Source: Seattle Times (WA) Contact: http://www.seattletimes.com/ Pubdate: Wed, 13 May 1998 Author: Sebastian Rotella FBI TO JOIN LATIN AMERICA IN FIGHTING CRIME, FREEH SAYS BUENOS AIRES - Concerned that Argentina's border with Paraguay and Brazil has become a haven for terrorists and mobsters, the FBI will join authorities in those nations in a crackdown intended as a model for regional cooperation in Latin America, FBI Director Louis Freeh said yesterday. The lawless border region exemplifies the dangers of globalized crime and the need for a coordinated response in the hemisphere, Freeh said in an interview during a five-day trip through South America, the first by an FBI director. Fear of growing crime is a top political issue across the continent, Freeh said, pointing to drug cartels, smuggling mafias and terrorist groups as an urgent threat. Freeh said he is trying to build on an agreement reached by presidents at the Summit of the Americas in Chile last month to create a regional law-enforcement alliance similar to Europol, an organization that allows European police forces to cooperate across borders. "There has to be some regional ability for police forces to work together efficiently, not just in response to particular crimes, but really as long-range initiatives to deal with very complex transnational issues," Freeh said. In a sign of the FBI's expanding role in the continent, eight agents spent last month analyzing evidence here and consulting with Argentine police on the unsolved bombings of a Jewish community center in 1994 and the Israeli Embassy in 1992. Argentine investigators suspect that an alliance of Iranian spies, fundamentalist terrorists and rogue Argentine police officers carried out the 1994 bombing, which killed 86 people. Freeh laid a wreath at the Buenos Aires site of the 1994 bombing yesterday and met with Jewish leaders, President Carlos Menem and top police and intelligence officials. The FBI team will provide a report to Menem in June, Freeh said. The utter lack of results in the embassy bombing and the revelation of a corrupt web of police who obstructed the investigation of the 1994 case have heightened international and domestic pressure on Argentine officials. They say a major obstacle is the haven for terrorism in Ciudad del Este, on the Paraguayan side of the triple border. Freeh largely concurred with the view that multifaceted crime groups make the border region a menace to the continent. Ciudad del Este is a hub of Middle Eastern, Asian and South American gangsters involved in contraband, drugs, arms trafficking, stolen cars, extortion, money laundering and pirated products such as videos and cassette tapes. Intelligence reports and the arrest of an accused Lebanese terrorist and drug trafficker in a plot to bomb the U.S. Embassy in Paraguay in 1996 indicate that groups tied to terror organizations such as Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah use the border region as a base. The new border initiative will translate into U.S. training, computer and surveillance technology and logistics support for specialized police units being created by each nation to target the border region, an Argentine official said. - --- Checked-by: "Rolf Ernst"