A poor, agrarian, landlocked country in South America with a nearly 100 percent Christian population is hardly the place one would expect to become a hotbed of Islamic extremism in the Western Hemisphere.
But a recent report by the Open Source Center (OSC) of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence says it's so.
There are only 1,000 Muslims in Bolivia, a country of 9.7 million people, but the connection between some of the community’s religious leaders and Iran — as well as with fundamentalist factions in the Palestinian territories — has U.S. officials and terror experts keeping a watchful eye on them.
The report revealed a number of Muslim organizations in Bolivia whose leaders have publicly denounced U.S. foreign policy and have direct associations with extremists in the Middle East.
“There’s a theory that they may believe — Latin America, particularly with its Leftist leanings in recent years, may be more receptive to the anti-American-type rhetoric that we’ve been accustomed to hearing from Iran,” said a U.S. intelligence official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
One Muslim leader named in the OSC report is Mahmud Amer Abusharar, founder of the Centro Islamico Boliviano (CIB) in Santa Cruz. Abusharar emigrated from the Palestinian territories in 1974 and claims to have built Bolivia’s first mosque in 1994 so that he would not lose touch with his religion.
But public statements by Abusharar and other members of his mosque reveal clear anti-US sentiments. In a 2007 interview with a local Bolivian university, Abusharar told a student that he didn’t know Muslims in jail who weren’t there “especially due to the United States’ influence in Bolivian politics.” The CIB’s Web site also posts an article by its administrative director, Isa Amer Quevedo, that rebukes the U.S. for launching an attack on the Taliban after 9/11, stating: “Today we see the U.S. declaring armed Jihad against terrorism. They aim their bombs at UBL and Afghanistan, whom they financed and trained.”
The CIB is also the Bolivian headquarters for the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY), a Saudi-based major fundraiser for the Muslim community. According to U.S. State Department documents, one of its regional offices in Northern Virginia was raided by the FBI in connection with terrorist activities in 2004.
Another Muslim leader in Bolivia, Husayn Salgueiro, is a staunch supporter of the Palestinian government and a known critic of Israel. While there are no public records of Salgueiro speaking out against the U.S., a local news interview earlier this year shows him urging Palestinians to continue their armed struggle against the Israeli people.