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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 June, 2005, 07:03 GMT 08:03 UK
'Hezbollah drugs ring' broken up
Police in Ecuador say they have broken up an international drugs ring which was raising money for the Islamic militant group, Hezbollah.

The authorities have declined to give details of the gang's alleged links with the group, but say it was sending Hezbollah up to 70% of its profits.

Ecuadorean officials say the drugs network was run by a Lebanese restaurant owner in the capital, Quito.

Officials are hailing it as a success in both the war on drugs and on terror.

Arrests abroad

Along with the restaurant owner, identified as Rady Zaiter, who was arrested in Colombia last week, six other suspects were also detained in Ecuador.

They are said to originate from Algeria, Ecuador, Lebanon, Nigeria and Turkey.

The police investigation, codenamed Operation Damascus, led to the arrests of a further 19 people in Brazil and the United States.

Police say that the gang were obtaining cocaine from neighbouring Colombia and trafficking it to Europe, the Middle East and the rest of South America.

The drugs were either hidden in suitcases with false bottoms or in the stomachs of couriers.

The BBC's Elliot Gotkine says airport officials are said to have been bribed to turn a blind eye.

Ecuadorean police say that each drugs shipment was worth $1m and that up to 70% of the profits went to the Islamic militant group Hezbollah.

Hezbollah - or Party of God - emerged in Lebanon in the early 1980s and became the region's leading radical Islamic movement, determined to drive Israeli troops from Lebanon.

Country profile: Ecuador
21 Apr 05 |  Country profiles
Timeline: Ecuador
21 Apr 05 |  Country profiles
Who are Hezbollah?
04 Apr 02 |  Middle East

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