It might just be the most important terrorism case you’ve never heard of. Last fall, prosecutors in the Peruvian capital of Lima launched formal legal proceedings against a 30-year-old alleged Hezbollah operative named Mohammed Hamdar. The trial, now underway, has major regional—indeed, global—implications for the fight against international terrorism.
The case dates back to October 2014, when Peruvian police arrested the then-28-year-old Lebanese national in Lima’s Surquillo district. When he was apprehended, Hamdar had traces of suspicious chemicals on one of his hands. The same residue was also found in his apartment. He later tested positive for contact with nitroglycerine, a common ingredient in the production of explosives. Additionally, during the course of his subsequent interrogation, he admitted that he was a member of Hezbollah and that the group had asked him to conduct surveillance throughout the country. Peruvian authorities, however, believe that his writ was broader still and that Hamdar was, in fact, casing several soft targets as a prelude to a major terrorist attack—one that may have been timed to coincide with the UN Climate Change Summit, scheduled to take place in Lima later that year.
In the end, Hamdar was charged with conspiracy to commit terrorism as well as the falsification of documents (he had entered Peru on a fraudulent Sierra Leonean passport). He was placed in pre-trail detention by the judge presiding over the case. He remained there until this past August when the current trial commenced. Latin America has long been notorious as a permissive operating environment for an array of local radical groups.
The Hamdar affair is important because it provides proof that Latin American countries are not immune from the threat posed by radical Islamist terrorism. But the case is significant for a broader reason as well. If properly adjudicated, it could supply a powerful precedent that could help spur an expansion of national counterterrorism legislation in Peru and provide a model for other countries in the region in its chief sponsor Iran, and other radical actors.
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