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Law enforcement on alert for Hezbollah retaliation

WASHINGTON – The FBI and Department of Homeland Security sent a bulletin Friday to state and local law-enforcement authorities advising them to be on alert for potential retaliatory strikes by Hezbollah, one day after the Lebanese militia group vowed to avenge the death of a top commander by attacking Israeli and Jewish targets.

“While retaliation in the U.S. homeland is unlikely, Hezbollah has demonstrated a capability to respond outside the Middle East to similar events in the past,” according to the intelligence bulletin that was sent to about 18,000 state and local law-enforcement officials Friday.

The FBI also said it was increasing its domestic intelligence-gathering efforts to identify potential Hezbollah threats to the United States in the aftermath of Tuesday’s car-bomb assassination of Imad Mughniyeh in Syria.

On Wednesday, the FBI sent a confidential internal bulletin to its 101 Joint Terrorism Task Forces warning of the possible domestic consequences of Mughniyeh’s killing. FBI officials at headquarters also told the bureau’s field offices and multi-agency task forces to increase monitoring and surveillance of suspected Hezbollah operatives.

U.S. authorities have long described Hezbollah as the “A-Team” of terrorism, with more discipline than al-Qaida, financing from the government of Iran and a global network of sleeper operatives that could be called upon to launch an attack at any time.

Various federal investigations and prosecutions have uncovered dozens of Hezbollah fundraisers and other supporters in the United States, but few people believed to be actual “bomb-throwers,” according to a senior FBI counterterrorism official who focuses on Hezbollah.

While they have no evidence of specific threats in the United States, officials said that precautionary measures are warranted because of Mughniyeh’s stature within Hezbollah and because the organization and its Iranian supporters have blamed his death from a car bomb on Israel and “Zionist forces.”

Mughniyeh, the former Hezbollah security chief and military commander, was one of world’s most wanted fugitives, accused by the United States and other nations of masterminding attacks that killed hundreds of Americans in Lebanon in the 1980s.