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With the capture of the Cuban citizen and his alleged links to extremist groups, Latin America again asks about the likelihood of jihadist attacks on its territory

Has radical Islam come to Latin America?

On March 12, a Cuban citizen was captured in the city of Pereira, Colombia, and later transferred to Bogotá. Raúl Gutiérrez was placed at the disposal of the Colombian authorities after a warning from the FBI and the Spanish Civil Guard alerted him to the links of this Cuban with international terrorist cells, mainly with groups committed to radical Islam. This becomes the first direct case of jihadists in Latin American soil.

According to intelligence information shared with the media by Colombia, the United States, and Spain, Gutiérrez intended to attack US citizens in an exclusive sector of the Colombian capital on Tuesday, March 13. The director of the National Police of Colombia, Jorge Nieto, in a press conference, reported that in the raid on his house "devices" were found in which communications were made "that imply that a terrorist action can be carried out, as well as connections to international extremist groups".

Gutiérrez had already been expelled from Colombian territory on two occasions, in 2015 and 2017. After 2015, the country's income was through irregular and illegal routes. Among the hypotheses that the authorities handle about Gutiérrez's attempt at action are possible mental problems or that he was recruited on the internet in the style of "lone wolf". At the moment there is no indication that he had accomplices in Colombia.

The Cuban will be prosecuted for conspiracy to commit crimes and terrorism.

Islamic extremism in Latin America?

Lior Haiat, Israeli consul of Florida, at the most recent meeting on organized crime held at Miami Dade College during the first weekend of March, warned of a possible closeness between Latin America and radical Islam. The diplomat explained that some Latin American governments opened the door to the Iranian presence and with that came the terrorist presence. In that sense, Haiat said that in addition to where organized crime exists, there is an open door for Islamist and international terrorism to arrive.

However, for experts like Miguel Benito, a professor of History at the Sergio Arboleda University in Bogotá, the possibilities of the extremism of Islam spreading in Latin America are almost non-existent, "firstly because by tradition in this region is of Christian and Catholic beliefs, despite the fact that most of the countries that belong to it defend freedom of worship". Although the language could be considered an impediment, recent studies of the Inter-American Committee against Terrorism of the Organization of American States have shown that an undetermined number of young people from all over the world have been recruited by the Islamic State through the Internet and, in most the messages sent, they used Portuguese and Spanish.

Another impediment that radicalism would have to face in order to expand in Latin America is the spatial distance between the territories (Middle East and America), "since moving to this continent would be less profitable than expanding to closer territories, such as Europe", says Benito, referring to the problems that exist in another hemisphere.

Attacks on Latin American territory?

In March 2016, this being the most notorious Islamic act in the region, a man who identified himself as an ISIS supporter murdered a well-known Jewish merchant in Paysandú, Uruguay. In 2011, the FBI accused two Iranian citizens of participating in an alleged plan to kill the Saudi ambassador to the United States, and also included a possible attack in Argentina. US agents said the plot was discovered in Mexico.

According to the most recent study by Soufan Group, a private military intelligence company based in New York, United States, at least 27,000 foreigners from 86 countries have traveled to Iraq and Syria to join the Islamic State since 2011, including 76 South Americans. Of the Amercian continent, the United States takes the lead with approximately 300 people, but Trinidad and Tobago have a higher rate of sending citizens taking into account its population, which only reaches one and a half million inhabitants.


Latin American Post | Carlos Eduardo Gómez Avella

Translated from "¿Ha llegado el Islam radical a Latinoamérica?"

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