Rabbani’s Disciples: Ongoing efforts to spread Iran’s revolutionary ideology in Latin America

While Nisman’s pursuit of justice remains unrealized to this day, perhaps his most enduring contribution was the instrumental role his investigation into the AMIA bombing played in exposing the espionage and intelligence networks put in place by Mohsen Rabbani, which remain active throughout Latin America from Argentina and Chile in the south all the way to Cuba and Mexico in the north. During his time in the region and since his return to Iran, Rabbani has radicalized and cultivated numerous disciples who carry on his legacy of exporting Iran’s revolutionary ideology throughout Latin America, a sphere in which Rabbani himself remains an active player.

Mohsen Rabbani returned to Iran for good in 1997 amid mounting suspicions over his involvement in the Israeli embassy and AMIA bombings. Although he remains an internationally most-wanted fugitive, he serves today as Supreme Leader Khamenei’s personal representative to Latin America, and as a professor and international affairs advisor to the president of Al-Mustafa International University in Qom, one of the regime’s main organs for Khomeinist indoctrination of the next generation of Iran’s foreign Shi’a clerics, religious scholars, and missionaries. Rabbani is also the founder and director of the Islam Oriente Cultural Institute, an educational institute based in Qom whose mission is to strengthen ties between Iran and Latin America. The institute offers an intensive program, led by Rabbani, meant to politically and theologically indoctrinate Latin American students into revolutionary ideology.

Abdul Kadir

One of Iran’s most important agents in the region, who Nisman demonstrated had extensive ties to Rabbani, was a Guyanese parliamentarian named Michael Seaforth, who went by the name Abdul Kadir upon his conversion to Shi’ism. Kadir was active as an Iranian agent dating back to the 1980s, and apparently made his first contact with Rabbani in 1994, at which point he became a direct subordinate”

 and “man of trust” for Rabbani. The summary of Nisman’s 2013 indictment report notes that Kadir’s trajectory in Guyana was practically identical to Rabbani’s, in that Kadir oversaw “the establishment of intelligence bases and centers with clear operative capability to execute terrorist attacks” in Guyana and the Caribbean which directly mirrored Rabbani’s Argentinean intelligence and espionage networks. Furthermore, Kadir mimicked Rabbani’s playbook, employing the stratagem of “dual-use” by which he hid behind the legitimacy provided by diplomatic facilities and cultural, religious, and charitable organizations in order to conceal criminal and terroristic activities.

Kadir established and directed a Shi’a cultural center called the Islamic Informational Center of Guyana. His role at the center helped him gain “tremendous influence over the Islamic communities in Guyana and neighboring countries, through the Caribbean and into diaspora groups in the U.S.,” according to Joseph Humire. Kadir leveraged these ties to the Guyanese diaspora community in New York to establish contacts with Guyanese workers at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport as part of a 2007 plot to blow up jet-fuel storage tanks at the airport, an attack that would have crippled America’s economy, especially the airline industry, had it not been foiled. Documents seized from Kadir’s house indicated that he had met with and engaged in personal correspondence with Mohsen Rabbani during the plotting of the mission. Rabbani’s links to Kadir demonstrate that Rabbani continued his support for terrorism long after the AMIA attack.

Suhail Assad and Abdul Karim Paz

Since Kadir’s arrest, Iran’s “primary agent of influence in Latin America” is an Argentinean-born disciple of Rabbani named Sheik Edgardo Ruben Suhail Assad. Assad, along with his brother-in-law Sheik Abdul Karim Paz, was mentored by Rabbani during his time in Argentina and the two have utilized their training to recruit and indoctrinate Latin American youth into Khomeinist ideology. Paz studied at Rabbani’s Islam Oriente in the early 1990s, and subsequently succeeded Rabbani as the head of the At-Tauhid mosque in Buenos Aires in 1993. He then went on to serve as imam of the Islamic Cultural Center in Santiago, Chile. Assad, meanwhile, is believed to have established over 20 Islamic centers in Latin America and regularly travels to universities around the region to lecture about Khomeini’s teachings and other revolutionary topics.

