As the U.S. looks beyond Afghanistan for its next target in the war on terror, one part of the world that has received relatively scant attention is South America. But U.S. intelligence agencies are becoming increasingly worried about a nest of terrorists, drug traffickers and organized-crime figures who have taken up residence in South America's tri-border area, where Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay meet. "It's like the Wild West there," says a Pentagon official. "Crime, religious extremism and politics are all linked under the table." For several years the CIA has had a team of agents monitoring terrorists from Hizballah, Hamas and, more recently, Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda organization, who have poured into tri-border towns like Paraguay's Ciudad del Este to cut deals with Colombian drug traffickers and European and Asian mafia lieutenants. Counterterrorism officials believe bin Laden has set up cells to proselytize the large Middle East expatriate population living in the area and to finance operations against the U.S. Washington has pressed Latin countries to round up suspects there and to screen passengers on flights out of the region.
--By Douglas Waller