Is Paraguay the 'Nerve Center' of the Global Jihad?

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Here's a WikiLeaks story we hadn't heard: the part where the cables point to an al-Qaeda haven in South America. According to these cables, US officials have been researching the existence of several terrorist groups in Paraguay, including al-Qaeda, Hezbollah and Hamas among others, particularly in the Paraguayan Ciudad del Este.

The Guardian's Pratap Chatterjee asks if the threat of al-Qaeda's influence in South America is as real as these cables suggest. The suspected presence of global terrorists in the so-called Tri-Boarder Area around Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay is not exactly new, he notes. In 1998, Los Angeles Times reporter Sebastian Rotella described in an article the South American community that housed terrorists and gangsters from Lebanon, Colombia, Japan and Nigeria. Ciudad del Este returned to the news again in 2002 after Sebastian Junger wrote in Vanity Fair about a visit to the region during which he learned that several terrorist groups from around the world had set up shop in the TBA, including al-Qaeda and Hezbollah as well as European organizations like ETA and the IRA. At the same time, Larry Rohter at the New York Times questioned whether Osama bin Laden's operatives were working among the other terrorists in the area. More recently, The Christian Science Monitor and The World Tribune reported on al-Qaeda's possibly connection with Latin American drug cartels.

"The Pentagon appears to have become convinced that this was worth looking into," writes a skeptical Chatterjee.

Pretty soon, the state department was roped into investigating the legend of al-Qaida in South America. The latest WikiLeaks documents include a couple of cables that describe further US government efforts to check into the same theories. In a cable issued on 24 March 2008, local US officials were asked to gather information on "the presence, intentions, plans and activities of terrorist groups, facilitators and support networks.

Chatterjee is noncommittal in evaluating the theories: he's gotten conflicting opinions from different experts. But he is fascinated to see WikiLeaks has brought the mysterious terrorism hub back into the spotlight.

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