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Kassim Tajideen released in Trump deal with Hezbollah and Iran



  • The US released a Lebanese terrorist — who raised $1 billion for Hezbollah — after he served just one year in prison.
  • Security officials in Europe and the Middle East are baffled as to why America would spend a decade hunting down such a high-value target and then let him go home.
  • The US appears to gain little or nothing from the release of Kassim Tajideen, which was brokered by Lebanese intelligence.
  • A Lebanese security official speculated that the American embassy has been pushing for prisoner deals because “they make Trump look good.”
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The US released a convicted Hezbollah financier from federal prison last month in an ongoing series of prisoner swaps between the US and Iran, according to a Lebanese security official and a senior Lebanese politician who spoke to Insider.

But, sources tell us, it’s not clear what, if anything, the US is getting in return. The mystery is acute because the Hezbollah activist was one of the terror-group’s most important fundraisers and one of the US’s highest-value criminal targets. So why let him go home for no significant return?

Kassim Tajideen, 65, pled guilty in 2018 to laundering more than $1 billion on behalf of the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. He was sentenced to five years in prison.

The deal for his release was first reported by Reuters. It was initially described as a “purely judicial” humanitarian move over concerns he might contract COVID.

But multiple security officials in Europe and the Middle East told Insider that they do not believe the US Department of Justice — or Tajideen’s attorney — are telling the whole truth about Tajideen’s release. For one thing, the deal was brokered by the head of Lebanon’s domestic intelligence service, according to Reuters.

A State Department spokesperson told Reuters that any reports of a “deal” were false and that Tajideen’s release stemmed from DOJ guidance on COVID threats to federal prisoners. “The fact that he was released early due to health concerns and removed from the United States does not diminish the severity of his crime,” the spokesperson told Reuters.

‘The US government spends a decade building a case that he’s probably the largest single funder of Hezbollah’s operations … and lets him go’

The release of Tajideen, just over a year into his sentence, was criticized by a Belgian security official who had helped investigate the Tajideen’s extensive empire of business holdings, which span Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

”Here is the key guy that everyone was watching since 2003,” said “Bruno,” an officer in Belgian military intelligence, who cannot use his full name in the media and asked to be identified by a pseudonym. 

“Belgium arrests the guy for running one of the largest money-laundering operations in Africa and loses him before we could establish a link to terrorism,” he said of Tajideen’s flight to Beirut after being granted bail by a Belgian court. 

“Then the US government spends a decade building a case that he’s probably the largest single funder of Hezbollah’s operations, arrests him in Morocco, extradites him to the US, convicts him and lets him go,” the Belgian official said. 

“The Iranians and Hezbollah do not hold anyone from the US comparable in value to Tajideen, so how can this be a swap?” Bruno said. “Who did the Iranians release in exchange?”

‘They make Trump look good’

Tajideen built and still controls a multi-billion dollar network of companies spanning Africa, Europe, and the Middle East, administered by a complex collection of shell companies designed to obscure ownership. Dozens of the companies focus on Africa, where the conglomerate controls food imports, supermarkets, mobile phone networks, natural resource development and mining throughout Africa.

A senior Lebanese political figure, who refused to be named speaking about intelligence matters involving Iran and the United States, said that there has been an ongoing effort by the head of Lebanon’s General Security Directorate, General Abbas Ibrahim, to broker swaps between the US and Iran of prisoners. 

“The Americans have released some Iranians this year and Iran and Syria have released some American citizens, Tajideen was part of this process,” the official said.

A Lebanese security official confirmed the account, saying that the American embassy in Beirut and current National Security Advisor Robert O’ Brien have been pushing for prisoner deals because “they make Trump look good.”

‘To see Tajideen released and there’s nothing in return?’

Lebanon’s “Abbas is the crucial figure for the Americans, because they want to get their people released before the election and he can speak with the Iranians, the Syrians and Hezbollah,” said the Lebanese security official. “The Iranians and Hezbollah have been pushing for a deal on Tajideen for years — at one point they threatened to maybe take someone in the region to exchange for him.”

Neither the senior Lebanese political figure nor the security official could say what the US had received in exchange for the release of Tajideen, even as they expressed certainty that his freedom had been obtained by Ibrahim’s efforts. 

This is the problem, according to Bruno the Belgian intelligence official. “I understand the need for confidence building, that’s what low-level swaps are for,” he said. “But to see Tajideen released and there’s nothing in return? That’s the wrong message to send in terms of confidence as the Iranians will now be confident they can get what they like in return for very little.”

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