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Brazil Arrests Lebanese Man Linked to Hezbollah

FILE - Lebanese-born businessman Assad Ahmad Barakat, a suspected member and fundraiser of the Islamic group Hizbollah, leaves the Justice building under escort of police officers in Asuncion, Nov. 18, 2003.

Brazilian police have arrested a Lebanese man whom the United States suspects is one of the major financial backers of Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group.

Assad Ahmad Barakat was arrested Friday in the Brazilian city of Foz do Iguacu. The town is situated in the so-called Tri-Border Area where Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay converge. The area has long been known as a haven for smugglers, traffickers and counterfeiters.

Barakat is wanted in Paraguay on identity theft accusations, and a warrant was issued for his arrest last month. He spent six years in prison in Paraguay for tax evasion, but was released in 2008.

“Members of the Barakat clan made purchases worth $10 million, without declaring their value, at a casino in the Argentine city of Iguazu with the view to laundering the organization’s money,” Brazilian police said.

Argentina has also accused Barakat of money-laundering on behalf of Hezbollah and has frozen Barakat’s funds and other assets, according to officials.

It was not immediately clear whether Barakat will face charges in Brazil or be extradited to Paraguay.

Shimon Samuels, the director of international relations at The Simon Wiesenthal Center, which researches and advocates against anti-Semitism, hate and terrorism, said in a statement that he hoped Barakat’s arrest in the Tri-Border area was “a sign that the three countries will begin to drive Hezbollah out of Latin America.”

The U.S. has described Barakat as “a global terrorist.”