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Friday, October 20, 2006

Venezuela a 'potential hub of terrorism' in Americas: US Congress report

WASHINGTON (AFP) - US officials believe Venezuela is emerging as a "potential hub of terrorism" in the Americas, according to a congressional report.

Some US officials say "Venezuela is providing support -- including identity documents -- that could prove useful to radical Islamic groups," says the report a House of Representatives panel.

The report says the Venezuelan government has issued thousands of "cedulas," the equivalent of social security cards, to people from Cuba, Colombia and "Middle Eastern nations that host foreign terrorist organizations."

US officials fear that the Venezuelan government, headed by fierce US critic Hugo Chavez, is issuing the cards to "people who should not be getting them" and they could be used to get visas and gain entry to the United States.

"Recently, several Pakistanis were apprehended at the US-Mexican border with fraudulent Venezuelan documents," said the report, which was released by the subcommittee chairman, Texas Representative Michael McCaul.

"According to senior US military and intelligence officials, Venezuela is emerging as a potential hub of terrorism in the Western Hemisphere, providing assistance to Islamic radicals from the Middle East and other terrorists," the report says.

The report, which focuses especially on the Mexico-Texas border is based on expert opinions, media accounts and testimony from US authorities.

The document appeared three weeks before the November 7 US congressional elections, and amid heated debate over how to deal with the estimated 11.5 illegal immigrants in the United States and how to stop more from entering across the southern border.

The report warns of an "ever-present threat of terrorist infiltration over the Southwest border."

"US immigration and customs enforcement investigations have revealed that aliens were smuggled from the Middle East to staging areas in Central and South America, before being smuggled illegally into the US," it says.

The report says members of the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which Washington considers a terrorist organization, "have already entered the US across the southwest border."

It also warns that the Texas-Mexico border region has been experience an "alarming rise" in the level of drug cartel activity, including drug and human smuggling, which has put "significant additional burdens" on US authorities.
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