Growing Islamic extremism in Latin America constitutes a “major security threat” to the United States, according to an analysis published this month by the National Center for Policy Analysis.
“The threat from Islamic extremists in Latin America remains an overlooked aspect of U.S. national security strategy,” NCPA senior fellow David Grantham argued.
Grantham noted that “Saudi Arabia has invested millions to construct mosques and cultural centers in South America and Central America that expand the reach of its rigid version of Islam, known as Wahhabism.”
“The international spread of Saudi dogma, which the State Department’s first special representative to Muslim communities worldwide, Farah Pandith, called ‘insidious,’ has laid the foundation for likeminded radicals to thrive in other areas of Latin America,” he explained.
Later in the brief, Grantham noted that the “threats to U.S. security in the Greater Caribbean region are even more alarming in Trinidad and Tobago. The small island nation off the coast of Venezuela, once the target of an overthrow by Islamic militants, has also become a breeding ground for ISIS — 70 of the 100 Latin Americans known to have joined ISIS originated from the small country.”
The ease of mobility Islamic extremists have in Latin America is also cause for concern.
“Islamic extremism thrives where there is illicit finance and relative ease of movement across national and international borders. The mobility of terrorists throughout Latin America poses a serious problem,” Grantham stated.
Perhaps the greatest Islamic extremist threat in Latin America, though, is the Islamic Republic of Iran, which Grantham said could potentially strike the US from Latin America as a retaliatory act.
“The Islamic Republic has the capability and infrastructure to strike the United States from Latin America, but experts disagree over whether it would take that risk,” Grantham writes. “Experts consistently discuss the likelihood of a preemptive or first strike attack on the United States, though, which creates too high a standard. Instead, the argument should focus on the prospect of retaliatory attack.”
Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton also warned of Iranian sponsored terrorism through Latin American “proxies” during a 2013 off-the-record speech to Goldman Sachs employees that was made public by WikiLeaks.
“If we had a map up behind us you would be able to see Iranian sponsored terrorism directly delivered by Iranians themselves, mostly through the Revolutionary Guard Corps, the operatives, or through Islah or other proxies from to Latin American to Southeast Asia,” Clinton said.
“The growth of extremist activity in Latin America is a major security threat. The prospects of retaliation from Iran, in particular, should not discourage action against Iran where necessary but should heighten awareness regarding the high probability of revenge attacks,” Grantham concluded. “Iran’s influence in Latin America and extremists, in general, demand new national security strategies in the region. Such an approach could begin with U.S. support to allied governments that improves their intelligence capabilities, and with targeted financial interdiction strategies.”
The brief can be read in its entirety here.