With the assistance of Israel’s Mossad, on November 8, the Brazilian Federal Police launched Operation Trapiche with a view to preventing preparatory acts of terrorism and obtaining evidence of recruitment of Brazilian nationals for the practice of terrorism in Brazil on behalf of Hezbollah, a terrorist organization financed by Iran. The terrorist acts were targeted at Israeli and in particular Jewish places of interest, including synagogues.
The Federal Police arrested two Brazilian nationals on a temporary basis, one of whom was just landing from Lebanon in São Paulo, reportedly with information to carry out the terrorist attacks. A temporary arrest lasts five days and can be extended for another period of five days. If there is compelling evidence, a temporary arrest can be converted into preventive arrest, for which there is no maximum length. In Brazil, bail is not available in case of terror-related crimes.
Concomitantly, the Federal Police conducted eleven search warrants, namely seven warrants in the city of Belo Horizonte, State of Minas Gerais, three in Brasília, and one in São Paulo, which shows the reach of Iranian terror in the Brazilian Southeast and Midwest regions. The Southeast concentrates the largest Jewish population in Brazil, whereas the Midwest (Brasília) is where the Israeli Embassy is located. The Federal Police also requested Interpol to include another two Brazilian citizens, currently believed to be in Lebanon, in its red notice list.
Hezbollah has long had a significant presence in Brazil. Its first footstep is believed to have been in the South, in the Brazilian, Argentine, and Paraguayan Tri-Border area, which is a haven for terrorism financing activities.
Despite Operation Trapiche, Islamic terrorism has never been adequately countered in Brazil, and Hezbollah personalities are full members of Brazilian society. There is speculation that Hezbollah has meddled in political campaigns in Brazil since 2014. This is the same terrorist organization that carried out the massive bombing of AMIA – then the largest Jewish center in Argentina – in 1994 at the direction of the Iranian regime.
Take Bilal Mohsen Wehbe, for example. He is a Brazilian naturalized Lebanese citizen that appears since 2010 on the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control – OFAC’s sanctions list under the Hizballah Financial Sanctions Regulations. In spite of the sanctions and even though Wehbe has been appointed chief representative of Hezbollah in South America at the request of Hezbollah’s secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah, he has powerful connections in Brazil, where he lobbies for Hezbollah’s and Iranian interests. Wehbe has fundraised for Hezbollah in Brazil and transferred the funds to this Islamic terrorist organization in Lebanon.
At the time of Wehbe’s inclusion on OFAC’s sanctions list, the United States particularly noted Wehbe’s fundraising among Brazilian entrepreneurs and the resulting transfer of US$500,000 to Hezbollah during the 2006 Israel – Hezbollah War. The United States equally noted that in the past Wehbe had worked for the office of Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei, whose regime is Hezbollah’s main source of funds.
Notwithstanding his “resumé”, Wehbe is often seen with Brazilian authorities holding high positions in the government. In this sense, in 2018, eight years after being included on OFAC’s sanctions list, he was received by the then governor of the State of São Paulo, Marcos França, for a special dinner at the governor‘s official residence, where he was allocated a prominent position at the table.
Yet, Wehbe is not alone. Another Hezbollah and Iranian lobbyist, Sayid Marcos Tenório, a Muslim convert, is also very active in Brazil. He identifies as a “Palestinian militant” and until he recently fell in disgrace when he made degrading remarks about a Jewish woman raped and taken captive on October 7, Tenório had worked for a long period in various positions in the Brazilian Legislative and Executive Branches, including advising at least six House representatives.
Tenório is proud of his association with Tehran and when Iran was admitted to the BRICS, he posted a picture on his social media in which he appeared with current Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi in Tehran. Another person of interest appeared in this picture, Nasser Khazraji, the interpreter at the Iranian embassy in Brazil, son of Taleb Hussein al-Khazraji, a sheik who lives in São Paulo and, according to Interpol, is an Iranian agent in Brazil and hosted on several occasions Mohsen Rabbani, the mastermind of the AMIA terror attack.
On another social media post, Tenório appeared with Seyyed Hassan Khomeini, the grandson of former Iranian supreme leader Khomeini. In 2017, he received Ayatollah Mohsen Araki, a hardliner and one of the closest clerics to Ayatollah Khamenei. Like Wehbe, Tenório has lobbied for Iranian and Hezbollah interests. To this end, he facilitated access of Iranian authorities to the Brazilian Congress and promoted meetings between politicians and leaders associated with Hezbollah.
These are two examples only. Iranian lobbying has proven fruitful in many respects. Recently, Brazil supported Iran’s inclusion in the BRICS, which will take effect in January 2024, tilting it further towards an authoritarian bloc. Originally founded by Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, the BRICS works as a counterforce to the Western bloc and its bank seeks de-dollarization.
Perhaps one could argue that Operation Trapiche is a good Brazilian response to Islamic terrorism coming from a Brazilian ally, Iran. A lot of homework still needs to be done though. Brazil must stop alliances with terrorist countries, halt the naturalization of those involved in terror activities, and take serious steps to prevent them from having far-reaching and important connections with politicians, authorities, and entrepreneurs. Order must also be reinstated in the Tri-Border area. Otherwise, Trapiche will have been just another operation and terror will prevail due to Brazil’s lax approach.