U.S. officials debate: Is Hezbollah a threat to America?

U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials, along with private experts, say there is little doubt Hezbollah has an extensive network of supporters, fund-raisers and potential operatives in the United States.

A law enforcement official said that the New York Police Department, whose monitoring of Muslim communities has prompted political controversy, believes that between 200 and 300 Hezbollah sympathizers live in New York City. Between 10 and 20 of those are relatives of Hezbollah leaders or fighters who were killed in action, said the official.

The NYPD’s knowledge of Hezbollah’s infrastructure is sufficiently detailed that it has identified three Lebanese towns – Bint Jbeil, Yanoun and Yatar – to which suspected sympathizers of the group have ties. At least a handful of people in New York connected with Hezbollah have also undergone military training in Lebanon, the official said.

A preliminary report issued by investigators for King, a New York Republican, said that pinpointing the number of Hezbollah operatives inside the United States was difficult because of the group’s operational security. The committee report nonetheless cited the estimates of “some officials” that the group “likely” has “several thousand sympathetic donors” in the United States as well as “hundreds” of operatives.

But other officials familiar with up-to-date U.S. intelligence on Hezbollah said there was a big difference between a Hezbollah “supporter” and someone who would be willing to engage in violent activity.