of plotting to assassinate three members of an Iranian opposition group called the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahwaz (ASMLA). The three were living in Ringsted, located 60 km (40 miles) southwest of Copenhagen. Danish Foreign Minister Anders Samuelsen tweeted: "Iran's plotting to assassinate on Danish soil is totally unacceptable. Danish ambassador to Tehran has been recalled for consultations. Denmark will discuss further actions with European partners in the coming days."
- The Netherlands. June 7, 2018. Dutch authorities expelled two Iranian embassy staff due to suspicions that Tehran was involved in the assassinations in the Netherlands of two Dutch-Iranian citizens.
- Belgium. July 2, 2018. Belgian police, acting on a tipoff from Israel, foiled a terrorist plot against a June 30 gathering of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an umbrella bloc of opposition groups in exile that seek an end to Shiite Muslim clerical rule in Iran. Assadollah Assadi, a senior Iranian diplomat based in the Iranian embassy in Vienna was arrested in Germany in connection with the plot. A Belgian couple of Iranian origin were also charged as accomplices. About 25,000 people attended the rally in the Paris suburb of Villepinte.
- Germany. March 1, 2018. A court in Frankfurt sentenced a 41-year-old Iranian national to seven years in prison for purchasing, on behalf of the Quds Force, printing presses that produce counterfeit currency. The man, with German residency, also set up a series of front companies to purchase and ship to Iran specialized paper and ink. During the trial, it emerged that the presses were used to print more than 50 million Yemeni banknotes, presumably to help the Iran-backed Houthi rebels.
- Germany. January 16, 2018. German police in seven federal states arrested ten alleged Iranian spies who were accused of surveilling Israeli and Jewish targets in Germany.
- Germany. December 22, 2017. The German Foreign Ministry summoned Iranian Ambassador to Berlin Ali Majedi to warn Tehran against spying on individuals and groups with close ties to Israel.
- The Netherlands. November 8, 2017. Iranian agents assassinated Ahmad Mola Nissi, leader of an Iranian separatist group ASMLA, in The Hague.
- Germany. March 25, 2017. A court in Berlin sentenced Mustufa Haidar Syed-Naqfi, a 31-year-old Pakistani national, to four years and three months in prison for spying for Iran. He was convicted of gathering intelligence on Reinhold Robbe, a German politician and the former head of the German-Israel Friendship Society, for Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).
- Germany. March 22, 2016. Prosecutors in Berlin charged two Iranian men, 31-year-old Maysam P. and 33-year-old Saied R., with spying for Iran. The two men allegedly obtained information on members of the opposition group People's Mujahedin of Iran (PMOI/MEK) and its National Council of Resistance Iran (NCRI) arm in Germany and other European Union countries.
- Lithuania. March 21, 2016. A court in Lithuania ruled that Ibrahim Ahmadoun, a 34-year-old Belgian citizen, would be extradited to the United States to face charges of money laundering for Hezbollah.
- Czech Republic. February 4, 2016. Ali Taan Fayad, a Lebanese-born Hezbollah operative who holds a Ukrainian passport, was released from custody after Czech officials refused to allow his extradition to the United States to face weapons smuggling charges. Czech Defense Minister Martin Stropnicky said that five Czech military officers who were kidnapped in Lebanon were released by their Hezbollah captors in exchange for a guarantee that Fayad would not be extradited. The officers were put on a Czech Air Force jet that arrived in Prague on the same day that Fayad was released.
- The Netherlands. December 15, 2015. Two Iranian agents assassinated Mohammad Reza Kolahi Samadi, an Iranian dissident, outside his home in Almere.
- Israel. November 29, 2015. Israel's Central District Court sentenced 55-year-old Hassan Khalil Hizran, a Lebanon-born Swedish national recruited by Hezbollah, to 18 months in prison for spying for the terror group.
- Cyprus. June 29, 2015. A court in Cyprus sentenced 26-year-old Hezbollah operative Hussein Bassam Abdallah to six years in prison for plotting against Israeli interests on the island. Abdallah, a Lebanese-Canadian, admitted to stockpiling nearly nine tons of ammonium nitrate, a chemical used to make homemade bombs, at the residence of a Hezbollah operative in Larnaca.
