A Quebec activist who fought the stereotyping of Muslims was charged with supporting terrorism on Friday after an RCMP investigation linked her to an alleged scheme to smuggle weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Mouna Diab, 26, was charged with committing a crime “for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with a terrorist group,” the RCMP said in a statement. She faces a possible life sentence if convicted.
The Laval woman was arrested at Montreal’s Trudeau airport last year and accused of violating an international arms embargo targeting Lebanon, but police added the far more serious terrorism charge on Friday.
While Canadian police have laid dozens of charges under the anti-terrorism laws enacted after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Ms. Diab is the first woman to face charges related to a foreign terrorist organization.
The case also marks the first time Canada has laid charges in connection with Hezbollah, and comes amid concerns Tehran is preparing to unleash the Iranian-sponsored terrorist group in the event of a strike on its nuclear program.
Although a key political party in Lebanon, Hezbollah is also a paramilitary and terrorist group funded, armed and trained by Iran, which uses it as a proxy force. Canada is among a long list of nations that have outlawed Hezbollah, calling it one of the most technically capable terrorist groups in the world. The United Nations Security Council has ordered Hezbollah to disarm but it has only added to its arsenal and now possesses thousands of missiles and rockets supplied by Iran and Syria.
Public Safety Canada: “One of the most technically capable terrorist groups in the world, Hezbollah is a radical Shia group ideologically inspired by the Iranian revolution. Its goals are the liberation of Jerusalem, the destruction of Israel, and, ultimately, the establishment of a revolutionary Shia Islamic state in Lebanon, modeled after Iran.”
“Despite its foray into Lebanese politics, Hezbollah retains a potent military capability independent of Lebanese state control and a terrorist wing controlled by Hezbollah’s leadership,” reads a June 2010 Canadian intelligence study obtained by the National Post.
“Hezbollah has a proven capability to conduct a mass casualty attack, target unguarded foreign nationals, strike at heavily guarded targets, and carry out multiple and coordinated attacks,” reads the report, released under the Access to Information Act.
The charge against Ms. Diab followed an investigation called Project Sagittaire by the Integrated National Security Enforcement Team in Quebec. Police alleged she bought firearms parts in the Montreal area to send to Lebanon and that they could be reassembled to build two complete AR-15-type rifles.
“It is alleged that Diab was acting under the direction of a contact person in Lebanon who is associated with Hezbollah,” the RCMP said in a press release. Quebec provincial police and Montreal police were also involved in the investigation.
Firearms parts were found in her luggage at Montreal airport on May 19, 2011. “Based on gathered evidence it is also alleged that she was shipping firearms parts through people in her community traveling to Lebanon. The victims were unaware of the contents of the packages they were carrying for the accused,” the RCMP said.
The RCMP statement said Hezbollah was “primarily involved in logistics and operational support activities and fundraising” in Canada but there are concerns Tehran has been priming the terror group to conduct reprisal attacks if Iranian nuclear facilities are struck.
Hezbollah has also threatened to avenge the 2008 killing of its chief terrorist, Imad Mugniyah. Following his assassination in Damascus, Canadian authorities warned Canadian Jewish groups that Hezbollah might attempt a revenge attack in Canada.
The Hezbollah presence in Canada goes back at least two decades. In 1993, a Hezbollah member named Mohamed Hussein Al Husseini told the Canadian Security Intelligence Service that Hezbollah had operatives “in all of Canada.” Several senior Hezbollah members are alleged to be Canadians, including Faouzi Ayoub, a former Toronto man who took part in a hijacking and was added to the FBI’s most wanted terrorists list last July.
Militaristic Hezbollah flags have appeared at demonstrations in Toronto and Montreal as recently as last August, and in 2007 members of Windsor’s Lebanese community erected a commercial billboard featuring Hezbollah boss Hassan Nasrallah. It was taken down following complaints.
Hezbollah: Hezbollah posted the following tribute to its assassinated chief terrorist, Imad Mugniyah, on its website last year. “They thought silencing him would do the trick. They thought wrong….With every passing month he asks revenge. And with every passing year, they ask themselves when, where, and how they will taste his revenge.” Source: moqawama.org.
“Hezbollah’s fundraising activities can often be boiled down to simply taking advantage of opportunities that arise from having a vast expatriate Shia population sympathetic to the group,” Matthew Levitt, a former U.S. Treasury official, wrote in Terrorism Financing.
The group gets an estimated $100-million a year from Iran but also raises substantial funds in Canada and elsewhere through crime, businesses, taxation and front charities such as the Martyr’s Foundation, according to experts and officials.
Hezbollah has been responsible for suicide bombings, hijackings, kidnappings and assassinations, including the 2005 killing of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri, and remains a considerable source of instability and insecurity in the Middle East.
It ignited a month-long war with Israel in 2006 and any number of triggers might set it off again, notably its ongoing conflict with Israel, the indictment of four Hezbollah members over the Hariri assassination and its support for its closest allies, Iran and Syrian.
Hezbollah has never conducted a terrorist attack on Canadian soil but it has scouted potential targets and its 1994 bombing of a Jewish community centre in Argentina showed it was willing to strike abroad and fueled fears it could harm Canada’s large Jewish community.
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said in a statement Friday the government was working with international partners “to ensure that Canada will not be a source of weapons or other resources for groups or individuals associated with terrorism.”
Prior to her arrest, Ms. Diab was vice-president of the Association of Young Lebanese Muslims. Her activism was focused partly on changing the stereotypes that too often associate Muslims with terrorism and violence.
Wearing her hijab, she was part of a delegation that traveled to Herouxville, Que., in 2007 after the town passed a code of conduct aimed at immigrants that banned stonings, female genital mutilation and head coverings.