Hezbollah Turns Up The Volume

Hezbollah activists at rally, Jibshet, Lebanon, AP

They were once considered the baddest of the bad, at the top of the pecking order of Middle East terrorist organizations. Until Sept. 11, Hezbollah - the so-called "Party of God" - had killed more Americans than any other group, starting with 241 Marines in a suicide bombing of their Beirut barracks in 1983.

Lately, however, Hezbollah had been relatively quiet, letting groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad take the lead in suicide bombing attacks against Israel and leaving al Qaeda to press the attack against America.

But, as CBS News Correspondent Jim Stewart reports, Hezbollah has suddenly started talking loud again. Even before U.S. forces invaded Iraq, the group began calling for suicide attacks against American forces. And U.S. officials have left no doubt they now consider the Party of God as dangerous as al Qaeda ever was.

"I'll tell you that Hezbollah, as an organization with capability and worldwide presence, is its equal, if not a far more capable organization," CIA Director George Tenet told Congress on Feb. 12.

The change in dynamics is a direct result of more U.S. muscle in the region, beginning with the take over of Afghanistan and continuing into Baghdad.

Both Syria, a key base for Hezbollah, and Iran, the group's chief sponsor and paymaster, are now just an artillery round away from battle-hardened U.S. forces.

The danger, some U.S. officials believe, is that Hezbollah may feel so threatened that it decides to take the first punch, and it has plenty. Some of its Saudi members are believed to have made the attack on Khobar Towers, a U.S. barracks in Saudi Arabia.

More recently, Hezbollah is believed to have been active in teaching other groups basic terrorist techniques, which include its favorite weapon of all -- giant truck bombs launched against large buildings.
  • Jaime Holguin

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