- Cyprus. March 21, 2013. A court in Cyprus convicted 24-year-old Hezbollah operative Hossam Taleb Yaacoub for plotting to kill Israeli tourists on the island. Yaacoub, a Swedish-Lebanese dual national, was found guilty on five of eight counts, including that of participating in a criminal organization, agreeing to commit a crime and money laundering. The court said that he had carried out six missions in Cyprus on behalf of Hezbollah, which had paid him a total of $4,800. Yaacoub was arrested in Limassol on July 7, 2012, after he was found to be scouting tourist sites frequented by Israelis. He was subsequently sentenced to four years in prison.
- Israel. April 9, 2013. Milad Muhammad Khatib, 26, of Majd al-Krum in Western Galilee, was sentenced in the Haifa District Court to seven years in prison for espionage, contact with a foreign agent and conspiracy to aid an enemy in a time of war. Khatib was arrested in September 2012 and confessed to having conveyed to a Hezbollah agent information about IDF bases, armaments and arms caches, and the facilities of arms manufacturer Rafael. He was recruited by a Hezbollah operative in Denmark in 2009.
- Bulgaria. July 18, 2012. A Hezbollah suicide bomber blew up a bus carrying Israeli tourists at the airport in Burgas, a city on the Black Sea coast. The explosion killed the Bulgarian bus driver and five Israelis and injured 32 others. The bus was carrying 42 Israelis from the airport to their hotel after they arrived on a flight from Tel Aviv. Bulgarian prosecutors later identified three Hezbollah operatives, all of Lebanese origin, as responsible for the bombing: Meliad Farah, a 32-year-old Australian-Lebanese dual citizen who fled to Lebanon two days before the attack; Hassan El Hajj Hassan, a 27-year-old Canadian-Lebanese dual citizen who remains at large; and Mohamad Hassan el-Husseini, a French-Lebanese dual citizen who was the suicide bomber.
- Curaçao. April 29, 2009. Seventeen people were arrested on the Dutch Caribbean island of Curaçao for alleged involvement in a drug trafficking ring with connections Hezbollah. The traffickers used cargo ships and speed boats to import the drugs from Colombia and Venezuela for shipment to Africa and beyond to Europe. The proceeds, funneled through informal Middle Eastern banks, went toward supporting Hezbollah organization in Lebanon. The smuggling ring also forwarded requests from Hezbollah for arms to be shipped from South America.
- Sweden. January 18, 1994. Abubakr Hedayati, a Kurdish-Iranian dissident, died after he opened letter bomb in his apartment in Stockholm. The killing was attributed to Iran.
- Germany. September 17, 1992. Iranian operatives assassinated three Kurdish-Iranian opposition leaders at the Mykonos restaurant in Berlin.
- Germany. August 7, 1992. Iranian agents assassinated Fereydoun Farrokhzad, an Iranian opposition figure, in his apartment in Bonn.
- France. August 6, 1991. Three Iranian agents assassinated Shapour Bakhtiar, who served as the last Prime Minister of Iran under the Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, in his home in Suresnes, near Paris. Bakhtiar's secretary, Soroush Katibeh, was also killed. Two assassins escaped to Iran. A third, was arrested in Switzerland.
- Sweden. September 6, 1990. Efat Ghazi, the wife of an Iranian Kurdish leader, was killed outside her home in Västerås by a letter bomb intended for her husband. The attack was attributed to Iranian agents.
- Switzerland. April 24, 1990. Iranian agents assassinated Kazem Rajavi, a human rights advocate, in broad daylight while he was driving to his home in Coppet, a town near Geneva.
- Sweden. April 1, 1990. An Iranian agent assassinated Karim Mohammedzadeh, a Kurdish dissident, in the town of Nynäshamn. The Swedish Security Service (SÄPO) was accused of having obstructed the criminal investigation carried out by the local Swedish police.
- Austria. July 13, 1989. An Iranian agent assassinated Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou, an Iranian politician of Kurdish descent, at an apartment in Vienna. Austrian authorities allowed the three suspected killers to leave Austria without ever being questioned.
- Switzerland. July 27, 1987. A Hezbollah operative hijacked an Air Afrique DC-10 jetliner with 163 people on board. He forced it to land at Geneva Airport, where he killed one man before crew members and security forces overpowered him.