Suhail Assad’s primary base of operations in Latin America is the Center for Iranian-Latin American Cultural Exchange in Caracas, Venezuela. In 2016, HispanTV aired a documentary series that highlighted Assad’s missionary activities on behalf of the Islamic Republic throughout Latin America. The program showed Assad’s efforts to establish communities of converts to Shi’ism, and to subsequently unify and radicalize these communities, in Costa Rica, Cuba, Bolivia, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Peru.

Cuba offers a vivid example of Assad’s operational blueprint. The communist island nation is notoriously hostile to religious freedom but has made an exception for Iranian proselytism due in part to the formalized links between the countries established in the ALBA framework. With the “full knowledge and blessings of the Cuban authorities,” Assad has since 2013 established a cultural center and mosque in Havana which actively seeks to recruit and convert adherents from the local population. These converts are then enticed to travel to Iran, where they are given training and indoctrination into Iran’s revolutionary values at institutions such as Al-Mustafa International University and the Islam Oriente Cultural Institute.

Abdul Karim Paz similarly serves as a leading recruiter of Latin American students for Rabbani’s Qom-based programs. In 2015, Alberto Nisman described Paz as Rabbani’s “right hand,” and Paz is reportedly in charge of accompanying Latin American converts on their travels to Iran. When they are not conducting their missionary activities in Latin America, both Paz and Assad are reported to serve as instructors under Rabbani at Islam Oriente and Al-Mustafa International University in Qom.

Rabbani is believed to have trained over 1,000 Latin American students in Iran just between 2007 and 2013, and these activities – paid for in full by the Iranian regime – are believed to be ongoing. Reports abound of students returning from Rabbani’s training and subsequently undertaking missionary activities of their own back in their home countries. One such example is Edwar Quiroga Vargas, a Peruvian indigenous rights activist who was recruited by an Iranian diplomat to study under Rabbani in Qom. Iran’s outreach to indigenous Peruvian communities dates back to 2011, when Suhail Assad inaugurated recruitment efforts which have paid off in the form of hundreds of known instances of Peruvians travelling to Lebanon and Iran for indoctrination.

Quiroga was one such recruit, who upon returning to Peru, set about establishing a Shi’a Islamic cultural center called Inkarri-Islam which seeks to blend indigenous teachings with radical Shi’ism. He went on to establish five additional cultural centers throughout Peru, and has recruited at least 25 students to study under Rabbani in Qom. Quiroga has also established a political party in Peru called partido de dios, or “party of God,” which translates in Arabic to Hezbollah.

According to 2013 Congressional testimony by Douglas Farah, President of IBI Consultants, Inc., the trainings overseen by Rabbani “can range from 30-120 days, and specializations include intelligence, counter-intelligence, theology, crowd control and how to incite crowd violence in street marches. Regardless of the topic, each course contains strong components of radical Shi’ite theology and anti-U.S. preaching, including statements of the United States as the great Satan, the enemy of humanity, while justifying its destruction and that of Israel.” Farah went on to expound upon the potential threat posed by Rabbani’s outreach, noting that Iran appears to be “creating a small group of sleeper cells across the region, people with specialized training who are not Iranian citizens and therefore subject to much less scrutiny both by their home governments and the United States should they travel here. The clandestine nature of the recruitment, the use of cultural centers as meeting points to exchange lessons learned and build networks, and the ability of these students to plug into existing Hezbollah and radicalized networks are all significant dangers.”

Iran’s efforts to spread its revolutionary ideology to Latin America pose an active and ongoing threat to the U.S. While Iran’s trade and commercial ties to the region remain largely inconsequential, in recent years, Iran has continued to proliferate mosques, cultural centers, media outlets, and institutions providing education, health, and a variety of other social services at a rate that indicates that Iran nevertheless attaches great significance to the region. Iran has succeeded in indoctrinating and radicalizing cadres of converts into its anti-American, radical Islamist theology throughout the region. Iran’s hearts and minds campaign, coupled with the presence of lawless zones where Hezbollah can operate freely, portend a growing Iranian menace in America’s backyard.