Iranian-backed “sleeper cells” are in the United States and waiting for the word to attack, experts told Congress on Thursday.
“The answer is absolutely. We do face a threat,” said Emanuele Ottolenghi, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies who spoke at a hearing of the House Homeland Security Committee’s subcommittee on counterterrorism and intelligence. “Their networks are present in the United States.”
“Iran’s proxy terror networks in Latin America are run by Tehran’s wholly owned Lebanese franchise Hezbollah,” he said, the Washington Free Beacon reported. “Their presence in Latin America must be viewed as a forward operating base against America’s interest in the region and the homeland itself.”
Ottolenghi said the sleeper agents enter America by posing as immigrants who develop legitimate businesses that are a front for their other activities.
The warning came as Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said that the terrorist organization is ready to rumble if America wants a fight.
“No one should threaten us with war and no one should scare us by war,” he said, according to the Daily Mail. “We are not scared or worried about war and we are ready for it and we will be victorious.”
Iran poses “a direct threat to the homeland,” committee member Rep. Peter King said.
The New York Republican said the threat comes through “Iranian support for Hezbollah, which is active in the Middle East, Latin America, and here in the U.S., where Hezbollah operatives have been arrested for activities conducted in our own country,” King said.
He said that two individuals arrested for plotting terror attacks in New York City and Michigan “received significant weapons training from Hezbollah.”
One expert on Iran’s activities said that Hezbollah is a major threat.
“They are as good or better at explosive devices than ISIS, they are better at assassinations and developing assassination cells,” said Michael Pregent, a former intelligence officer.
“Hezbollah is smart,” he added. “They’re very good at keeping their communications secure, keeping their operational security secure, and, again, from a high profile attack perspective, they’d be good at improvised explosive devices.”
Others testifying before Congress agreed with this assessment.
Nader Uskowi, a former adviser to U.S. Central Command, said there are thousands of militants supporting Iran scattered throughout the Middle East.
“It doesn’t take many of them to penetrate this country and be a major threat,” he said. “They can pose a major threat to our homeland.”
The dangers Hezbollah poses to America were underscored by London-based terrorism analyst Azmina Siddique in an op-ed she wrote for CNN.
“Hezbollah remains one of the most capable terrorist organizations in the world, which intends to continue expanding its reach. The international community needs to take a unified step to proscribe Hezbollah in its entirety and curtail its global crime and terror network before it is too late,” she wrote.