- Austria. May 19, 1987. An Iranian agent assassinated Hamid Reza Chitgar, an Iranian exile, in Vienna.
- France. September 5-17, 1986. Hezbollah-affiliated terrorists carried out five bombings in Paris in two weeks. The targets were 1) a post office in the Hôtel de Ville; 2) a cafeteria at the Casino supermarket at the La Défense shopping center; 3) a fashionable restaurant on the Champs-Élysées called Pub Renault; 4) the Paris Police Prefecture; and 5) a bomb was thrown into a shopping street at rue de Rennes from a passing car, blowing up in several store fronts and cars. In all, 12 people were killed and 198 were injured.
- France. March 20, 1986. Hezbollah terrorists bombed the Point Show Gallery on the Champs-Élysées in Paris. Two people died in the attack and 28 were injured. The bombing was attributed to the Hezbollah-affiliated Solidarity Committee for Arab and Middle East Political Prisoners (CSPPA).
- France. March 17, 1986. A bomb exploded on a high-speed train between Paris and Marseilles. Nine people were injured in the attack, which was claimed by the Hezbollah-affiliated CSPPA.
- France. February 3-5, 1986. Hezbollah-affiliated terrorists carried out three bombings in Paris in three days during which 35 people were injured. The targets were the Claridge Hotel on the Champs-Élysées, the Gibert Jeune bookstore on the Place Saint-Michel and an FNAC store at the Forum des Halles. The bombings were claimed by the Hezbollah-affiliated CSPPA.
- France. December 7, 1985. Hezbollah terrorists bombed two Paris department stores: Galeries Lafayette and Printemps Haussmann. More than 40 people were injured in the attacks, which were initially attributed to the Palestinian terrorist group Abu Nidal (aka Fatah) but were later attributed to Islamic Jihad, one of the names used by Hezbollah to dissimulate its operations in Europe.
- Denmark. July 22, 1985. Hezbollah terrorists bombed the main synagogue in Copenhagen, as well as the main office of the American airline Northwest Orient. One person was killed in the attacks, and 22 people were injured.
- Greece. June 14, 1985. Two Hezbollah terrorists hijacked TWA Flight 847 shortly after takeoff from Athens. They murdered US Navy diver Robert Stethem and dumped his body out of the plane and onto the tarmac. They also took dozens of hostages. German authorities released one of the hijackers, Mohammed Ali Hamadi, after he served 19 years of a life sentence. He returned to Lebanon in December 2005.
- Spain. April 12, 1985. Hezbollah terrorists, operating under the name Islamic Jihad Organization, claimed responsibility for bombing the "El Descanso," a restaurant frequented by American servicemen stationed at the nearby Torrejón Air Base, outside of Madrid. Eighteen people were killed in the attack; 82 were wounded. In a statement, Islamic Jihad Organization said that the attack was its first outside of Lebanon. Spanish authorities archived the case in 1987 because they could not identify the perpetrator. A spokesperson for the Association of Victims of Terrorism (AVT) said that the Spanish government did not want to pursue the case: "There are interests that prevent the investigation of the attack. Ten years later, it is not known what really happened."
- Spain. August 6, 1984. Hezbollah operatives, using the name Islamic Jihad Organization, attempted to assassinate Khalid Almarzook, owner of the Kuwaiti newspaper Al Anba, in Málaga, where he owned a home. Almarzook was unharmed; his driver, Yousuf Harsan, was killed. Spanish media speculated that the attack was retaliation for Al Anba's pro-Iraqi stance in matters related to the Iran-Iraq war.
- France. February 7, 1984. Iranian General Gholam-Ali Oveissi, a major figure in the Shah's attempts to put down the Iranian revolution, was shot and killed, together with his brother, by gunmen that French police described as professional assassins. The Islamic Jihad Organization, one of the names used by Hezbollah to dissimulate its operations in Europe, claimed responsibility for the killings.
- France. December 7, 1979. Prince Shahriar Shafiq, a 34-year-old nephew of the Shah of Iran, was assassinated in Paris by an agent of Iran's Islamic Revolution who fired two shots into the back of the prince's head and then coolly walked away.