Source: Seattle Times (WA)
Pubdate: Wed, 13 May 1998
Author:  Sebastian Rotella


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

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

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"