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The blame game, redux (Hezbollah and Hassan Al-Laqqis)

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The blame game, redux

By Stewart Bell, National Post, Dec. 5, 2013

Hezbollah points to Israel after officer who ran Canadian supply operation assassinated

Desperate for equipment in the late 1990s, Hezbollah set up a “procurement network” in Vancouver to buy whatever gear it needed and ship it to Lebanon using human couriers.

When the operation was finally shut down by police in 2001, it stretched from British Columbia to Ontario and Quebec, and had provided hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of material to Hezbollah.

Wednesday, the Hezbollah commander who ran that Canadian supply operation, Hassan Al-Laqqis, died after he was gunned down in an apparent assassination near Beirut.

A statement released by Hezbollah called him “one of the leaders of the Islamic resistance” and said he was shot in the head in front of his home as he was returning from work at about midnight.

As it habitually does, Hezbollah blamed the Israelis, saying they had tried several times to kill him.

“This enemy must bear full responsibility and all the consequences for this heinous crime and for the repeated targeting of the resistance’s leadership and cadres,” it said.

The Israeli government denied it was behind the killing, which comes amid mounting violence between Lebanon’s Sunni and Shiite populations over Hezbollah’s decision to send fighters to Syria to prop up the regime of President Bashar Al-Assad.

Israel has been widely blamed for the assassination of Hezbollah military chief Imad Mugniyeh, who died in a 2008 car bombing in Damascus. But while Laqqis was close to Mugniyeh and Hezbollah boss Hassan Nasrallah, he had not played a visible role in the group in recent years.

“This has strictly nothing to do with Israel,” said Yigar Palmor, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, the Jerusalem Post reported.

“Hezbollah has made a fool of itself in the past with these automatic and groundless accusations against Israel … If they are looking for explanations as to what is happening to them, they should examine their own actions.”

The Free Sunnis of Baalbek Brigade claimed responsibility on Twitter, but the group is unknown. The attack comes two weeks after a deadly suicide bombing at the Iranian embassy in Beirut. Iran is Hezbollah’s main source of money, training and arms.

An early member of Hezbollah, Laqqis spent “his entire life up until his last hours” in the group, the eulogy said. Notably, he was a weapons manufacturing expert and oversaw Hezbollah’s international procurement operation.

A branch of the network was led by Mohamad Dbouk, a refugee claimant in Burnaby, B.C. He financed his purchases with money he got from Hezbollah operatives in the United States, who were involved in cigarette smuggling, creditcard fraud and identity theft.

“From his base in Burnaby, Dbouk quickly developed a procurement network involving individuals in Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal and Charlotte, N.C., who were to varying degrees involved in the location, purchasing and forwarding of the equipment,” according to a Canadian Security Intelligence Service document released under the Access to Information Act.

As CSIS listened, Dbouk spoke on the phone regularly with Laqqis, discussing what to buy, how to pay for it and how to get it to Lebanon. In one call, Dbouk talked about a fundraising strategy he called the “miracle strike,” which involved taking out life insurance policies on people and having them killed in Lebanon.

Dbouk and his associates were seen shopping at a military supply warehouse in Vancouver.

“Among the types of items Dbouk secured were digital cameras and video cameras, GPS units, night-vision goggles, computers, computer software, computer hardware, industrial-sized scanners and industrial-sized ink plotters,” the CSIS document said.

When Dbouk withdrew his refugee claim and returned to Lebanon in 1999, he allegedly handed his duties to his brother-in-law, Ali Amhaz, who was charged by U.S. authorities and arrested by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The U.S. tried to have him extradited but gave up in 2002.

The links between the Vancouver cell and the Hezbollah leadership “show that the Canadian connection is not inconsequential,” said Alan Jones, a former senior CSIS official who was involved in the investigation.

“When Canadian fundraising and procurement are directed by the same people that are sustaining the catastrophic mayhem in Syria, and are in turn supported by Iran, Canada cannot be neutral in its opinions nor passive in its security position on the future of Lebanon.”

Although Hezbollah released a photo of Laqqis wearing military camouflage and referred to him Wednesday as a “martyr,” Matthew Levitt said he had not been prominent in the groups since the Vancouver network was exposed.

But Mr. Levitt, author of the recent book Hezbollah: the Global Footprint of Lebanon’s Party of God, said it was possible Laqqis had been targeted because he was active once again, perhaps in the Syrian conflict. He said Laqqis’ son had been killed during the 2006 conflict with Israel.

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