Honduras on alert to track down al-Qaida activists

April 22, 2011 at 3:49 PM   |   0 comments

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras, April 22 (UPI) -- Honduran authorities are on alert to track down two alleged members of al-Qaida international terrorist network after receiving warnings from U.S. Embassy officials in the capital.

Honduras appeared in news headlines as a possible sanctuary for al-Qaida activists more than six years ago but then little was heard of the reported infiltration as anti-terrorist operations moved to the Middle East and North Africa and anti-narcotics operations took precedence in Central and South America.

In recent months al-Qaida reappeared in news reports and security agencies' briefs as suspects were reported active in several South American countries.

Security agencies investigated reports earlier this month that a frontier triangle linking Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay had become a nexus for al-Qaida activities with alleged armament and training of Latin American youths and planning of cross-border attacks.

In 2009 Honduras plunged into a crisis after a constitutionally sanctioned coup by its military ousted controversial elected President Manuel Zelaya, causing violent protests and military crackdown on dissidents. Porfirio Lobo replaced Zelaya as president after a November 2009 election but Honduras' neighbors challenged the poll's legitimacy as he won U.S. recognition.

Honduras' international isolation after Lobo's election is easing slowly but the country is fighting on several fronts to stem growing cross-border narcotics traffic, reduce urban violence and progress toward reconciliation between rival politicians and their armed supporters.

The conditions in Honduras made it vulnerable to illegal activities, including incursions by international groups such as al-Qaida, analysts said.

The U.S. Embassy information on the two Afghan suspects, Khalil Al-Rahman Haqqani and Said Jan Abd Al-Salam, followed action by the U.N. Security Council to cut off all possible sources of finance for their alleged activities. Honduras received repeated U.N. requests to freeze the accounts of the two men but Honduran authorities didn't say if they found them.

The recent surge in the smuggling of narcotics to North America via submersible water craft and brutal gang wars spilling over from Mexico to Central American countries has raised fears al-Qaida may be seeking to forge alliances with drug overlords in the same way that it has operated in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

FBI reports also cited suspects of other Middle Eastern nationalities that were alleged to be active between the southern United States and Central and South America.

Among those was a man named as Adnan Gulshair El Shukrijumah, born in Saudi Arabia, who once lived in South Florida and is the subject of an FBI alert issued in 2003.

The agency has asked law enforcement agencies and the public to be on the lookout for Shukrijumah on the grounds he may be plotting terrorist attacks against the United States or its interests abroad.

Shukrijumah was alleged to have entered Honduras illegally from Nicaragua or Panama but wasn't heard of again. Saudi Arabia denies Shukrijumah is a Saudi citizen, though security agencies say he has traveled on Saudi, Canadian and Trinidadian passports.

Analysts said the gang wars and bitter infighting among Honduran politicians could offer al-Qaida opportunities to secure a foothold in the area.

Lobo invited Zelaya to return to Honduras but the former president said he won't return to Honduras for fear of being killed.

"There are people who want to liquidate me and are still alive and they have great power," said Zelaya, citing big business among foes.

The United Nations estimates more than 15,000 people a year are killed in drug- and human trafficking-related violence in Central America. Honduras tops the list as the world's most violent country, The Economist reported, with a homicide rate of 67 per 100,000 people a year, four times higher than Mexico's.

The Brazilian Veja magazine other Middle Eastern networks might also be active in the area. It cited police and security forces that at least 20 high-ranking operatives of three organizations -- al-Qaida, Hamas and Hezbollah -- could be active in the Triple Frontier linking Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay.

Reports of possible Middle Eastern terror links with the area first emerged after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, re-emerged last year but were dismissed amid concerns the allegations would alienate and anger local communities of Arab descent, most of them Christian.

More recent reports cited activities by al-Qaida and Iran-linked groups that likely used connections among non-Christian Middle Eastern communities.

The so-called Triple Frontier has long held reputation as South America's busiest contraband and smuggling hub with unbridled trade in arms, bootleg liquor, drugs and pirated software.

The area came under close surveillance by U.S., other international and regional intelligence agencies after 9/11.

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