Tarek Al-Aissami, the Venezuelan Minister of Interior and Justice, one of the key figures of the Chavez's government, is accused by the media of having used this position to issue passports to members of Hamas and Hezbollah.

Born in Lebanon of Syrian descent in 1980; his father, Carlos Al-Aissami, was the head of the Venezuelan branch of the Iraqi Baath political party. According to reports, before the invasion of Iraq his father held a press conference in which he described himself as a Taliban and called Osama Bin Laden, "the great Mujahedeen, Sheik Osama bin Laden."[1] The Minister's great-uncle Shibli Al-Aissami was a prominent ideologist and assistant to the secretary general of the Baath party in Baghdad during the Saddam Hussein regime.[2]

The Hezbollah's Connection

Al-Aissami started his political career as a student leader at the University of the Andes (ULA). He apparently had political control of the university dorms, which were allegedly used to hide stolen vehicles, make drug deals and smuggle in members of the guerrillas[3]. He then headed Onidex, the Venezuelan passport and naturalization agency inside the Interior Ministry.

Al-Aissami was appointed Minister in 2009, and designated to head Onidex by his close friend, Dante Rivas Quijada. The two attended the same university and is also reported to have ties to the Shiite movement Hezbollah.

There are also allegations that Al-Aissami is one of the people responsible for recruiting young Venezuelan Arabs to be trained in Hezbollah camps in Southern Lebanon.[4] Al-Aissami additionally seems to have helped establishing training caps inside Venezuela, complete with ammunition and explosives.[5] Reports claim that he was working directly with most-wanted terrorist Ghazi Nasr-Din[6], a Venezuelan diplomat also born in Lebanon.

The US Treasury Department added Ghazi Nasr-Din -- along with Fawzi Kan'an, another Venezuelan born in Lebanon -- to the list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists for their support of Hezbollah. Nasr-Din is also accused of having given Hezbollah donors information on bank accounts where the deposits would go directly to Hezbollah.[7]

In 2009, Al-Aissami participated in an event in support of Palestine in the Sheikh Ibrahim Mosque in Caracas. In that occasion, the Minister declared that beyond his governmental functions: "I am a son of Arabs, I am a Palestinian, I am an Iraqi […] Our revolution is also a revolution that fights for a free Palestine. You have to know that we are ready to give our life, if needed […] Viva Palestine, Viva Hugo Chavez, Viva the Revolution!"[8]

The Al-Aissami's Clan

One of the Minister's sisters, Haifa Al-Aissami, with no diplomatic experience, has just been appointed Ambassador to the Netherlands. The appointment sparked in the media accusations of nepotism[9] in the government. Another sister of Al-Aissami, Amin Obayda El Aissami, is an executive of Intevep, the Oil Technology arm of Venezuela.

The brother of Al-Aissami, Firaz Al-Aissami, is suspected of being involved in the case of Walid Makled, a former Venezuelan businessman of Syrian origins, arrested in Colombia. He is designated by the White House an international "drug kingpin," also through the alliance with the FARC. The US and Venezuela are asking for his extradition. The Chavez administration is actually worried about possible evidence that would be made public if Makled would be send to trial to New York. Makled has threatened that he should he be given to the US authority, he will spill out all he knows.

He is reported to have said that "If I'm a drug trafficker, everyone in the Chavez government is drug trafficker." He described making payments of about $1 million a month to high-ranking civilian and military officials and separately paying the brother of Al-Aissami $100,000.[10] Makled also revealed that the Minister himself received a cash payoff made through El Aissami's brother. Makled said the money was in exchange for favors[11] and concessions[12]. Makled also declared that he taped his meetings with the Minister's brother. The cousin of the Minister, Aiman Al-Aissami, also appears among the names involved in the Makled's case[13]. Aissami, of course, denies all the allegations.

[1] http://middle-east-analysis.blogspot.com/2009/03/venezuelas-tarek-el-aissami.html
[2] http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tarek_El_Aissami
[3] http://middle-east-analysis.blogspot.com/2009/03/venezuelas-tarek-el-aissami.html
[4] http://laht.com/article.asp?ArticleId=343289&CategoryId=10718
[5] Iran and its Proxy Hezbollah: Strategic penetration in Latin America, E. Karmon
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.
[8] http://www.noticias24.com/actualidad/noticia/22329/maduro-y-el-aissami-participaron-en-acto-de-apoyo-a-gaza/
[9] http://www.reportero24.com/2010/12/nepotismo-hermana-de-el-aissami-sera-embajadora-en-holanda/
[10] Washington Post, January 24, 2011
[11] http://www.venezolanosenlinea.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=12697:walid-makled-afirma-que-hizo-negocios-con-el-hermano-de-el-aissami&catid=67:internacionales&Itemid=64
[12] http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20101121/ap_on_re_la_am_ca/lt_venezuela_colombia_extradition
[13] http://www.lapatilla.com/site/2010/11/16/extraoficial-otro-familiar-de-tarek-el-aissami-habria-sido-socio-de-makled/

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