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 Hizballah's External Security Organisation (ESO)

(Also known as: Foreign Action Unit; Hizballah ESO; Hizballah International; Islamic Jihad Organisation; Revolutionary Justice Organisation; and Special Operations Branch)

Listed 5 June 2003, re-listed 5 June 2005, 25 May 2007, 16 May 2009, 10 May 2012 and 2 May 2015.

This statement is based on publicly available information about Hizballah's External Security Organisation (ESO). To the Australian Government's knowledge, these details are accurate and reliable and have been corroborated by classified information.

Basis for listing a terrorist organisation

Division 102 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 provides that for an organisation to be listed as a terrorist organisation, the Attorney-General must be satisfied on reasonable grounds that the organisation:

  1. is directly or indirectly engaged in, preparing, planning, assisting in or fostering the doing of a terrorist act; or
  2. advocates the doing of a terrorist act.

Details of the organisation

Hizballah background

Hizballah is a pragmatic political organisation with deep roots in Lebanese society. Founded in 1982 with Iranian assistance during the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon, Hizballah has evolved into a multi-faceted organisation including political, social and military components. Within Lebanon, Hizballah represents the Lebanese Shia community, the country's largest sect, and maintains a social welfare network that encompasses education and health services.

Hizballah also maintains a highly capable and well-resourced militia structured ostensibly to resist Israeli aggression, but also to defend and promote Shia interests in the context of Lebanon's historical and ongoing sectarian divisions. In 2006, Hizballah fought against the Israeli Defence Force and since then has been arming itself in preparation for future conflict. Hizballah has been providing military assistance to Syrian Government forces in Syria's civil war.

ESO objectives

The ESO is a discrete branch within Hizballah responsible for the planning, coordination and execution of terrorist attacks against Hizballah's enemies outside of Lebanon. Since entering the Lebanese Parliament in 1992 and the government in 1995, Hizballah has sought to strengthen its public image as a respected resistance movement and lessen its reputation as a terrorist group. This reinforces Hizballah's need to distance the organisation from any activity that could be construed as terrorism. Consequently, Hizballah is unlikely to either claim responsibility for a terrorist attack or acknowledge any ESO activities.

The ESO was set up by Imad Mughniyah, who until his death in 2008 was described variously as the head of Hizballah's security section, a senior intelligence official and as one of the founders of Hizballah. After Imad Mughniyah fled to Iran following Hizballah's 1983 attack on the US military in Beirut, the 'international wing' grew out of the military wing to become a separate branch under Mughniyah's control. This is thought to be the genesis of Hizballah's 'international wing', or the ESO.

Leadership and membership

The ESO was led by Mughniyah until his assassination in Damascus in 2008. Its current leader is Talal Hamiyah. Due to its highly secretive nature, little is known about the ESO's membership.

Terrorist activity of the organisation

Directly or indirectly engaged in the doing of terrorist acts

Although the ESO has not publically admitted responsibility for any terrorist attacks outside Lebanon, ASIO assesses it was almost certainly involved in at least three significant attacks against Israeli/Jewish interests outside of Lebanon:

  • On 18 July 2012, a bomb exploded on an Israeli tourist bus at Sarafovo Airport in Burgas, Bulgaria, killing five Israelis and their Bulgarian bus driver. Bulgarian authorities stated the ESO was responsible for this attack.
  • On 18 July 1994, a van carrying explosives was detonated outside the Argentinian‑Israeli Mutual Association in Buenos Aries, Argentina, killing 85 people and injuring more than 300 others. In 1999, Argentine authorities issued an arrest warrant for Mughniyeh for his alleged involvement. Although no group has claimed responsibility for the attack, Argentinean authorities concluded that the ESO was responsible.
  • On 17 March 1992, a truck laden with explosives was used to destroy the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aries, killing 29 people and injuring 242 others. Responsibility for the attack was claimed in the name of the Islamic Jihad Organisation, which cited its motive as revenge for Israel's assassination of Hizballah Secretary General Abbas al-Musawi in February of that year. The Islamic Jihad Organisation is widely considered to be synonymous with the ESO. Argentinean authorities eventually issued an arrest warrant for ESO leader Mughniyah for organising the attack.

Directly or indirectly preparing and/or planning terrorist acts

The ESO has an ongoing program of contingency planning for terrorist activities around the world. Due to the secretive nature of the ESO, it is difficult to gather detailed information about the group's role and activities. However, there is no indication that the ESO's role has changed in recent times, and recent activities over the past several years demonstrate that the ESO retains its separate terrorist function within Hizballah's overall organisational structure.

  • In April 2014, an alleged ESO operative confessed to planning an attack on Israeli tourists in a popular tourist area of Bangkok, Thailand. Two men were arrested over the planned attack—Lebanese-French national Daoud Farhat and Lebanese-Filipino national Youssef Ayad.
  • In May 2013, the Nigerian State Security Service arrested Lebanese-Nigerian nationals Mustapha Fawaz, Abdallah Thahini and Talal Ahmad Roda, all probably linked to the ESO. Subsequent investigations led to the discovery of two weapons and explosives caches in Kano State, Nigeria. Roda was convicted of conspiracy to import weapons into Nigeria and sentenced to life in prison.
  • In March 2013, Lebanese-Swedish national Hossam Taleb Yaccob, a probable ESO operative, was sentenced to three years in prison in Cyprus for conducting surveillance of Israeli tourists in July 2012. This activity was probably related to a plan similar to the bus bombing in Burgas the same month.
  • In January 2012, Thai authorities announced the arrest in Bangkok of Lebanese‑Swedish national Hussein Atris, a probable ESO operative, who was in possession of a large quantity of explosive precursors. Atris was convicted of possessing explosive materials in September 2014 and sentenced to two years and eight months in prison.

Conclusion

On the basis of the above information, ASIO assesses the ESO continues to directly and/or indirectly engage in preparing, planning or assisting the doing of terrorist acts involving threats to life and serious property damage.
In the course of pursuing its objectives the ESO is known to have engaged in acts that:

  • cause, or could cause, serious damage to property, the death of persons, endanger a person's life or create a serious risk to a person's safety;
  • are intended to have those effects;
  • are done with the intention of advancing Hizballah's political, religious or ideological causes;
  • are done with the intention of coercing, or influencing by intimidation, the government of a foreign country; and
  • are done with the intention of intimidating sections of the public globally.

Other Relevant Information

Links to other terrorist groups or networks

Hizballah elements provide training, operational support and material to Palestinian extremist groups, including the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and HAMAS's Izz al-Din al‑Qassam Brigades, both of which are proscribed entities, and Shia militia elements in Iraq.

Links to Australia

Bulgarian authorities have alleged that an Australian national was involved in supporting the attack in Burgas, Bulgaria, in July 2012.

Proscription by other countries

The ESO is described as 'Hizballah's Military Wing' in the proscription listings of the United Kingdom, the European Union and New Zealand. The proscription of ESO by the United States and Canada is part of their general listing of Hizballah. 

Support for United Nations listing

The Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs listed Hizballah on the Consolidated List from 21 December 2001 under section 15(1) of the Charter of the United Nations Act 1945, pursuant to Australia's obligations under United Nations Security Council Resolution 1373 of 2001. The Consolidated List, maintained by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, is a list of all entities (and persons) who are subject to targeted financial sanctions or travel bans under Australian sanctions law.