By Lee Kaplan, investigator, communications director, ACD fellow
Rafic Labboun, an imam from the Shia Association Bay Area (SABA Islamic Center) in San Jose, California, has been arrested in Mexico by Mexican immigration authorities working in cooperation with the FBI and Homeland Security.
Labboun was taken into custody with the two known Hezbollah agents from Belize, George Abdallah Elders and Justin Yasser Safa in Mérida, a Mexican city located in the Yucatan peninsula. Both men are citizens of Belize. Intelligence agencies in the United States were tracking this group as part of a cell of Hezbollah-linked Arab terrorists who were operating in Mexico and Central America.
RadicalIslam.org had previously exposed Labboun’s Hezbollah connections in the US.
|Mugshot of Rafic Mohammed Labboun (Allaboun)|
Labboun was released this summer from a federal prison, where he had served 27 months for credit card fraud that authorities suspected was linked to fundraising for Hezbollah here in the US. In that case, Labboun kited $102,000 in credit card purchases of gold in Saudi Arabia which involved defrauding several U.S. banks by creating a false line of credit between the banks.
The money made its way to Lebanon and has never been returned, even though Labboun was required to pay back the money as per the agreement of release and subsequent his three year probationary term. Instead, Labboun fled to Mexico on a false passport from Belize. It is believevd he was helped by with the alleged Hezbollah agents with whom he was arrested.
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|Location in Mérida where Rafic Labboun was arrested|
At the time of Labboun’s trial, prosecutors were only able to convict Labboun on credit card fraud as his connection with Hezbollah could not be conclusively proven at the time. However, as RadicalIslam.org reported at the time, the SABA Mosque where Labboun is still considered an imams openly supports Hezbollah and the pro-Khomeinist regime in Iran.
Mexican news reports stated that Labboun identified himself to Mexican immigration authorities according to his false passport from the government of Belize. The News reports also confirm that he was accompanied by five other people, two of whom are known by the FBI and Homeland Security to be Hezbollah agents in Belize. An armored vehicle was used in the operation.
Intelligence agencies in the U. S. were tracking this group as part of a cell of Hezbollah-linked Arab terrorists operating in Mexico and Central America.
Some security sources have even mentioned that since the cell’s capture, allegations are emerging that Labboun may even be linked to the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center, however, law enforcement authorities are still in the process of sifting through evidence captured during the raid that could confirm this link.
However, it is presumed that the fact that Labboun entered Mexico with two Hezbollah agents from Belize on a fake Belize passport while on parole in the U.S. provides the missing evidence of his direct link to Hezbollah. Moreover, Yasser Safa, one of the two Hezbollah agents accompanying him is related to Wafiq Safa, who is the head of the Hezbollah Coordination and Liaison Committee in Lebanon and is married to Hezbollah Chief Hassan Nasrallah’s sister. One security source has said this may indicate that Nasrallah personally authorized this escape attempt for Labboun.
Labboun has been remanded to El Paso, Texas, by the FBI for further investigation. Labboun has an American wife, a Muslim convert and three daughters back in Lebanon, who he has not seen for three years. Some police sources believe he may not want them to come to the United States because his wife would be able to shed light on his relationship with Hezbollah as well as other illegal activities. This might account for his attempt to flee the U.S. in violation of his parole. Still others maintain he was always a Hezbollah financial courier who simply wanted to escape.
As RadicalIslam.org reported, Saba Islamic Center in San Jose supported Labboun throughout his trial, claiming he was innocent of any wrongdoing and giving him money and food after his trial in a federal court. Once Labboun was freed on probation, the mosque held a welcome home party for him. During his incarceration, a music video was released, referring to Labboun a “peace activist” and calling for his release from prison.
Saba Islamic Center maintains it reaches out to the non-Shiite and non-Muslim community for interfaith dialog but undercover recordings and even the mosque’s own website have shown preaching against Jews and Christians is done within the mosque’s walls.
Despite this, Saba Islamic Center is still enjoying political assistance from politicians like Democratic candidate for the House of Representatives Mike Honda, who is scheduled to appear at SABA for a luncheon on September 15, 2012, as part of his election campaign. Calls by this reporter to Honda’s office to inquire if he still plans on attending were not returned.
|Rep. Mike Honda (D)|
This article first appeared at RadicalIslam.org on Monday, September 10, 2012.
Rafic Labboun is an imam with the Northern California-based Shia Association of Bay Area (Saba Center of San Jose) and Fatimiyya Islamic Center of Hayward.