June 20, 2008
CARACAS, Venezuela -- Venezuela's foreign minister on Thursday rejected U.S. government accusations that a Venezuelan diplomat helped finance Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro did not specifically refer to Ghazi Nasr al Din, who was targeted Wednesday in a U.S. Treasury Department action ordering any assets he controls in the United States to be frozen and forbidding U.S. citizens from doing business with him.
But Maduro told reporters that "there are no terrorists here," and said officials should be going after the assets of President Bush.
"If they want to search for terrorists, look for them in the White House," he said.
Washington considers the Iranian- and Syrian-backed Hezbollah a terrorist group and has no dealings with it. Hezbollah is both an armed group and a political party in Lebanon.
Wednesday's action accuses Nasr al Din of using his position as a diplomat and a leader of a Caracas-based Shiite Islamic center to help the group. There were conflicting reports from the United States and Venezuela over whether he was stationed in Lebanon or Syria.
The main Shiite Muslim center in Caracas is the Imam al Hadi Venezuelan Islamic Center, said Mohamad Mtayrek, a 42-year-old Lebanese immigrant who helps manage the small mosque and community center in a two-story house.
Mtayrek said the center has no link to Hezbollah and dismissed Washington's allegations as "politics." He said he knows Nasr al Din but declined to speak about him, saying "it's not my business."
The Treasury action also targeted Lebanese-born businessman Fawzi Kan'an, the owner of two Caracas-based travel agencies. Kan'an called allegations that he helped finance Hezbollah "pure lies."
Venezuela has a large Lebanese population, many of them immigrants who arrived long before President Hugo Chavez took office in 1999.
Associated Press writers Ian James and Fabiola Sanchez contributed to this report from Caracas, Venezuela.