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U.S. Treasury Sanctions Hezbollah Terrorists Who Own Amusement Park in Nigeria

The United States Treasury Department designated two members of Hezbollah who are running an amusement park in Nigeria.

Armin Rosen of Business Insider reports:

The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Asset Control added two individuals to its specially designated nationals list on February 26: Fouzi Reda Darwish Fawaz and Mustapha Reda Darwish Fawaz, two Lebanese men living and working in west Africa. …

Three of the men’s businesses were added to the sanctions list, meaning that the US believes that those businesses in some way furthered Hezbollah’s activities (although as sanctions law expert Sam Cutler noted on Twitter, businesses “owned 50% or more by SDNs are automatically blocked and may be subject to designation.”) A supermarket and a second, innocuously named enterprise are now on the SDN list, along with a more surprising inclusion: the Wonderland Amusement Park and Resort in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital.

Mustapha Reda Darwish Fawaz was one of four Lebanese members of a Hezbollah cell arrested in May 2013 by Nigerian authorities. Haaretz reported:

In June, an Abuja Chief Magistrates Court gave the Federal Government approval to keep in custody the four Lebanese men arrested in the case: Mustapha Reda Darwish Fawaz, Talal Roda, Abdulla Tahini and Hussain Nurudeen Kossdi, on charges of alleged involvement in the illegal importation of weapons into Nigeria.

Fawaz used his own business premises to create an unlikely storage area for other weapons. The co-owner of the Amigo Supermarket and the Wonderland Amusement Park in Abuja, Fawaz had hidden more arms caches in the supermarket and in the amusement park. The SSS, who discovered these arms, sought the country’s president’s permission to demolish the supermarket, worth an estimated 5 billion Nigerian naira (or around $31 million) in order to search the ground more thoroughly for other concealed weapons. The SSS believes the place was used serially for stockpiling weapons and has evidence that proceeds from the multimillion-dollar retail enterprise have been used to fund terrorism.

Fawaz was ultimately acquitted by a Nigerian court.

Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies suggested to Business Insider that the Treasury Department “might have waited to list the Fawazes and their businesses because they wanted a comprehensive idea of the size of their business network and its connection to US-designated groups.”

In Desperate For Allies and Secret Assets, Iran Penetrates Africa, which was published in the August 2013 issue of The Tower Magazine, Rosen explained how Iran, who funds and partially directs Hezbollah, gained a foothold in Nigeria.

This pattern—in which Iran scrapes for asymmetrical gains within a challenging diplomatic environment, and in spite of its own internally divided conventional diplomacy—repeated itself in Nigeria. In October of 2010, Nigerian authorities scored the largest seizure of an Iranian weapons shipment in African history, when a container ship carrying crates of rocket launchers and heavy mortars was impounded in the port of Lagos. This embarrassment hardly ended Iran’s efforts in the country. In June of 2013, a Hezbollah cell was uncovered in the northern Nigerian city of Kano. And Iran has an asset in Nigeria that’s arguably more valuable than a foothold for its Lebanese proxies: Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky, a radical Iranian-trained Shi’ite cleric and a promoter of Iranian state ideology in Sub-Saharan Africa’s most populous country.

According to researcher Philip Smyth, Zakzaky’s career is the product of an Iranian recruitment effort in the early 1980s. “They approached him because he was leading various Islamist-style groups, and they told them if you come on board with us, you’ll have money and an ideology you can push.” He spoke out in favor of Khomeini-style clerical rule, and emerged as a leading hardliner during Nigeria’s late-90s debate over the imposition of Sharia law in the country’s predominantly Muslim north.

“Zakzaky was actually bitterly opposed to Sharia,” according to Alex Thurston, a PhD candidate at Northwestern University and an expert on Islam in Nigeria. “He said that this is just a half measure, and that you can only bring back Sharia if you do it in the context of a full Islamic state.” Thurston emphasizes that Zakzaky is a marginal figure in Nigeria — someone who commands tens of thousands of followers within a Muslim community of over 85 million. But he adds that Zakzaky has been a persistent and demagogical figure in Nigerian civic life. “He is known as a firebrand,” says Thurston. “He’s been in and out of jail through his career, and he’s extremely provocative when he’s on the radio.”

Perhaps significantly, there were almost no Nigerian-born Shi’ites in the country at the time of Iran’s Islamic Revolution, according to Thurston. A 2009 Pew Forum report said that there are as many as 4 million. Only a minority buys into hardline Khomeinism, but Zakzaky has still aided in Shi’ism’s spread in Nigeria. He is a careful and multilingual expositor of Iran’s state theology, and his skills were on full display during a 2009 lecture in London in honor of the 20th anniversary of Ayatollah Khomeini’s death. In Zakzaky’s view, Khoneimism had already triumphed over the revolutionary false consciousness of communism, and would deal a similar deathblow to western capitalism as well. “The Imam understood different aspects of the din [religion] as a universal message for the entire governance of mankind,” the Iranian-trained cleric said, in English, before closing his speech with a firm rejection of any kind of non-universalist, non-Khomeinist form of political Islam. “Some people think that just as we have imam Khomeini in Iran, other Muslim countries should have their own Khomeini-type leader…Look, the world, the whole world, the entire world needs only one Khomeini, and it has one.”

Iran has achieved at least a few of its asymmetrical objectives in Nigeria: it has an ideological foothold within the country’s Shi’ite community, which might include as much as 5 percent of Nigeria’s Muslims. And Hezbollah was able to sustain weapons caches and commercial interests in a country that, according to Smyth, has a notable Lebanese Shi’ite presence.

[Photo:  Wonderland Amusement Park & Resort (Abuja, Nigeria) / YouTube ]